If you are a dressage enthusiast whether it be amateur or professional, you have probably involved yourself to some degree in the constant controversy that surrounds our sport. It is easy to think that dressage has deteriorated to a point of no return, that we have sold out and the current state of dressage is a wretched commercialized distortion of what it once was. To that I say, nay... Neigh! (Pun completely intended.) There is so much that is improving, that is wonderful about the current direction of dressage today. In fact, I am going to hazard much hate mail by stating that dressage is BETTER today than it was twenty years ago. (Beware incoming tomatoes!) Another column from Bonnie Walker
Twenty years ago if you lived in a rural setting with aspirations of dressage grandeur your options were very limited. There were a handful of books that you needed to order through a specialty publication and hope to translate the material into under saddle progress. Now there is so much more available to these rural dressage riders. With a simple internet connection they can avail themselves of blogs, videos and online instruction as well as watch competitions streaming from all over the world. They can upload videos of themselves riding and get honest professional feedback from experienced trainers. They can connect with other riders such as themselves and network and support one another. This does nothing but grow enthusiasm for the sport and nurture a better standard.
Speaking of better standards, educational programs in the United States and around the world are becoming more developed and comprehensive. For example, now to become a dressage judge in the United States one must first enroll in what is called the “L” program – a series which is taught by experienced and passionate judges. In it the training pyramid, improved balance and strength, the biomechanics of horse and rider and the criteria for all movements up until second level are discussed in depth. Many enroll in this program, including adult amateurs and instructors with no aspirations of judging. This results in more and more dressage riders and trainers having a firmer grasp of what the sport actually entails and a better understanding of the correct progression of training. Other programs, such as instructor certification programs, also bring a better standard of dressage to a wider audience. There are also clinic series all over the world with established, correct professionals lecturing to audiences of avid learners.
The ever growing online prescience also allows for less anonymity amongst less savory types. Cruelty and abuse in warm up rings are now being posted on You Tube for thousands of viewers. Countries are now banning certain practices (such as hyperflexion) because of the advocation that such exposure provoked. More and more rules are being put into place for the benefit of the horse. Fifty years ago it is not that such things did not exist, it is that there was no means to communicate these abuses to a mass audience. Now bit checks, spur checks, regulation on nosebands and gadgets all are in place for the sake of the horse. As well, there are organized groups such as The International Dressage Riders Club and The International Society for Equitation Science which promote horse welfare and correct practices in training and competition. Scores are posted online with more accuracy so there is less opportunity for crooked professionals to distort their credentials. There are also organizations such as The Dressage Foundation that exist solely to promote the education of all dressage enthusiasts.
Essentially, in the beginning dressage was a sport of little popularity enjoyed by a select few enthusiasts. In the past fifty years dressage has grown in leaps and bounds, massively! Now we are in a stage where we are catching up to our own growth. We are educating, promoting the welfare of the horse and exposing those who are cruel in their practices. There are more opportunities than ever to better yourself as a professional and an amateur. Without ever leaving the comfort of your couch you can improve your eye, expand your knowledge base and read classic texts. All of these standards are resulting in the dressage world churning out better judges as the years go on, better trainers, and better riders. That is something to celebrate!
There is no sport that is free of issues and I am certainly not saying we should stop bettering ourselves, but all around me I see people who are learning, teaching, helping, promoting and basically doing all that they can to support and nurture our sport. These people are the ones who make up the bulk of dressage participants, not those who brutalize, and while cruelty might be more sensational, those that strive for a better way also deserve to be acknowledged. So to those riders, trainers and arm chair enthusiasts, thank you for continuing to make our sport better and for continuing to move dressage in the direction of its true ideal! You are making dressage better with every ride.