APPRECIATING THE JOURNEY OF DRESSAGE
Dressage can become the journey of a lifetime. This article contains a short and rambly journey that dressage has taken me on through the delight of achieving a lifelong dream, the devastation of losing that dream in full flight and the memories it has allowed me to keep.
The journey with Torlea Dunkirk, my horse, has firmly established the importance of correct basic work. Dunkirk provided moments in his work that I will spend a lifetime focusing on achieving with all other horses that I ride and teach. As a fourteen-year-old girl I went to pick up my new horse, a green inexperienced gangly seven-year-old part-warmblood.
Six years later as a team we had worked our way up, very successfully through the ranks of Australian dressage. Dunkirk and I were competing at Grand-Prix against Australia's best. For those not initiated to dressage gradings, Grand-Prix is the highest level, involving movements such as piaffe, passage, canter pirouette and flying changes of lead every stride. The journey was not without hiccups. Four years into our work and Dunkirk developed a bone spur in his fetlock joint. The spur was treated with radiotherapy and the horse rested for six months. When re-x-rayed the spur had decreased but not disappeared. The horse was currently sound.
However, the vet was unable to assure me that the reintroduction of higher standards of work such as piaffe and passage would not cause further damage to Dunkirk's leg and lead to lameness. I realised then how precious my time was with my horse. Every day since then riding him has been a bonus. This incident allowed me to see things very clearly. The journey and time you share with horses are important. The level or horse that you are riding is irrelevant as the horse can be injured or killed at any time -you cannot control this.
It is important to have a point where you wish to arrive with your horse (like competing at Grand-Prix) and enjoy the journey along the way. Learn the lessons the horse has to teach you. It is important not to become blinkered to life outside horses. If you do it restricts your ability to focus. The best focus we can obtain is often from a distance. It is important to maintain perspective on what you are doing, why you are doing it and not be overwhelmed by it all.
"The mountain is clearer to the climber when he is standing on the plain."
The main focus in dressage at all levels is to obtain correct basic work. Basic work involves, forwardness, straightness in the movement, correct flexion and bend, correct rider position, establishing good rhythm and tempo within each pace. The horse needs to be tuned into and listening to the riders aids- especially the elusive half-halt. This appears easy. However, horse and rider combinations have been striving towards achieving this throughout the centuries. Seeking the complete harmony, balance and communication between horse and rider. Obtaining complete harmony, balance and communication provides a feel for the rider that cannot be explained, only felt and enjoyed.
It has the ability to produce exquisite joy and is like a drug, that riders will spend the rest of their life trying to obtain. I have had several experiences or moments in my work with Dunkirk that I have felt this harmony and balance, almost a complete oneness of two beings. I can still picture those moments as if it was yesterday and it still brings a smile to my face.
Dressage can be fun. It can become a challenge of a lifetime. The most important thing in our time spent with horses is to enjoy their company. Learn the lesson they have to teach us and never take them for-granted.
written by Amber Evans (Bnurs., Grad. Dip.ACN, RGN)
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Updated: October 2005.