DRESSAGE TRAINING - Building blocks for all equestrian disciplines

Dressage.....or what some riders may see as ‘Stressage’, either fills minds with thoughts of Charlotte Dujardin winning gold at the Olympics, showing the epitome of elegance and harmony with your horse, or on the flip side, for some riders just the thought of dressage bores them to tears or fills them with dread due to the speed that the test moves at, or the level of obedience they perceive to be required to ride a test and therefore feel that dressage is not for them.

Weymarsh Hacking
Dressage as I'm sure you will have all read at some point means "to school" in French. If you look at it in its most basic form, when you teach your horse to stand obediently while you open a field gate when on board, 'YOU' have educated your horse to do this so its the same, when riding a corner or centre line.  It does not matter what breed, shape or size your horse is or even whether you are short or tall, what matters is you and you horse working together and developing a better partnership. 

Whether you want to compete in dressage competitions or not, dressage training is an essential part of an all round education for your horse or pony, and it should be enjoyable.  

Why is this essential you may ask, well, you want to have fun and enjoy riding while at the same time educate yourself and your horse to work together without misunderstanding, which, if neglected, could manifest its self in a lack of performance for instance jumping a fence or even bad behaviour. Dressage training provides a solid base for all equestrian disciplines.

Don't worry if you don't know where to start because you don’t have to embark on this journey alone, there are many good trainers/instructors out there that can help you. Try recommendations from trusted friends, the BHS or even the British Dressage trainer’s database. 

When looking for a trainer you want to find someone who is able to make learning fun for you and your horse, is clear and precise in their instruction and helps you to achieve those 'light-bulb moments' when you everything comes together and you understand how to ride a particular movement, giving you a better harmony between you and your horse which ultimately makes your riding easier and effortless.

Once you have started your journey into dressage and found a trainer to help you:

Weymarsh Sarah Teaching

1. Set aside a few days a week to school your horse broken up between hacking, lunging, jumping and any other activity you and you horse enjoy. 

2. Try to stay focused on your target for that session so you know what you are aiming to achieve.  

3. Set yourself daily and weekly targets, for example "I want to ride deeper into my corners and maintain a good rhythm". 

4. To help set yourself targets buy a set of dressage tests at the level you and your horse are working at and work towards achieving what is required within those tests.   

When the day arrives that you feel ready to enter a local unaffiliated dressage competition, get advice from your trainer who will advise you on what level test you should ride.  Give yourself plenty of time to ride through and practice the test and prepare yourself mentally for all the movements so they become second nature just like a route you can drive in your car on autopilot.  Pre test preparation is really important and will help you with your nerves on the day.

Weymarsh dressage riderOn the day of competition have a ‘to do’ list

1. Make sure you have packed everything you and your horse  will need before you leave.  

2. Ensure you arrive at the competition in plenty of time to walk your horse around and allow him to take in the atmosphere before warming up sufficiently for your test.

3. Announce yourself to the secretary and get your rider number. 

4. Look at the arena you will be doing your test in and try to visualize it in your mind as if you were on your horse riding to the markers. 

5. If this does not work for you and you feel like the butterflies in your stomach are trying to burst out, try to imagine yourself riding the test in your arena at home. 

The latter is a personal favourite of mine as it helps to calm and synchronise the butterflies to at least fly in one direction which helps you focus on just riding the test. 
Remember the test is not about you against the other competitors, its all about you and your test and how far you have travelled on your journey of schooling and where and what you want to aim for in the future.
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Remember to ‘Enjoy’