Crossover Confessions

I’ve never really been an avid dressage rider. I’ve played with it, even shown a few Training level tests on a crazy paint. I think I only managed to complete one between taking out the entire arena, the bolting home, and falling off (twice).
The beginning of my riding career has mostly consisted of the hunter/jumpers with some western pleasure chucked in there for good measure. I’ve always jumped on an oppurtunity to ride a different style, but I wouldn’t consider myself proficent in anything other than riding the crazies.
I’ve always been ‘that kid’ at the barn who will jump on anything that has 4 legs and resembles an equine. Your horse has a rearing issue? Cate’ll do that. Just throw her a $20 and a 6 pack. I used to go through helmets like underwear.
When I started riding at FLF almost 4 (!) years ago, I started with the idea that I was going to purchase a new horse with some serious background issues. ‘Fix’ him with some dressage, than back to the jumper ring for this girl. Dressage is the BEST way, in my opinion, to get background issues sorted out. I wasn’t good at this ‘stressage’ business. Give me 4′ ft jumper courses, thankyouverymuch.
This horse, however, was a special case. Rearing, bucking, barn sour, biting, bolting, the whole nine (probably ten) yards. When I tried him out, it took 4 people to tack him up, and every time I asked him to trot off he would rear, spin, dodge left, and then bolt. It was epic.
I hooked up with B at FLF for serious help but I ended up deciding aganist the suicide machine. Free is not always fun. I stayed with B though, and it was the best choice ever.
In exchange for indentured servitude and a small piece of my soul, I’ve been opened to up to this amazing world that is Dressage, along with breeding. (The breeding thing is amazing in itself) 
Coming from the jumpers is a total 180* for me, and I’ve learned a lot.
For example…
1) Dressage riders have a thumb obsession. I can’t get through a lesson without ‘THUMBS UP!’ I will admit, I ride with ‘puppy paws’. I always have, and it’s horrible eq. I’ve always been effective, and have never been yelled at for it. I always pinned well in eq classes. Now I have dreams about it, and am constantly walking around with my thumbs in an upward position. I even bought neon gloves.
2) Whats up with the sturrip length, eh? I was used to riding with my knees almost to my chin. I feel secure that way, have ridden through MANY a disaster with them set jumper ring short. My first lesson with B, they got lowered about a million holes. Surprise…I could actually open my hip and sit on my rear the way that she asked. Maybe these dressage folk know what they are onto something!
3) Talking is allowed! It’s an amazing concept, communication during lessons. I was talk to sit down, shut up, and ride. If I wanted my instructor to know that I had understood what she was saying, I was to nod my head, but I was not to utter any words. B encouraged me to speak and ask questions during my lessons. It’s amazing how much you learn when you can ask questions!
4) Circles are my friend. I learned that one the first time I got to ride the ‘evil square’. Enough said.
5) Riding a straight line, an actual straight line, is not for the faint of heart or the weak minded. Walking in a straight, correct line, is about the hardest thing I’ve ever done, other than the evil square.
6) I can feel my horse in my elbows. But only if I keep them soft. Who would have thought that soft elbows would accomplish so much? I never did. I thought I had lovely ‘following’ elbows. Turns out that was a pipe dream.
7) Dressage riders aren’t grumpy. They are perfectionists, with some OCD and an ability to concentrate better than a U.S. Army Sniper thrown into the mix for fun. When it comes to it though, they are wicked nice people. At least the ones that I’ve met. They have a sense of humor, and the community around here opened it’s arms to this newbie without question.
8) It is for every horse. Big, small, fat, skinny, ponies to drafts, every horse and rider combo has something to gain from even the simplest dressage movements. Just like any sport, it takes a special combination of athletes to get to the upper levels, but if you haven’t got Olympic dreams, there isn’t any reason why your 18 year old mustang/donkey cross can’t bust out a Training level test. Dressage doesn’t discriminate when it comes to horses. It’s wonderful. I read a story in the COTH about a lady who competes her mule at 3rd. She keeps up with those big ‘ole WBs no problem!
9) I REALLY need to get my thumbs to listen to my brain. Like seriously. It’s pathetic.
10) I want to make a career out of this whole stressage mess. I’ve never been more frusturated in a lesson before, or felt like more of an amature, but it really pushes me to be better, try harder, and prove to myself that I can get my %*#& thumbs under control it can happen.
Dressage is not easy, and it’s not just muddling about in a pattern in the arena. It takes serious devotion and commitment. You have to have thick skin, a good work ethic, and you have to want it. It’s not a sport where even the best horse is going to hand it to you or cover your mistakes. It’s a sport where you aren’t rewarded unless you put the time into it. It’s something that you can take and apply to every horse, in every situation.

That’s not saying I won’t still race around a jumper course for some fun, and to ruin the new position that I’ve worked so hard for. 😉

Simply put, Dressage was way more than I thought, and I hope that my goals and ambitions aren’t just a nice thought.
This girl deserve more than just a pipe dream, and by God we’re going to make it. 🙂
She’s just so sparkly isn’t she?
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