Dear Dressage World,

I’m going to start off by saying that I am interested in all things equine, regardless of discipline, breed of horse, etc. Despite my interest in everything equine, my practical experience is exclusively hunter/jumper/equitation, with a select few reining, eventing, and dressage experiences (by select few, I mean ridden a school-master-type horse in that style/discipline once or twice… Barely enough to count but certainly enough to make me wish I had time to try it more!).

I am very fortunate to have a equine-related job that affords me some truly incredible opportunities to see amazing horses and riders compete at all different levels in a whole bunch of disciplines. I have recently been attending a fair number of dressage shows/clinics as a vendor/sponsor representative, and it has been very interesting. Most of the time I don’t fully understand what I’m watching or how a class is being judged, but, as someone who rides horses, I can appreciate each horse and rider’s endeavors.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned about you and dressage culture while hanging around your shows.

  1. You like shiny things. I had seen pictures of horses wearing blinged-out brow bands, but I didn’t truly understand how much you love your bling until I started vending at some of your bigger shows. If it is wearable (for either horse or rider) or carry-able (whips, crops, handbags), there’s probably a version of it someone has bedazzled. I, too, tend to like things that sparkle in the sunlight, so I really really REALLY enjoy shopping at yours shows.1. You like when things match. If your barn colors are purple and black, every accessory from sparkly brow band to saddle cover is purple and black too.

    2. You truly accept all types of people and horses. As I am writing this I am looking into a warm up ring at a fairly large dressage show on the east coast, and I see (at the very least) 5 very different breeds of horses. During my time at your shows, I have seen ponies (shetland, connemara, welsh, and many more), morgans, TB’s, warmbloods, warmblood crosses, TB crosses, draft horses, Fresians, anglo-arabs, draft crosses, and multitude of other breeds all competing in the same classes. I have seen children, teens, adults, middle aged adults, and folks who are entering their golden years showing. And I’ve seen all different types of horse and rider combinations win and lose on any given day. Nobody seems to be penalized for not fitting perfectly into the cookie-cutter “what a dressage rider and horse should look like” stereotype. You go out there with your favorite horse (whatever breed that may be) and you ride your heart out. Even if it’s not the perfect ride, your pride in your mount is tangible.

    3. You value learning. I’ve asked some dressage people that I’ve met in my travels their opinions about showing, and I’ve heard pretty much the same thing said a bunch of different ways: you show so that you can know that other people and judges can see what you feel. I take that to mean that you feel something great when you ride, and you want to share it. Not one dressage person has ever said “I show because I want to be successful and accomplish winning”, but all of you have said that you want to learn and ride better. The format of your competitions reflects your desire to learn – you get to see your judges cards so that you know what went well and what you need to work on. This is something I DESPERATELY want for the equitation and possibly even hunter rings. There is nothing more frustrating for a rider than walking out of the ring thinking you nailed your trip only to have the judge give you a poor score (and have your trainer who is experienced and knowledgeable point out small flaws but nothing to warrant such a low score). How can you improve your riding if you don’t know what has to be “fixed”?

    4. You’re organized. My favorite part about dressage shows is that you know exactly when you should be there. Nobody is standing at the gate waiting for their trainer to show up while the ring sits empty. You’re on, warmed-up, and ready to ride at your 9:21 am ride time.

    5. You make white horse stuff cool. I have never owned a set of white polos for fear they won’t stay white very long. However, when I see a dark bay horse wearing four white polos and a crisp white pad with a rider wearing white breeches and white gloves… Is there anything more polished looking?

    6. Your ribbons are beautiful. Maybe it’s because you don’t show as frequently as most hunter/jumper people do, so when you do decide to ride for a ribbon it should be a big one with a pretty rosette. And maybe a sparkle. Or two.

    Dressage world, I know what people say about you – divas, dressage queens, “it’s just flat work”. But after being immersed in your culture, I know that these things are no more than a half truth at best. Sure, you like your sparkly tack and sharp white pants just so, but what you do and your love of horses goes way beyond that of the average ribbon-hungry competitor. And while I will most likely never ride a dressage test (the jumper and hunter rings will probably always be calling my name), I like spending time at your events. Even if I don’t know exactly what you’re doing after you halt at X and get excited when your horse occasionally jumps the little white fence, I will always clap when you finish your test (but only when someone else who looks like they know what they’re doing claps first so I know it’s an appropriate time).

    See you soon,

    An Admiring Jumper Rider