I remember, a long time ago, arriving at a new client’s farm to teach some riding lessons. The very first thing the owner said to me was, “We don’t show, we are trail riders, but we love our horses and take good care of them. While we don’t ride Thoroughbreds or warmbloods, our gaited horses, mules, and draft horse are all rescues or adopted, and we’ve spent thousands on veterinary care and feed to rehab them from injury or starvation. So we might not look like we are show riders, and the horses might not be as fancy as you are used to, but we want to learn to ride better and that is why we asked you to come.”
I was nearly in tears and thought for a long moment before I could find the words to thank her for her information. I very quickly changed the lesson plans and set a fun little obstacle course with a few cones, poles, and boxes, and we had a wonderful lesson. I taught the group almost all summer, and by the end, all were cantering in the arena in a group safely, they had all learned and gotten very good at two-point, and most could ride comfortably with their heels down. We got almost all the horses in hackamores and plain snaffles, too.
When I think back on that little speech, I consider it a turning point in my horse life. It made me think about how the horses feel about training and schooling, and about how all the things that you bring with you to a training session really mean nothing if the horse is not foremost in all thought and speech going forward from the instant you set foot in that ring.
Contrast this scene with the online chatter and advice-giving propensities of so-called experts. I hate to single out one particular group, but I have read so many poorly directed, snarky, demeaning and flat out rude posts in primarily dressage-oriented public groups and places online. Why is this? Am I just seeing too many opinions I don’t agree with, or is there a reason dressage seems to polarize people in the horse world?
A friend of mine recently said of internet posts, “as soon as someone says ‘I ride dressage,’ I know they know nothing about horses.” We laughed about it but there is an element of “know-it-all-ism” in this discipline, and sometimes it just gets on my last nerve!
I love dressage – but I am careful, at times in in certain company, to call it “flatwork”. I love the systematic training, the fun when a horse gets it, the breakthroughs in learning that occur with the kind presentation of the correct aids to the horse. Connection is the essence of good riding and that to me is dressage. While it might have a different meaning to you, that’s also good, because as long as the horse is foremost, and being kindly and gently treated, it’s probably all dressage. That’s what I learned from the trail riders – that it’s a small, small world, and there are many roads to Rome. Unfortunately, not every contribution has good information attached. Sometimes, the way the opinion is brought offends so much that the message is lost.
So many of my good riding friends are careful about posting dressage questions, or mentioning dressage online in certain social media places, or responding to questions about dressage – even if they really know the subject and could contribute. They don’t want the pages of snark to follow them around.
Are you a dressage “nazi“? Do you correct, comment, reply ad infinitum to posts on social media, chime in, kill threads, troll, snark, or make derogatory remarks? I’d like to ask you to stop.
Dressage is a wonderful training discipline for every rider and horse. I think it can help to better understand our horses and should lead to kindness and connection. I have said this many times, that a well trained horse is always well loved and lives a good life. Dressage is one road to good training, so don’t drive people away from it with rude comments no matter how wonderful you think your opinion is. It’s the horses you hurt.