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Learning Dressage for recreation or a career

In this post we’re going to talk about dressage. The post is in two parts; the first part is an account, by a contributor, of their experiences learning dressage, and the second part discusses potential careers in dressage riding.

Part One – My Experiences Learning Dressage

The first time I witnessed dressage was at the yearly event held at a local race course. At the time, I already owned two horses. I had always ridden English, and we did groundwork, and went for trail rides. But what I saw in dressage fascinated and terrified me at the same time.

The music, the idea of creating a dance between equine and human being, combined with the formal attire, and the way it all looked so easy, too easy – I wanted to try it! It seemed magical, almost spiritual, when you were lucky enough to observe a really good partnership in action.

For the rider to give cues that you can’t even see, and the horse responds in such a relaxed and giving way, I wanted to have the same experience with my own horses. I know they get bored sometimes, so it would definitely be a challenge for them as well. But where to start?

My daughter participated in a riding club at the time, so I started there. At our next meeting, I asked if anyone could recommend a good dressage trainer who would teach at a private home, not just a training barn. I got a couple of leads, but nothing seemed to pan out.

The more people I talked to, the more one trainer in particular kept coming up. She was a woman in her 80s, but still rides every day. People made her out to be some kind of a dressage guru. But she only trains at her own barn, and I don’t own a trailer, so working with my own horses was out. Her barn was almost an hour away from me, so lessons during the week were out, too because I work during the day.

She was also extremely expensive, but everyone who had taken lessons with her swore that she was worth it. I went back and forth, weighing the pros and cons, so many times. I finally decided to call and find out if she was taking on new students.

In my first dressage lesson, you would think I had not ridden a horse in ten years. The saddle and leg position were totally different than what I was used to. I was embarrassed, but my new trainer was patient and extremely gracious.

She taught me how to experience a completely different sense of balance. My leg strength improved. I looked forward to my weekend lesson all week, and tried to teach my own horses during the week what I had learned.

My trainer has taught me that you are never done learning dressage. Every time you master something, you then set about refining it, making the cues more subtle. As a result, my horses have learned to be extremely responsive to my requests.

I love to see the wheels turning in their heads when I ask them for something they know a little more lightly. Our relationship and communication has deepened. Indeed, dressage is an ambition worth pursuing.

Part Two – Careers in Dressage Riding

learning dressageDressage is a specific type of equestrian showmanship where a controlled horse will respond quickly and smoothly to commands given in a subtle manner. At the basic level the horse must show a particular relaxed carriage, response to the bit and obedience at a walk and trot.

At the highest levels, dressage becomes what is often called “horse ballet.” It not only is a method of riding and instruction, but is characterized by the use of warmblood horses, where riders dress in a prescribed, formal manner, use a specific saddle (similar to English), and hold themselves in a certain seat.

Equestrians with a background in English riding may have an advantage at the beginning levels because of similarities in style. However, anyone with an understanding of horses, and some natural ability in riding should be able to adapt and learn dressage.

Most professional dressage riders begin working as grooms. In the UK, there is an apprenticeship scheme to provide structured training for hopeful dressage riders. Riders are accepted as positions become available.

To become a professional full-time rider is a challenge. At the Spanish Riding School of Vienna one new pupil is taken each year, and the fastest rise from beginner to Chief Rider was 20 years. It is more likely that a dressage rider may find part-time employment at a large stable where additional skills such as horse training, instruction of riders, and showing of horses for sale will be incorporated into the responsibilities. Positions may include room and board, flex time, and benefits. Experience in other styles of riding such as hunting and jumping is a great advantage.

To obtain employment as a dressage rider, even in a part-time capacity, usually a minimum Third Level experience is required. To reach this level, a rider can begin at local competition levels, or take advantage of training clinics. A beginner might offer to work at a horse barn in exchange for dressage lessons.

Any activities which give a person more dressage experience can help him or her advance. These will certainly include showing and might include coaching, or judging. Dedication and persistence will be required to become a professional dressage rider.

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Health benefits of horse riding

As Winston Churchill famously said, “There’s something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” It was true at the time, and it’s even more accurate in modern times. As anyone who rides regularly will know, horse riding is excellent for both toning your body and relaxing your mind.  But the benefits don’t stop there, as this post about the health benefits of horse riding seeks to demonstrate.

People have been using horses for transport for thousands of years, and in many parts of the world horses are still essential for transport and agriculture. However, once we no longer relied upon horsepower to work the land, or for transportation, riding for pleasure became a popular pastime.

The fact that so many of us continue to ride when we no longer have to do so for practical reasons, is a testimony to our enduring love of horses. According to figures published by the British Equestrian Trade Association, there were two point seven million riders in the UK, in 2015. Of these, one point three million were regular riders.

However, both these figures show a decline from the totals for 2011. This fall was partly due to economic factors, rather than a lessening of enthusiasm on the part of the British public. Other ex-riders cited loss of access to a horse or stables.

Health benefits of horse ridingThe Physical Benefits of Horse Riding

Horse riding is one of the best forms of exercise for improving muscle tone and balance. It helps to improve your coordination, confidence and overall posture. A low impact exercise, it’s often suitable for people who can’t manage more high impact sports, but it will still give you a thorough aerobic workout – riding can burn up to 300 calories an hour. If you have your own horse, don’t forget all the related activity as well – grooming, mucking out, picking up droppings and cleaning tack will all help to keep you fit.

The Mental Benefits of Horse Riding

In today’s high speed, high stress society, horse riding is an excellent form of relaxation, as a combination of fresh air, exercise and adrenaline provides the perfect escape from modern life. Building a relationship with your horse is intensely satisfying, as you both improve and start to stretch your boundaries. Horses are extremely sensitive and intuitive, and helping a young, scared or confused horse to overcome physical or behavioural problems is one of the most intensely positive experiences you can have as a rider.

The Emotional Benefits of Horse Riding

Apart from the obvious benefits of fresh air and exercise, the main pleasure of horse riding is the chance to build a partnership with an intelligent, sensitive animal. If you’re lucky enough to have your own horse, you’ll appreciate how a good partnership can evolve and develop as you work together to improve.

However, even if you only ride occasionally, riding is a series of immensely pleasurable moments – whether it’s the satisfaction from finally achieving a correct rising trot after weeks of trying, or the short but intense adrenaline buzz from a flat-out gallop. Even riding once or twice a year on a trekking holiday brings its own pleasures, and offers the chance to see new countryside in a way that’s in tune with the natural surroundings.

Horse Riding Improves Your Social Life

Unless you insist on riding alone, there are plenty of opportunities to meet people and make new friends in equestrian circles.

There are many chances for interaction at events, on holidays, or just out riding. As a fellow equestrian, you’ll find plenty to chat about with strangers. Horse riding has also been known to improve your love life too!

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Why I ride horses and how realised the answer

Here’s why I ride horses and how I came to realise the answer.  We all have at least one close friend that does not share your love of horses. You know the type.

She has perfect nails, and by perfect I mean there is no stable dirt underneath them. She has perfect hair, with no trace of a crimp circling her head, where the riding hat has sat for hours.

She owns clean, open-toe shoes, jewelry not in the shape of snaffles or horseshoes, and more long gowns in her wardrobe than you’ve owned since childhood.

Take pity on this friend. She must be a sad little creature, spending her days shopping or decorating.

Maya is that friend for me. She was born in the city and has lived there her entire life. For her, the countryside is any piece of land that isn’t paved over. The closest to livestock she has ever been is her house cat.

She asked me once why I ride horses. In her words they are big and smelly, and their hair gets everywhere. My explanations always sound inadequate when I hear the words spoken aloud. “I love the outdoors”, I tell her. “Then take up walking”, she’ll say. “I enjoy the competition”, I’ll counter. “So play chess”, she’ll recommend. “It’s the quiet time I enjoy”, I smile. “Read a book then”, she’ll smile back.

It was after one of these conversations that I had an epiphany. I asked myself, “Why do I ride?” Is it really the quiet ride in the countryside? Is it really wanting to get a better score on my Dressage test? I thought about what types of horses I have ridden and owned.


why I ride horses

Was there something similar between them? I have always loved Andalusians. I have owned two. Why did I choose this particular breed? What are the traits that drew me to them? First of all, they are beautiful. The long wavy mane and tail. The gorgeous line of the arched neck. The graceful movement of their paces. They are athletic and excel in all disciplines, it’s true, but I had discovered why I love horses and riding. I always felt like an ugly duckling as a child. I was large, clumsy, and shy.

Horses were my polar opposite. Beautiful and graceful, they possessed the traits I wanted for myself. I realized how much attention I got for my horses’ beauty. I was taking those compliments as my own. I was living vicariously through my horses, becoming a swan any time I was with them. This self-reflection put me at ease. I love horses because they are beautiful. I wasn’t embarrassed to tell Maya this and I knew it was the truth when she said, “Oh, that makes sense”.

We all have our reason for riding. Maybe it’s power, strength, or speed. Maybe it’s the rush of the cross country course or the thrill of winning. Maybe you just look good in your riding clothes. Whatever the reason, the universal truth is that for horse lovers, you know you can’t live without them.

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Do you love horse riding?

Do you love horse riding?

Do you love horse riding? Is it something you could not live without? You’re not alone. Millions of people around the world feel the same way.

Those who are involved with horses and the equestrian world generally, whether on an occasional basis, or as a full time occupation, do not need to be reminded of how the love of horses can take over one’s life.

A passion for equestrianism can last a lifetime, and may be more important to a person than anything, or anyone else.

Horse riding is one of Britain’s most popular activities. For some this means just the occasional pony trekking holiday in Wales.

For others it’s a regular weekend ride through the beautiful English countryside.

For some it means daily rides and practice in order to compete in show jumping and dressage, or to exercise and train for regular horse racing events.

Horse riders engage in all kinds of equestrian sports; horse racing, hunting, polo, eventing, show jumping, gymkhanas, to name a few.

And of course there are other sports which may not involve horse riding, but which still include horses as the main feature, like carriage driving and ploughing competitions with heavy, or shire horses.

Horse & Rider Relationship

Do you love horse riding?There is often a symbiotic relationship between horses and their owners, or those who take care of them on a regular basis. They need each other and the partnership is mutually beneficial. It may not always seem that way when you have to get up long before dawn to feed your horses on a freezing winter’s morning, but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

Someone once described horses as the dolphins of the land. By that they meant that our equine friends are super intelligent, and in partnership with human kind. They have accompanied us on our journey through history since humans first tamed and domesticated wild animals, and despite all the advances in technology and transportation this relationship shows no sign of abating.

If anything, horses and humans need each other now more than ever. We have become divorced from nature to an extent that it’s becoming bad for our health and caring for horses can put us back in touch with the natural world; fresh air, clean water, open skies.

So whatever your interest in horses, whether you are a skilled horseman or horsewoman, jockey, or just someone who loves horse riding on an occasional basis, cherish the time you have in the saddle.

Experience it again with fresh senses. Tune in to the elements and seasons around you.

Riding your horse in this way is probably the most rewarding and enriching experiences you can have, but then you probably know that already.