An important friendly reminder: Do your damn dressage!

Not ideal. Photo credit: P-Ten Marketing/Erik Jacobs


An important friendly reminder: Do your damn dressage!

Dressage gets a bad rap in Eventing Land. If you, like many others out there, would happily vote to chuck that phase out of competition altogether, please allow me, dear reader, to lovingly and gently admonish you: knock that shit off. A solid dressage education is vital to any eventer worth their salt.

Before we begin, lest anyone accuse me of being a covert dressage queen, allow me to paint a picture for you: I’m an actual human potato who rides a (lovely, intelligent, brave) OTTB with a slight hitch in his giddy-up. He trots like a geriatric pony, God bless him, and we are no strangers to comments like “spooked and bucked A-C.” Have you ever heard a top trainer (not even yours!) urge you from the sidelines to quit while you’re ahead? Because I have.

So, now that that’s out of the way. Do your damn dressage.



Most riders don’t need to be reminded of the sport’s origins as a cavalry training exercise. Horses were tested on obedience and grace first, when their blood was hot and their energy levels were up (dressage), courage and endurance next (cross country), and lastly, soundness and athleticism when they were tired (show jumping). Dressage may not have the machismo appeal of the other two phases, and even I’ll admit it’s not as adrenaline boosting (except for when you’re spooking and bucking A-C), but there are significant reasons why it’s literally a third of the entire concept of the sport.

  1. Good dressage work keeps horses sounder longer.
  2. Good dressage work keeps them jumping higher and cleaner.
  3. Good dressage work makes them more rideable when crap hits the fan (hello slightly spooky/crooked approach into the coffin complex, how are you?)
  4. Good dressage work makes us more effective and empathetic as riders.
  5. Good dressage work makes both horses and riders stronger and more flexible.
  6. Good dressage work improves the connection in the bridle.
  7. Good dressage work improves the communication between horse and rider.

The reasons behind focusing on quality dressage work go beyond improving one’s scores and could probably fill an alphabet’s worth of bullet points, but suffice to say: If you’re not excited by your dressage work, then you are doing it wrong.

With a little hard work, you can go from hideous scores to slightly less hideous scores! Photo credit: Ben Webb

For example, if you find 20 meter circles boring, it’s probably because you’re not paying attention. 20 meter circles:

  • give even the potato-iest among us an easy introduction to the concept of riding from inside leg to outside rein
  • allow us to use the bend of the circle to keep horses soft as we work on simple concepts like transitions and minor lateral work
  • give us a clear indication of whether we’re using our aids correctly ( hint: circles should be round and even. )

But whether you’re schooling 20 meter circles or half pass, the quality and thrill of your dressage work is exactly what you make it. From one non-DQ to another: Take your dressage lessons seriously. Go to clinics. Take notes. And do your damn dressage.

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