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You surely know the feeling: How great it is when a dressage exercise succeeds!

Dressage Exercises. Photo: Camilla Funch Jandrup

Many of us are just everyday riders – not top competition riders who can make a living off horses and the sport. No, most horse people spend their free time on the world's best hobby but make no mistake dressage judges, when we're on horseback, we are often just as absorbed in riding perfectly and flawlessly as even the most skilled riders. We also set goals for our riding, and when the collection or the canter change finally falls into place, it feels almost better than Christmas. That's why we're now focusing on how fantastic it is when the dressage exercise finally succeeds.


It's often hard to pinpoint exactly when and how you learned to ride dressage. We can all continually improve – of course, and still have plenty to learn. Most of it comes with the thousands of hours we've spent in horse company, especially on their backs. All those times we as children struggled to get the horse to yield, and all those times we left the arena dejected and without success.

Inspired by Dressage Today, we talk about what it's like to experience achieving another milestone with your horse. Perhaps you've also toiled to make that canter change work, and all of a sudden, quite unexpectedly, it happens. At first, it might not be super pretty and not in a straight line. But it's there – the dressage exercise is achieved and it's close to the coolest feeling you can have with your horse.


Can you remember the first time a horse collected under you? The day when all your training to get the horse to yield succeeded. I can remember; it was an autumn day many years ago. I didn't own my horse yet but I borrowed one from a friend. At that point, I had been mostly taught at a riding school and hadn't yet experienced a horse properly yielding to my aids. But precisely that day, it happened.

I remember my mother, who countless times before, tried to explain the horse's collection to me: “You need to have more drive from the hindquarters and support on the rein, so the horse kind of comes under you, the head seeks down and the back comes up.” She also made a kind of rounding with her hands to demonstrate, and somehow, it made sense. Later that day, I got on the borrowed horse and tried my best to follow her earlier explanation. And voilà – the horse sought down, the back came up, and I understood for the first time what it meant when other riders talked about the horse being extremely responsive, once it moves collectively (most of the time at least). The experience of having a horse fully focused on your aids is incomparable.

Read also: Editorial Thoughts: Don't Forget to Draw Inspiration from Other Disciplines



That day was a huge victory for me, and I remember that my riding lessons made much more sense than now. I had grasped the foundation for a collection, and although it was far from perfect and still isn't always today, it whetted my appetite. I have often wondered if that experience was, what heightened my interest in dressage, and what if I had never had that experience? Would the interest then have faded? It's hard to answer, but it definitely marked the beginning of an incredibly exciting period with dressage, and how I could constantly improve my collection of the horse and the individual exercises.


Once the basics are in place, the exercises should be built upon to raise the level and challenge both, the horse and yourself. As “amateur riders,” there is much motivation in experiencing a dressage exercise to succeed whether they are easy or difficult. When the first beautiful leg-yielding fits the bill, or the collection after the extended trot finally proceeds calmly and in full collection, it's all worth the effort. At the same time, it's important to remember that once you and the horse have learned to perform the dressage exercise, you can always adjust it, and make it more streamlined and correct.


It’s probably not too far off to call horse folks a bit nerdy. A lot of time can quickly be spent fine-tuning exercises, reading about them, and discussing the day's riding with friends. When your hard work finally succeeds, it feels good to tell the whole world about it. Often, your entire circle of friends is enlisted to hear about you and your horse's feats, even if they aren't interested in horses. However, it's the best feeling to share it with others in the stable, who know that you've toiled for the half-pass or the perfect halt.


It’s easy to quickly move on to the next exercise, as we riders often quickly set many goals for the future. But it can also be good to savor the victory you've had together. Maybe you can use the next few training sessions to do something completely different – a good trail ride or ground pole exercises, and then take up the exercise again and fine-tune it continuously.

Read also: 6 useful groundwork exercises


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