What Is Classical Dressage?

Spanish Riding School paintingDressage can bring an exhilaration unlike any other I’ve experienced riding horses. It is my passion. Many years ago I rode hunters, competed in combined training and western, and even fox hunted. I’ve felt the slide and spin of a reining horse. I’ve felt the gallop that causes your eyes to tear up. But nothing compares to the joy of creating Baroque art – developing of all the natural inborn talents a horse possesses, and being fortunate enough to sit astride.

Dressage can have multiple purposes, however. It can be the goal, or it can be the means to a goal. Dressage can provide a valuable and healthy foundation for all styles of riding. In fact, I believe dressage is necessary in the training of all horses.

How does dressage benefit the horse?

Jessica Snyder with Cutter At its core, dressage is the systematic and gradual development of the horse. When we take the time to properly develop the horse’s joints and musculature, the horse is able to perform movements of incredible power with maximum grace. With dressage as your foundation, you will be able to jump that fence with less effort, run faster, turn easier, and stop quicker. Regardless of discipline, a horse educated in classical dressage principles will perform with much greater ease, coordination, and power.

How does dressage benefit the rider?

Dressage emphasizes riding the whole horse, with your whole body. As you study dressage, you will learn to feel your horse more clearly; how your posture in the saddle affects your horse’s movement; and how to use your seat, legs, and hands to communicate effectively and humanely. For riders who struggle to overcome fear, dressage can help develop the skills and knowledge you need to gain confidence in the saddle. For equestrians of all disciplines, cross-training in dressage can give you more solid foundation by developing an independent seat and the correct use of aids.

Not all dressage is the same, however. Although the goal should be a non-confrontational relationship guided by love and kindness, dressage, like any other discipline, is not always ridden with love and kindness. We only have to click a mouse and we’ll see Rollkur, which is both physically and psychologically damaging. We also see mouths clamped shut with cavesons, hands jerking on mouths, and spurs digging in sides. My goal in teaching riders and training horses is to share a softer and kinder approach. You can be gentle and still be competitive!

The physical and psychological well-being of a horse are synonymous. What better way to bring the spirit of the horse and rider together?

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