Why ‘Practical’ Dressage?

IMG_1389Dressage – French, from dresser to train, drill, from Middle French (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Competitive dressage made its first appearance at the Olympic Games in Stockholm, in 1912. Yet, dressage as an art, or a training practice, had been present for centuries in Europe. The dressage of each time period reflected the needs of the culture.

The term dressage is usually directed at the horse, yet it is the rider who has the most influence in the partnership and must learn both the techniques and feel of the art. Without feel, riding becomes a mechanical display that lacks spirit. Riding should never be a recipe out of a ‘dressage cookbook’, though this is often how it is taught.

Practical dressage takes into account your individual partnership with the horse. What are your goals? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What aspects of your horse are naturally brilliant? What are his challenges and how can we transcend these, or at least improve them?

Dressage exercises can be based in classical roots, but need to fit the rider’s ‘modern’ goals. How can we adapt the movements to the unique breeds of our century? How can we teach an art that, at it’s fullest, requires years of intense focus and study – for riders that can only give it a few hours per week, often without instruction? How do you develop feel without an educated schoolmaster? How do you keep the rider and horse engaged and set them up for success?

Not every rider wants to attend formal dressage shows. I have many students who want to have fun on the trail and develop a horse that has self carriage and lightness. I have others that love to jump or work cattle, but realize that dressage is the foundation for all riding disciplines.


A good practical dressage instructor should help you understand:

  • Why is this exercise good for you or the horse?
  • What did the instructor see that made him/her select this path for you, at this time?
  • What are the historical roots and how can we apply them to our current situation?
  • How to do the exercise, technically – at this stage of training (the ‘how’ may change over time)
  • When to move away from the technical and ride from feel

When you are riding the horse, you are training the horse. Practical dressage can help you learn how to do this more effectively – and in a shorter time period.

Ride with passion!




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