School should only be for smart people.  I mean come on, your child might be cute, but if they aren’t going to win academic prizes and become a doctor or lawyer, your wasting your time sending them to school, aren’t you?  If your child is going to be average and end up with a non-academic job, school is a waste of time and effort.  Isn’t it?

I imagine that comment going down like a lead balloon.  School is (generally) for all kids.  It doesn’t matter if they are bright and going to become a doctor, all kids need to be able to write, read, add 2 + 2 (or at least know how to turn on a calculator).  Some form of history, geography and science would be useful.  And, if they aren’t ultra-talented, they still need an education.  When girls are educated, birth rates (population) drop, there is less poverty, more enrichment and development.  Health and welfare improve.  Education is power.

And why am I on about this.  Do you know what enrages me more than almost anything else in the equine world – I want to do dressage, I need to buy a dressage horse.  A dressage horse isn’t a thing.  The word “Dressage” means training.  To do dressage doesn’t mean to take part in a beauty competition, it means to take a green horse, and to train it.  A horse doing dressage is exactly the same as a child doing school.

Chico the New Forest Pony, is being trained in dressage on long reins… Is he a dressage horse? In fancy blood lines, no, but in stretching into a free walk, absolutely!
Chico the New Forest Pony, is being trained in dressage on long reins… Is he a dressage horse? In fancy blood lines, no, but in stretching into a free walk, absolutely!

Some children are more gifted at maths and sciences.  Some are gifted in language.  Some are not academic at all, but all children can be taught something.  Even the most mentally disabled children can learn things, such as getting dressed, feeding themselves, walking, or smiling when someone they know enters the room.  Sure, not all kids will be doctors, but do you even hear a parent saying, oh, this one isn’t so bright and I wanted a doctor child, so I’ll go and get a brighter child?  Horses are not for dressage, dressage is for horses.  There is so much more skill in taking a horse who is slightly less able and training him in dressage, than taking an athlete and calling him a dressage horse, just because he has naturally easier paces.

Dressage is about making a horse’s life easier and longer.  He learns to move in better balance.  He learns to move lightly on the ground.  He learns how to move straight.  His body is given longevity.  He moves like a dancer.  He doesn’t receive training in dressage to win ribbons.

Many, many moons ago, I was riding a young mare in Elementary.  I was still at the point where I thought elementary was really quite clever.  We were lucky enough to have a big, grown up, dressage trainer come to town, and off I went, taking this little mare for a clinic.  When I was introducing the mare and I, I told him, we are doing dressage.  Really, he asked, what grade.  Elementary.  Now, he wasn’t the nicest person, but what he said has always stuck with me…  Elementary?  Elementary?  That’s not dressage, its basic flatwork.  Even the simplest hack or most unruly show jumper can do Elementary, dressage only begins at advanced.     Elementary is the absolute primary school for kids, we only begin real dressage much later.  Hmmmm…

This is one of the most important videos that I wish more rider’s would watch and take note of…  When is a dressage horse not a dressage horse?

Fast forward a few years, and there I am, working for a show jumper in Belgium.  Now, this is another very big grown up, having won 4 Olympic medals.  On one of the first days, I watched him school a horse.  He rode in walk, trot and canter, he rode collected and extended.  He rode lines of shoulder in, travers, renver, big swinging half passes and diagonals of tempi changes.  He collected into canter pirouettes and had the horse reaching in elastic, stretchy free walks.  After 45 minutes of impressive schooling he stopped, and I asked if the horse was a visiting dressage horse.  Certainly not, he replied, she’s the horse I am preparing for my daughter, to begin training as a jumper.  No horse can jump if it doesn’t have the basic education on the flat.  Basic, I asked?  Why yes, basic. If the horse cannot lengthen, shorten, be held straight and change leads, how will the horse even make it around a course of show jumps?  The only things a high-level dressage horse knows that a showjumper doesn’t, are piaffe, passage, quicker flying changes and more sit in pirouettes.  A show jumper, an event horse, a hack pleasure horse, should be able to do an advanced dressage test.  Incredible advice from a champion rider.

So, unless you’re heading for the Olympics, tell me again, why do you need to buy a particular horse to do dressage on?

 

 

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