The Big Picture

If you’re a driver with no background in dressage or you’re a beginning dressage rider, you have a daunting amount of skill and knowledge to acquire before you can expect to be competitive in these wonderful sports. The series of articles here is designed to help you acquire the knowledge you need.

I spent many years attending clinics and taking dressage lessons. I spent many more years reading everything I could acquire about dressage and good movement. I literally inhaled knowledge. I had shelves of books with evocative passages underlined in my quest to understand the aims and goals of this wonderful sport. At some point the information I’d acquired achieved critical mass in my brain and so much of what I had been taught and studied for so long finally jelled.

Part of the purpose of this series of articles is to help you along the same path.

Let’s look at the pieces and how they fit together.

Before your horse can move correctly, he must be strong enough to move correctly. Before you can expect to compete successfully your horse has to move correctly. So training is a circle. Improve strength, improve movement. Repeat.

There are a lot of reasons why a horse might not move correctly. If your horse has less than ideal conformation, the amount you can improve his movement might be limited. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. If your horse hasn’t been ridden correctly, he is probably not going to move correctly.

If you’ve studied dressage you will have heard of the dressage pyramid. The reason for the pyramid is simple. If you expect to be able to do canter pirouettes accurately, you have a mess of other stuff you have to be able to do first. Because dressage is a pairing of horse and rider, it isn’t just the horse who has to learn stuff, you do as well. A top level rider can get on a green horse, but a pirouette isn’t going to happen. A green rider can get on a Grande Prix horse, but a pirouette still isn’t going to happen.

Let’s look at the bottom of the pyramid and look at where we have to start.

At the bottom of the pyramid is rhythm. Rhythm is so important! It’s important because without a consistent rhythm you can’t get a quality lengthened trot or good balanced collection. It is also important because consistent rhythm signals to the rider that the horse is strong enough for the work. What happens when the horse loses his balance? He takes shorter faster steps. Rushing is a sign of lost balance, a sign of lack of strength and a sign of lack of flexibility. Any way you look at it, rushing is bad.

While you’re working on understanding rhythm, there’s a lot of other stuff you can be working on at the same time . . . if you know what to look for.

The next step in the pyramid is relaxation. While you’re working on rhythm, you can work on relaxation as well! And while you’re working on rhythm and relaxation, you can be working on connection as well! It looks like we’re going to be busy! There are more level in the dressage pyramid, but these three are the foundation we have to build if we want to be good at dressage. Without these three, we cannot possible have good movement.