There are an estimated 35,000 dressage riders in the United States and nearly every rider dreams of going all the way. In dressage, the proverbial brass ring is actually five rings interlocked together. Yes, we’re talking about the Olympics! This year there will be four spots on the U.S. Olympic team. For the average rider, making the Olympic team is quite frankly just a dream. Most of us aren’t fortunate enough to have a grand prix horse and the resources for international competition. We do, however, have the opportunity to meet or exceed our potential.
Let’s explore how every rider can meet or exceed their potential. The first and most important step is to choose your partner wisely. Safety is always paramount. Never choose more horse than you can handle with the expectation you will grow into the partnership. Inexperienced riders should avoid inexperienced horses. The learning curve goes both ways. An experienced rider can bring a green horse along and an experienced horse can bring a green rider along. If your sights are set for FEI level riding, choose the hottest horse you can safely ride. Steady eddies are great confidence builders but may not have what it takes to cope both mentally and physically with the rigors of upper level dressage.
The second step is to always ride with purpose. How many times have you found yourself riding around and around the arena with little to no purpose or conversely repeatedly drilling your horse to the point of nauseam striving for perfection? Each time you get on your horse’s back you’re training him whether you realize it or not. Try to make every ride count with an emphasis on the positives. Expect to make mistakes and learn from them. Listen to your horse and don’t blame him when things don’t go right. Nine times out of ten it’s likely your fault.
Our third step is to remember that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Watch videos of national and international riders and emulate what they are doing . There are no shortcuts with dressage. Short cuts usually result in injury and ultimately a shorter career for your horse. Don’t use gadgets such as draw reigns or harsh bits. They defeat the purpose of dressage and take the “self” out of self carriage. There is no substitution for proper and purposeful training.
Step four is to find a good coach and work with them as often as possible. Mirrors are great for primping but are no substitute for a good eye on the ground providing feedback. Have someone video your ride. I guarantee it won’t look as fabulous as you remembered it, but the footage can be priceless in your quest for brilliance.
And finally, if you truly want to realize your potential, go for brilliance and not the blue ribbon. Many riders put too much emphasis on the pattern and dominating the horse. A test ridden forward with a few mistakes always beats a conservatively ridden test with no errors in my book. The most important thing you must always remember is that brilliance doesn’t come from control it comes from cooperation!