Tack n' Talk

Online Equestrian Resource

Dressage demystified

Many riders I speak to have either given up on dressage or based on what they do know about it appear to have no interest in it. They seem to feel that dressage riders are a group of obsessed types who ride around in circles all day or kick their horses sideways for no apparent reason.This is such a shame. If only they knew the sport was an incredible gateway into the mind and movement of their horses.  A way to become connected as partners in a very special and intimate way.

I do understand their confusion and frustration. The language of dressage lends itself to a lot of misconceptions. It will be beyond the scope of this post to explain all of these, my intention rather ,is to note many of the dichotomies I have come across in trying to coach dressage and understand it as a rider.

First, I will briefly describe dressage in simple terms that hopefully will help people to understand it’s goals and purposes.

Very simply the word dressage means the training of the horse. The purpose of this training is to create a very balanced athlete who can carry a rider safely and elegantly while displaying their best athletic ability through a series of movements designed to improve that movement,strengthen the musculature and joints of the horse allowing it to respond ever more lightly and easily to the rider’s slightest request.In short, without discomfort or resistance of any kind. I believe that is a horse any type of rider would enjoy being on and so it follows I also believe dressage basics can improve the performance of a horse in any discipline.

Now, back to the labyrinth of terms and phrases that leave newcomers feeling lost and even experienced riders struggling to grasp what are actually quite straight forward concepts, once thoroughly  understood. In future posts I would like to address these concepts one by one.

Impulsion refers to the horse’s ability to go forward from behind.

In order to bend ie. on a twenty meter circle a horse must be straight.

In order to perform extensions the horse must first be able to collect.

In order to be on the bit the horse must allow the rider to feel the haunches through the reins.

The key to controlling the movement of the haunches is in unlocking the horse’s jaw.

The ride should feel the entire horse is between their hand and leg.

Horses need to move uphill into a downward transition.

In order to send the horse forward more freely we need to half halt the energy back to the hindquarters

These are only a few of the most fundamental basic concepts of dressage. It is no wonder that the average beginner, pleasure or trail rider, on hearing these terms for the first time decides dressage is definitely not for them! If only they knew how much closer they could become to their equine companions by investing some time in pondering and understanding these ideas.

Many coaches, top level riders and clinicians are not helpful in demystifying dressage. They throw around terms like connection, throughness, rounder etc.,etc. without taking the time and encouraging students to ask questions, the confidence to admit they are lost and to be able to ask for clarity and thorough explanations of what it is the coach is asking the horse and rider to do. Certainly much of dressage is very hard to explain and coach. I, myself use a lot of imagery.ie. when you do this picture such and such. There are many exercises which can position the horse and rider to feel the point before they really understand it and then learn from the feeling. Learning to ride dressage is a game of constant epiphanies but realizing why you would bother to learn it is less confusing.

What would I consider to be the perfect horse? A horse who given their physical and mental ability would to their very best comply instantly and fully to my slightest request. To enjoy doing so.To wait patiently for my next command and respond completely to it when it comes. In the simplicity of the results of good and correct dressage training we see the value of pursuing an understanding of it.

Libby Keenan,

with a very special  thankyou to Larissa Cox who has warmly welcomed back my contributions to Tack and Talk Bog after a lengthy absence due to a series of personal losses .


1 Comment»

  Brian Anderson wrote @

Amen Sister;

I have competed in many sports at a high level, key word competed which implies and means conflict. What is truly cool about dressage is that the only way to succeed is to find harmony.

The truly converted,


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