It’s so easy to see the fancy warmbloods in the show ring and wish that someday I too could have a horse that finds the work so easy and natural. Especially when I hit the inevitable bumps in the road and come up against a training issue that just seems SO hard for an ex-racer to figure out. It’s not that they aren’t smart enough, or don’t try hard enough (they have those traits in spades!), but conformationally they are just more challenged to arrange their bodies the way a purpose bred horse does naturally. And sometimes it seems to take FOREVER for them to get strong enough to do things I see other horses do so easily without much training. But in the end, it’s not about how easy the journey was, and actually, for me, an easy ride would definitely take away some of the value and satisfaction at the conclusion of the journey (which of course, never actually occurs because we can always learn more and take it to another level…).
I do have to step back and remind myself how much these horses are teaching me, and how they are making me a better rider by not allowing me to skip steps. They make me focus on every detail, and the training MUST be progressive and correct, or they won’t progress!! There are no holes in the training, no skipping steps, no shortcuts, or these horses wouldn’t be able to do what they do. This IS the essence of dressage. It’s the training, the progressive nature of the exercises that gymnasticizes the horse, making him more balanced, more supple, and more graceful. The gaits are developed, and the horse learns to do things that we once thought he would never be capable of.
Recently, the USDF posted a link on Facebook that caught my attention because it is an audio chat from one of my favorites, Charles de Kunffy, and he addresses this very topic. It not only gave me a good feeling that I am on the right track with what I’m doing, and that yes, a purpose-bred horse would make many things easier, but he also talks about dressage being the process of improving a horse, instead of being a sport where the rider gets a horse to do things it was more or less born doing. He talks a little about modern breeding and the amazing horses being produced, but that one side effect is fewer and fewer riders that can progressively train a (non-super horse) horse. It’s a really interesting perspective to hear from someone with so many years and so much wisdom in the sport (and in his case, art) of dressage. I highly recommend a listen, especially if you’re like me, taking the “slow road” with an average horse, hitting the bumps along the way, and sometimes beating yourself up for the struggles you endure that other riders seem to somehow bypass. Yes, it might take us longer. And we might never get the high scores. We might not ever even make it far up the levels with some of our mounts, but we are learning, and as long as we are enjoying the journey, we just have to remember that it is a slightly different journey that will yield a slightly different, but arguably just as valuable, result.
From Charles de Kunffy, compliments of the USDF: http://www.usdf.org/e-trak/preview.asp?id=1823
(And this post is not meant to in any way belittle the journey of those fortunate enough to have purpose bred horses, they have their own challenges! And these “super horses” being discussed are not the “average” warmbloods that most people are riding, so even the majority of warmblood, PRE, etc riders are on horses that don’t find the work as effortless as the modern super horse)