February 2018 - Dressage News & Views
Written by by Nan Meek
Wednesday, 31 January 2018 20:50

I Love Dressage ... Why? A valentine to our sport.

If February isn’t the best month to celebrate dressage, then what is? This is the month we demonstrably appreciate those we love with hearts and flowers, cards and candy, but what about our horses? Mine are dressage horses, so my thoughts turned to why I love dressage.


As an art and a sport, a discipline and sometimes an obsession, dressage is the pursuit of equestrian perfection while simultaneously acknowledging the impossibility of ever attaining that elusive goal.


So why do I love dressage?

There’s nothing like the feeling of being in total harmony with your horse, the effortless exhilaration that is often just a moment in time, but a precious moment to treasure. Maybe it’s nailing a line of two-tempis across the diagonal, or finally achieving a great canter-walk transition that looks so easy to an outsider but is really, really difficult to do well.

(I may picture Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro as I warm up my own horse, but I’m pretty certain we more closely resemble a Thelwell illustration. We have our moments, however fleeting the feeling of perfection may be, and I treasure them. The voice in my head says that’s because I can count them on one hand. Hmm, be quiet, you.)

Even better is the relationship that regular, dedicated training and care of your horse creates between you and your equine partner – and it IS a partnership. The depth of communication you can achieve with such a magnificent being is awe-inspiring at times, which is a good thing because it can just as often be madly frustrating when the partners have a bad day.

(A really good day makes me think of Spain’s Fuego at the 2010 WEG in Kentucky, joyously responding to the cheering, clapping, rowdy crowd – and that was during the performance, not after it. A not so good day has me heading back to square one to figure out what I did wrong. Dressage is nothing if not humbling.)

Good dressage riding, over time, creates beautiful horses. Even the most plain-looking horse can develop a more harmonious and beautiful way of going and stronger, more elegant musculature. To watch a gawky youngster mature into a beautiful athlete is as much a privilege as to see a neglected mixed-breed mutt of a horse blossom into a happy and dependable riding partner. To be part of such a journey is a blessing, whether as owner, trainer, rider or all these essential participants.

(As a fan of biographies, I’m a really big fan of horse biographies. Reading the story behind Reiner Klimke’s Alerich, or Christine Stuckelberger’s Granat, inspired me when I began studying dressage. Later, I was lucky to watch some of the great California dressage horses develop from futurity prospects to Grand Prix stars. We ARE lucky to live in a state with so many dressage stars, human and equine.)

Camaraderie among dressage riders – and friendly competition – is another blessing in life. We’re all imperfect humans in pursuit of equestrian perfection, so we know something about each other’s ups and downs even if we’ve not yet met each other. Horses colic or go lame, dressage tests we thought were an improvement get our career-lowest score, and friends help each other through the dark times. Then something goes brilliantly right, and friends are there to celebrate with us.

Author Nan Meek is a lifelong horse owner. She 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, Maestoso II Athena II-1, clinics regularly with her handsome Spanish Warmblood Helio Jerez 2000 and dotes on the newest family member, Mischa aka Neapolitano II-1. She is convinced that the horse gene is embedded in her DNA.

(You only have to walk the barns at any big show to see this for yourself. At one barn, there’s a birthday party going on. At another, there are four people putting the final touches onto a friend’s horse about to head for the show ring. Leg wraps? Off, check. Whip? No, it’s a championship, leave that here! Rub rag? Let me get the dust off those boots and then I’ll wipe the slobber off. Hilary was right, even though she wasn’t referring to dressage – it takes a village.)

Dedication to dressage is everywhere you look. Countless hours are put in by volunteers at clinics and shows. Hardworking volunteer board and committee members of dressage organizations give up time they could be spending with their own horses to support the infrastructure of our sport. Then there are the many trainers, farriers, veterinarians, equine therapists and others on whom we depend.

(How many of us attend every board and committee meeting, and travel hundreds of miles to do so? Do we leave our horse in turn-out for the day so we can check bits at the show? How about spending the day in a horse-less show office calculating dressage scores so somebody else can ride their tests and hopefully qualify for their medal? There are a lot of unsung heroes behind the scenes.)

Love for dressage shows up in many ways.

It’s what keeps me practicing that 20-meter circle until it is absolutely, positively, accurately round even though to others I appear to be out of my mind. And I have a lot of good company in this beloved obsession. More than 3,000 California Dressage Society members share that obsession. I’ll bet there are at least that many, if not more, who share the dressage bug but aren’t into organized participation.

It’s reflected in the healthy, happy old gelding who hangs out in the field in the morning and is still fit enough – thanks to decades of dressage – to do tempi changes in the afternoon. Just don’t tell him he’s old; in his mind his age is still in single digits.

It’s what I look forward to sharing with you in the pages of California Riding Magazine each month. We will share glimpses into dressage barns, clinics, shows and other events. We’ll enjoy discussions with prominent, interesting and engaging people in the dressage world. And we’ll keep up to date on news and reviews of everything dressage.

Now go out and get your horse a valentine.