Go to any local dressage show across the country, and you'll see a variety of entries- kids on ponies, newbie riders on first horses, retirees on solid schoolmasters, and pros riding highly trained animals. You see, in dressage, there's a place for everyone.
But the coolest thing about dressage is the doing, not the watching.
And no, you don't need a big, fancy Warmblood with a hard-to-pronounce German name. In fact, you can more than likely learn and appreciate basic dressage with your current horse. All he needs is a four-beat walk, two-beat trot, and three-beat canter. How simple is that? Many riders enjoy dressage on their Quarter Horses, Arabians, Paints and Appaloosas, as well as the more traditional "Baroque" horses, such as Lipizzans, Andalusians, Lusitanos, as well as the ever-popular Warmbloods.
"Dressage is really growing at the grassroots level," says Linda Schultz, director of marketing for the United State Dressage Federation. "Dressage isn't about the destination; it's about the journey. Each day is about doing a little better than the day before, and I think that's something every horseman can appreciate."
Even if you're not interested in competing, training for dressage will add new depth to your riding and improve your discipline de jour, be it endurance, trail riding, reining or jumping. The structure of the sport improves horse and rider fitness and suppleness. And with training, your horse will become more responsive as you build a stronger mental and emotional relationship. The result is simply a well-trained horse.
The sport of dressage is misunderstood as often as it's mispronounced. What might be perceived as a fancy-smancy spectacle is actually just good horsemanship and training.
"The concept of dressage-and John Lyons promotes this as well-is about the partnership between the horse and the human," says Schultz. "Dressage isn't about forcing a horse to do things. It's about developing a relationship and a trust with that horse and progressing together. It's about lifelong improvement. "
The pronunciation of the word "dressage," just for clarification, starts with "dress" and rhymes with "massage." On the surface, the word dressage is French and roughly translates to training. Beyond semantics, dressage is a term used to describe a systematic and internationally recognized training system and the competition used to test the horse-and-rider's progress.
With ancient roots in Europe, dressage is often associated with Olympic competition and the Spanish Riding School of Austria. The origins are thought to begin with the intense training of military horses, which had to be obedient, responsive and strong in order to save their riders' necks during battle. Now, that's incentive for training your horse!
Today, dressage is more recreational in nature. In the United States, the sport is promoted by the United States Dressage Federation (USDF), which is in association with the national governing body, the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF). Internationally, dressage is sanctioned by the Fédération Equèstre Internationale (FEI), the international governing body of equestrian disciplines. These federations oversee competitions, create and enforce rules, and dole out awards.