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Is all flatwork considered dressage?

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  • Is all flatwork considered dressage?

    The title asks it all. Is all flatwork automatically considered dressage, or do you have to intentionally be working on actual dressage moves for it to be considered dressage? Also, another thing I’ve been told is that jumping is just dressage with jumps in between. Is this statement really true?

  • #2
    I would say not all flatwork is dressage. I don't necessarily believe you need to be specifically looking to work on dressage for it to be "dressage," but if a rider is just yahooing around or riding around aimlessly like a drunken sailor, those wouldn't be what I consider "dressage".

    If you look at many upper level showjumpers (or eventers in stadium) I would agree that they apply principles of dressage to their courses. The Germans are good examples of this. Ingrid Klimke for eventing and Meredith Michaels Beerbaum is a good one for snowjumping to showcase it. Again: I think many people (especially at lower levels) can view SJ as a speed only situation and rip around a course with no regard to anything but how fast they're going. Yahooing around a course like that wouldn't be "dressage with fences," but to ride a course with that in mind can be very productive (especially, in my experience, if someone has a horse that requires a strong ride or is otherwise difficult).


    • #3
      A big part of jumping is just having the right canter and being able to adjust it when necessary.


      • #4
        It seems to me that flatwork becomes Dressage when Dressage principles are invoked (rhythm, relaxation, contact, impulsion, straightness, collection). If you're out on a trail ride, you can do these things (I used to practice shoulder in, haunches in, etc. on trail rides). But I've also been on a loose rein just enjoying my horse/nature. I'm not sure the latter was Dressage. I think the former was.


        • #5
          I ride Forward Seat. Since I no longer can jump and gallop, and due to my MS I am pretty much have to ride in the ring, I do a lot of flatwork. I do not do "dressage" while doing this, but I DO train the horse for softness, responsiveness, and a lot of the work I do is to develop certain muscles.

          While I may do turns on the haunches I do not do that collected, hence it is not "dressage", but it is training. I do the three speeds of the walk and trot, but my slow walks and trots are not collected.

          I train the horses to take contact, driving from their hind legs, but again I do not aim to collection, I aim to soft responses to my rein aids, and my hand aids are as soft as twitching my little fingers.

          If the horse is not in an inversion or behind the vertical I do not care where the horse decides to carry his head because I have faith that with enough rational training the horse will eventually bring his head up into a more "proper" position. I do expect the horse to softly respond to my hand aids whether his head is up or all the way down to just above the ground.

          NONE of my flatwork is collected, and I do not aim to ever do it collected so I am not doing dressage, but I am most definitely training the horse to become a better riding horse.


          • #6
            I say no. I think in the early stages of training, starting under saddle and immediately following, there is little or no distinction between disciplines. Everyone has the same goal: a horse that is balanced, forward, and responsive to the basic aids. For example, I've seen riding the square circle explained in a book by a dressage trainer and also had it explained to me by a colt starter whose background is reining.

            But, I think fairly quickly, the flatwork begins to diverge for the different disciplines because each has different goals. If you watch a dressage rider, a hunter rider, and a reiner school their horses, you're going to see distinctly different things. Different kinds of contact, different rider positions, different uses of leg aids...

            And the original and much more common versions of that statement use the term "flatwork" instead of "dressage."

            Jumping is just flatwork between fences.

            Jumping is just flatwork with jumps in between.

            Jumping is just flatwork with jumps in the way.

            I think saying "jumping is just dressage with jumps in between" is inaccurate.
            "Facts are meaningless. You can use facts to prove anything
            that's even remotely true."

            Homer Simpson


            • #7
              No, not at all. I tire of the phrase "but dressage is just a word for training" - well, breakfast is just a word for food but a 4-course dinner is not breakfast.

              Unless one is 'flatting' with the pyramid in mind and applying the principles of dressage in the process, then no, they are not doing dressage.


              • #8
                The dressage training scale - rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, collection. To jump well, I'd argue these things are important. We get new students who have historically bombed around at the local level with no adjustability or bend, but the horse has a swap so they are in the ribbons. If you try to teach them dressage, they bristle and claim to not wish to ride dressage so we call it flatwork.

                Often flatwork is not dressage (jogging around on the forehand with no contact), but in my opinion, it should be.


                • #9
                  All flatwork is not created equal. Dressage concepts can be intermingled in flatwork, but there is definitely a difference between dressage and flatwork. Jumping is not dressage with jumps in between (go watch a dressage competition and then a jumping competition for a visual on this) but utilizing concepts from dressage is important. If you and your horse don't understand balance, rhythm, impulsion, etc. then you won't get far with jumping. I really like cross training in both because I think it is incredibly helpful. There is also a difference (to me) between hacking and flatwork. Hacking is more casual (w/t/c maybe out on the trails or in the field or even in an arena working to get your horse moving, but not necessarily asking for a whole lot) and flatwork involves more bending, lateral movements, riding figures, adjusting strides, etc.


                  • #10
                    I used to hear a young, inexperienced and oddly passive-aggressive hunter trainer at my former barn shout this old adage on a regular basis as her students went around, oblivious to all of the principles at the heart of the discipline called dressage: rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness, collection.

                    Yes, dressage can be translated as training. And yes, it's possible to implement dressage principles without riding in a traditional dressage seat. But in its usage as a name for an equestrian discipline (i.e. a subset of what we would consider training) it entails developing a horse's athleticism, expressiveness, communication, and confidence through training that implements the principles listed above.

                    So no, not all flatwork is necessarily dressage. And jumping isn't necessarily dressage with fences in between. But they can be.


                    • #11
                      All flatwork is not dressage. I took hunter jumper lessons before I did dressage. Those were good lessons but we did nothing remotely like dressage.

                      On the other hand, some dressage is not really dressage either.


                      • #12
                        It's a subjective question. Dressage is a French word that means "training." Over time, it's developed into a specific discipline. I do way more "dressage" now that I ride western than I did when I did hunters and equitation.
                        "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in a confederacy against him."


                        • #13
                          "Dressage" comes in two flavors: "dressage" which is a French word for "training" and thus is pretty broad. Then there's "Dressage" (with the capitol "D") and that is a specific discipline which also has some variations on the theme.

                          So, in a generic sense, all "training" can be "dressage" but to speak that way would lead to a LOT of confusion. In most circumstances if you say "dressage" people will hear "Dressage" and that, too, can generate some confusion. Most folks leave the word "Dressage" to the competitors and use other words for "flat work." Like, "flat work"!!!

                          And since the needling of Dressage enthusiasts is mandatory in many equine discussions our local fox hunters say "Dressage" is a French world for "afraid to jump"!

                          The U.S. Horse Cavalry did a LOT of flat work and some it involved use of weapons (saber, lance, and pistol). It was not "Dressage" at all! But it required a LOT of training of horse and rider. This tradition continues in Europe, India, and Australia where "Skill at Arms" competitions are very popular. It's also an element of Working Equitation, which combines a dressage test, an obstacle course, and cattle sorting. It's very popular in the Iberian breeds.

                          Maybe the Moral of the Story is to be careful with some words as they can have many and varied meanings.


                          Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão


                          • #14
                            I grew up riding predominantly hunters, like most. In my youth, I didn’t see the difference between what I was doing in my flatwork and “dressage.”

                            But like so many are saying here, as I got older and gained I better understanding of dressage, I realized the incredible difference in fundamental ideologies.

                            The biggest misconception I held is that I thought the movements were the heart of dressage. I wrongly believed that if you could do the movements, then you were doing dressage. I know many others hold this same misconception, even people who are active in dressage.

                            But the movements and tests are just a way to demonstrate your partnership and the balance, connection, and compliance you achieved.

                            I find my dressage training has changed how I view my role as a rider. In my youth, I felt my job was to ask my horse to do something, then leave him alone to do it. If he didn’t do it, I asked again. My goal was for them to go along portraying the “picture” I wanted with minimal asking from me. Which may not sound dissimilar to dressage, but I was a combination of passive/reactionary in the saddle with these requests. Now, I am much more active as a rider and in tune with every footfall. Flatwork is more like a conversation where I am thinking and feeling my horse’s every move to achieve the end goal. A lot of the end goals are similar to what I was striving for in my hunter flatwork, but I’m reaching them by improving our balance and connection first so that I can flow into a logical request, instead of focusing on a “big ask” first and hoping I can iron it out. If that makes any sense at all.

                            Of course, I’m nothing but a low level rider... but even at the low levels, the disparity is apparent to me.
                            Don't fall for a girl who fell for a horse just to be number two in her world... ~EFO


                            • #15
                              Texarkana has it right. All riding is about asking, but dressage is also about detailed and constant communicating and the goal is a partnership where the language is intimately precise.


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by TMares View Post
                                No, not at all. I tire of the phrase "but dressage is just a word for training" - well, breakfast is just a word for food but a 4-course dinner is not breakfast.

                                Unless one is 'flatting' with the pyramid in mind and applying the principles of dressage in the process, then no, they are not doing dressage.
                                100% this. If your flatwork is systematic, following the dressage training pyramid and improving your horse’s training week over week, month over month, then yes, it’s dressage, regardless of whether you work in a ring or a field, use a dressage saddle or an AP one, have an end goal of “doing” dressage or jumping.

                                My opinion: Just riding around on the flat for exercise is not dressage. Training on the flat for disciplines that don’t utilize dressage principles or follow the pyramid (western pleasure, hunter, hack) is not dressage. It doesn’t make that flatwork wrong, just not dressage.

                                I ruffled a lot lot of feathers a while back with a blog post about whether people were “just riding” or “doing dressage.” Some people objected to the phrase “just riding” as if it were an insult. It’s not. If you just want to ride and enjoy your horse, or give it some exercise, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if your goal is to improve your horse’s training through dressage, certain principles must be applied and certain results should be achieved.

                                I think where flatwork for jumping is concerned, it also depends what kind of jumping you do. Jumpers and dressage horses share a lot of the same characteristics and require the same musculature, and I assume dressage training would be very beneficial to jumpers, as well
                                as eventers of course.

                                In hunters it seems desireable to have a flat moving horse with little impulsion from behind, a long frame and the weight somewhat on the forehand. Since these are not in line with dressage principles, I wouldn’t call this type of flatwork “dressage.” It doesn’t mean hunter flatwork isn’t training and it doesn’t improve hunters, but it’s not dressage. Apples and oranges.

                                Likewiese if if you were training a QH for western pleasure classes, you would probably not find dressage training beneficial.