I never really liked dressage. It was challenging, but not in a fun way. It was frustrating and tedious. I did it reluctantly because it was required for my chosen sport of eventing. I never rode a horse that was an exceptional dressage athlete; I’m sure this is in part because of my attitude toward it. I wasn’t confident and I wasn’t enthusiastic- I was hoping to scrape by with a score in the low 40s and I depended on clear cross country and show jumping rounds to move me up the leaderboard. My life’s ambition was to win the Glentrool Trophy at Badminton.
This tactic worked pretty well, because Moe (and most other horses I’ve evented) were very good jumpers. Moe and I didn’t win much, but we could count on a solid sixth or fourth or once, gloriously, a trophy for winning our age division.
When I realized Gina had some serious reservations about jumping, I started doing dressage more and more often. It didn’t hurt that I’d found a good trainer in my friend Anne, either. Gina was good at dressage; she made leg yields easy and walk-canter transitions enjoyable. I learned how to sit like a dressage rider, how to get my hands out of my lap (well, I still struggle with that). I learned how to really feel my horse pushing underneath herself and into the contact, instead of simply lowering her head and dragging herself along. Gina’s confidence in me and in herself increased. Now she trots around the ring with swagger– she knows she’s the fanciest, flashiest horse in the barn.
I made friends in the local dressage community, because the local eventing community is nearly non-existent (or more difficult to infiltrate than Ivy League secret societies). While they aren’t as brave or wild as my horse friends from polo in Kansas or eventing in Tennessee, they’re good riders, excellent horsemen, and can occasionally be persuaded to take a trail ride (when the footing is perfect and their horses are shod and I promise not to gallop off and leave them).
Yesterday, I slung my dressage saddle onto Gina’s big, bay back and reflected that I wasn’t unhappy it was too wet to take her out for conditioning sets or jump in the outdoor. I was perfectly content to work in the indoor on our transitions and geometry. I enjoyed our ride. The triumph of a perfect canter departure, the satisfaction of a tight serpentine done well, the swinging feeling of Gina’s back under my seat bones- it was all part of a sense of rightness.
I’m not a dressage queen; I don’t think I ever will be. The thrill of cross country and excitement of show jumping are too appealing. But sometimes, on quiet mornings when Gina is relaxed and happy, I know I appreciate dressage more than I ever have before.