Farm Ireland

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Bend around my leg? Does a fall count?

Described as the passionate pursuit of perfection by the obsessively imperfect, dressage has its ups and downs

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

On graduating the institution that is the Irish Pony Club in the mid 1990s, I'm ashamed to say that I left without a backwards glance at the skills and techniques that I had been taught by my various instructors.

At 16 years old, I was far more interested in the adrenaline-fuelled and action-packed thrill of mounted games and hunting than trying to get my pony into a regular rhythm, bending around my inside leg and other such sedate activities.

Fast forward 15 years and I've unearthed a burning desire to achieve forwardness, rhythm and suppleness in my horse.

Needless to say, she would prefer to go hunting or do mounted games (although I sincerely doubt either she, at 16hh, or I, after back surgery, would manage even the bending poles). Anyway, I digress.

In my quest to improve my riding position, I've been having regular flatwork lessons, reading countless books and watching DVDs of the riders I would like to emulate.

In my trawl through articles from various fonts of knowledge and online advice, I came across some particularly sage advice from an anonymous author who, I suspect, had become somewhat disenchanted with the world of dressage:


1. If you really want to get better at dressage, take it up at an earlier age – and grow an extra three inches of leg.

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2. A test that starts with an arrow straight centre line and a square halt signifies the start of a Hickstead Speed Derby.

3. A dressage test is a test of your skill against another competitor's luck.

4. Dressage is about achieving a harmonious working relationship with your horse, whose only idea of harmony is eating grass in a paddock with his buddies.

5. If you want to end a drought or dry spell, wear an expensive new jacket and Patey hat to an outdoor arena.

6. You will ride the best test of your entire life just prior to being disqualified for not wearing your gloves.

7. Never keep more than 300 separate thoughts in your head before a test.

8. Never keep less than 300 separate thoughts in your head during a test.

9. Horses do not improve their paces because you are wearing expensive German breeches.

10. If you chose a disco theme for your dressage to music test, then the judge will be more than 90 years of age and Swiss.

11. The less skilled the rider, the more likely they are to share their critique of your test with you afterwards.

12. If you are considering the services of a horse clairvoyant to help you with training then you have reached the point of total desperation – try the German breeches.

13. No matter how badly you ride a test, it is always possible to ride a worse one.

14. If it ain't broke, try shifting your position and it will be.

15. Judges only suffer from temporary blindness (or kindness) when they are judging someone else's test.

16. If you fall off your horse in the arena you will have paid to have the test videoed.

17. If you are feeling confident before a show then three of the Australian dressage team will turn up to give their young horses some "experience".

18. Your horse will perform its best piaffe ever when you ask for extended canter.

19. Since runs of bad competitions come in groups of three, the fourth competition is actually the beginning of the next group of three.

20. No one cheats at dressage because no one has worked out how to do it.

21. It is surprisingly easy to end a test with a perfect square halt once you have scored a four for every other movement.

22. The result of an expensive lesson from a top professional is that you will stop believing in that tiny piece of innate ability that was holding your riding together.

23. If you think your test was better than someone else's, it probably wasn't.

24. If you pay €60,000 for an imported warmblood, you will be beaten in your Preliminary test by a quarter horse.

25. If you go to the expense of raising an expensive WB foal, he will have a talent for jumping and no walk worth talking about.

Dressage has been described as "the passionate pursuit of perfection by the obsessively imperfect" and who could argue with that?

As one who definitely falls into the 'imperfect' category, I know that I am light years away from performing a good dressage test and so I was intrigued when I came across a test that I felt I was quite capable of achieving a high score in.

The test in question, left, sets out some fairly achievable manoeuvres, even for an athletically challenged combination like my mare and I.


Irish Independent