Based on my initial response, the answer to George’s question seems to be that dressage riding and training is all about hard work and lots of it. But is that really true? Dressage is also all about fun and discovering how to make our training methods fun for the horse. We should never lose sight of the essential fact that our horses have agreed to play with us whenever we head out to the arena to advance their education. We want them to develop confidence and pride in their work and for that pride to show when we trot down the centerline. To do this, we need their full cooperation and enthusiastic participation in the schooling process. Few horses will smile their way around the dressage arena if they feel they have been treated unfairly or drilled relentlessly. It is the happy dressage campaigner who pricks his ears and “struts his stuff” between the opening and closing halts of a test. Our job then is to find ways to keep the training process enjoyable while still developing the strength and grace that makes a good dressage horse such a joy to watch and ride.
So this months’ challenge is to remember to keep it fun for our horses. Remember to school with a smile on your face; vary your schooling plan with days for relaxing trail rides interspersed with skill drill practices and conditioning rides. Play with your horse, praise every little improvement, offer walk breaks on a long rein between exercises and encourage your horse to enjoy your rides together. It is true that dressage is hard work, but it can and should be fun too and the rider who strives to balance the two will find a happier horse and a true partner to play with.
Susan Moody, IEO President