Mastering the art of dressage is no easy feat, and thus, explaining it through metaphors can make it easier to understand and feel more tangible. Many professional riders employ this technique to enhance their skills, and it’s hardly surprising. We humans understand best in images. When we visualise, we can more keenly feel, and when we feel, we’re better positioned to do. Here are five metaphors shared by five stars, which might just shed light on aspects of dressage for you.
The Shopping Trolley: Sit back – hands forward
One of the toughest aspects of dressage is maintaining a seated position while simultaneously keeping one’s hands steady and forward. To consistently remind yourself, imagine you’re pushing a shopping trolley. When you push a trolley, your hands form a rectangle, aligning with the width and height of your hips. It should be the exact feeling when you’re on your horse. However, unlike with a trolley, your hands should never be horizontal; they should always be vertical!
– Quoted by Melissa Allen (American FEI-certified dressage trainer and rider)
The Scooter: Don’t overuse aids
Then there are your aids. They should only be utilised when you feel your horse resisting them. Think of it as how you’d use a scooter. Once the scooter reaches its desired speed, you stop pushing it forward with one leg and allow it to glide on its own. Only when it begins to slow down do you push forward again. The same principle applies on horseback; when your horse loses momentum or resists the aids, use them until the horse behaves as desired.
– Quoted by Kyra Kyrklund (Finnish Olympic medalist)
The Metronome: Rhythmic movements
Another significant challenge in dressage is maintaining your horse’s rhythmic movements. This is true for every gait and numerous exercises, like the piaffe. To keep your horse moving in a consistent rhythm, envision it following the beat of a metronome. A metronome keeps a steady “tick, tick, tick” at the same pace. Often used by musicians to maintain a rhythm, it can also be a valuable tool for dressage riders. If not physically, at least imagine its sound while on horseback.
– Quoted by Rafael Soto (Spanish Olympic medalist)
The Tunnel: Straight alignment
Ensuring straight alignment of your horse during a routine is both challenging and crucial. In such moments, imagine riding through a narrow tunnel. This visualization will help maintain straightness, compelling you to focus on the tunnel’s end. For exercises such as diagonals, extensions, or the centre line, it’s imperative to focus on the endpoint to prevent the horse from meandering.
Likewise, when executing a circle or pirouette, imagine you and your horse inside a narrow tunnel. With this mental image, the horse can’t sway, balk, or be placed at an angle. The horse must remain perfectly straight to fit inside.
– Quoted by Jan Brink (Swedish Olympic rider)
The Basketball: A strong bounce
Lastly, there’s the matter of achieving a robust bounce in your horse… What does that mean? Picture dribbling a basketball; when you bounce it, it springs back, but its weight prevents it from flying too high.
Now, imagine having that basketball beneath you while riding. By sitting deep and heavy in the saddle, instead of being too light, you can effectively give your horse the push it needs to bounce back.
It can also be likened to a spring. The higher you want the horse to lift its legs and back, the harder you need to press with your seat right before the movement. It mirrors dribbling a basketball or compressing a spring!
– Quoted by Allison “Ali” Brock (American Olympic medalist)