Dressage is kind of like Miracle Whip; you either love it or you hate it – few people are truly indifferent! Some riders have a strong passion for dressage and dream of the day that they’ll finally nail those tempi changes or complete a perfect canter pirouette, while others simply view dressage as a necessary evil and grumble through their tests to gain passage to the jumping phases of competition. Regardless of your discipline and your feelings about dressage, however, proper flatwork can exponentially improve both your riding and your horse’s performance across the board. Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu, 2015 Pan American Games silver medalist and Canadian dressage professional, was kind enough to share some of her best dressage advice for riders of all disciplines, and whether you’re the next Charlotte Dujardin or the next McLain Ward, you should tuck these tips into your tool box!
“Transitions are so important in your everyday riding no matter what discipline,” says Brittany. “All horses pull or suck behind the contact. All horses like to speed up or go too slow. Transitions can usually show you exactly what is going on with your horse.” She explains that, in addition to transitions, riders should also test their speed control. “Can you go slow? Can you speed up and remain in control? All of these factors should be in your everyday riding. These seem like such simple exercises but when you as a rider really start to pinpoint the problem, good flatwork can usually fix it.”
For riders who do not have access to weekly dressage lessons or don’t know where to start in terms of resources, Brittany offers this advice: “Everyone no matter what equestrian discipline should work on their position each and every day. Every time I ride I am asking myself ‘Is my right shoulder down?’ ‘Is my right elbow down?’ ‘Drop your stirrups, think about your balance on the horse, are you putting your horse off balance is the horse putting you off balance?’” Brittany suggests that riders constantly ask themselves questions while riding, and that they reassess their position and the quality of their riding throughout the ride. She says that many of the common problems that all riders face can be resolved by ensuring that riders are instituting the proper process and steps for each movement, and that they are clear in their aids and what they are asking of their horses.
“Dressage is extremely important for all equestrian disciplines,” says Brittany. “Dressage makes riders properly use the core and back muscles to help balance themselves.” “Most jumper riders spend most of the time in two-point position so when a dressage coach asks the riders to sit the trot, it’s usually a struggle for the riders.” “From my experience teaching jumper and hunter riders,” she explains, “I have to force them to sit the trot and watch them painfully struggle. Strong core and back will make this so much easier.” Brittany suggests that riders work on their position outside of the ring, too! “Do Pilates, work that core!” She also says that riders should embrace the occasional pain associated with refining proper position in the saddle. “Every time I feel my abs burning, I just think ‘This is a free gym session!’ Who doesn’t want abs?!”
Now that you’ve gotten some advice from a dressage pro, are you committed to integrating better flatwork into your riding routine, or do you feel ready to try a dressage show? “Riders who want to switch to dressage have to give the sport some time,” says Brittany. “People say ‘Dressage is boring’ but that’s not the case. Once you start to fine-tuning your riding and start to do actual dressage movements it’s so fun and addictive!! Who doesn’t want to learn tempis and pirouettes?! Get with a dressage coach, take some lessons and have fun!”