July 2019 - D - R - E - S - S - A - G - E
Written by by Nan Meek
Monday, 01 July 2019 02:54
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dressage news

Eight ways it shapes our lives.

by Nan Meek

After writing for one of my clients about what horses contribute to a community, I got to thinking about what my favorite riding discipline - dressage - contributes to those of us who practice it.

Numerous books about classical dressage describe the historic practice of horsemanship by royalty and nobles as part of a “gentleman’s education”.

There’s no mention of a gentlewoman’s education, please note! Times change, thankfully.

Those of us who practice the discipline of dressage are the beneficiaries of a bounty of benefits from our sport, art, and obsession of choice. Because I love lists, I had to make this one about the ways that dressage has shaped my life. See if this resonates with you:

D is for Discipline. Dressage is a discipline and it takes practice to make any progress. Learning the basics. Trying to perfect them. (Note “trying” because we never actually perfect them.) Building on the foundation of good basics in order to learn the more advanced movements. Trying to perfect them. Repeat, again and again. It takes day-in, day-out application of seat in the saddle. That’s the discipline it takes to make progress in dressage, and that translates directly to every aspect of life. Discipline is a great tool to have in the toolbox of life.

R is for Respect. Respect for our horses, respect for our teachers, respect for ourselves. When we take care of our horses, we are respecting their needs. When we apply ourselves to our lessons and training sessions, we are respecting the knowledge and experience of our teachers and coaches. When we do Pilates to strengthen our core so we can ride better, we are respecting ourselves and our dedication to our riding. And the youngsters at our barns are learning the same respect, even if they don’t realize it, by being around adults who model those qualities. Respect becomes ingrained over time, and I think it shapes us in ways both subtle and profound.

E is for Education. It’s been said that a lesson a week keeps you from falling behind but a lesson a day keeps you making progress. Lessons aren’t the only aspect of education, and we are lucky to live at a time when there are more education opportunities than ever before. More trainers, clinics, symposiums. More ways to read online, watch videos, chat on social media with equally-obsessed DQs all over the world. But there’s good education, and bad. For every great educational website or blog or social media app, there’s at least another (maybe more) that are just plain loco. Learning to distinguish the good from the bad, in education as in life, is a skill worth developing.

S is for Solitary. Dressage is all about the  one-on-one relationship between horse and rider. We practice endlessly, often before or after work, at odd times of day and night, to fit the practice of dressage into busy lives. Even when we’re in lessons or training programs, it all comes down to “me and my horse”. We even show in an arena all alone. We learn to prepare, to practice, and ultimately to depend on ourselves and our skills. Not a bad life lesson to learn.

S is for Social. What? I can hear you exclaim. You just called dressage solitary! But there’s a social aspect to our solitary discipline that brings balance to our lives; it’s the other side of the same coin. There’s the company of like-minded dressage riders we find at any gathering, whether it’s in person at a clinic or show, or online at a social media site or blog. Through shared experiences surrounding our dressage obsession, we develop a sense of community around our solitary practice of dressage that assures us we’re not alone. We’ve got a support network to share the highs, and mourn the lows, that inevitably occur with life in the dressage lane.

A is for Aspiration. “We aspire” should be the official motto of dressage riders everywhere. As children, many of us aspire to ride in the Olympics, and a few actually grow up to do that. As adults, we may have set aside our Olympic ambitions, but many still aspire to ride the Grand Prix, and some of us eventually do that. Even more of us aim for the moon and shoot for the stars but hit goals closer to home: breaking 65% at a new level, bringing back a beloved horse from a tendon injury, or nailing our first flying change. We aspire, and that’s a good thing, in dressage and in life.

G is for Gratitude. We have so many reasons to be grateful, from our horses to our horse friends to all the people who help us keep those horses fit to keep practicing dressage and moving up the levels. When things go bad, it’s easy to lose sight of that, however. Your horse goes lame, or colics, or rocket launches you just because that deer in the bushes looked so scary. But I believe the old saying is true: even a bad day with horses is better than a good day without them. Good days or bad, we are tremendously fortunate to be “doing dressage”, so give thanks for the horses in your life, even when they step on your foot or smear green slobber on your new sun shirt!

E is for Experiences. There are so many — what’s your favorite? Is it winning your class or beating your personal best score? Is it riding in a clinic and hearing, “Ya, so, is good,” from someone who until now has been a metaphorical figure on a pedestal? Or is it that magic moment at twilight when you stop for one last check on your horse before going home, and he rests his chin on your shoulder with a soft little sigh? Whatever your favorite experiences, you’ll always have those moments to treasure. Those experiences enrich our lives, thanks to our horses, and to dressage.

A lifelong horse owner, Nan Meek lives on the scenic San Mateo County coast where dressage courts and riding trails overlook the Pacific Ocean. She competed in dressage to the Prix St. Georges level with her late beloved Lipizzan Andy (Maestoso II Athena II-1), and now practices the discipline of dressage with her handsome Spanish warmblood Helio Jerez 2000 and dotes on the newest family member Mischa (Neapolitano Angelica II-1). Yes, dressage is embedded in her DNA.