Obedience Epiphany

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Old ASHA logo

Saddlebred riders do not want obedient horses.

Bear with me. Dressage and saddleseat have many similarities: rearward balance and an uphill shoulder from the horse, seat and posture from the rider. That is a topic for another post.

A dressage horse trotting down centerline has no idea what the test is. Rides at home are an endless remix of gaits, transitions, and figures. Show patterns are majorly different for each level of competition, minorly different within the levels, and change every few years. Patterns are not practiced between shows. The goal is a horse who is attentively and athletically ready to do whatever she is called upon to do smoothly and promptly. This is termed submission. This does not mean a slavish robot. Dressage riders want a happy working partner. On her blog post, Vocab Lessons, Ange Bean writes “Submissive = When the horse lets you control of each of their body parts easily.”

(Pet peeve: I take issue with the common dressage parlance of “improving” a horse’s balance or gaits. His balance works fine for his needs. We may want to bring the horse in line with a chosen ideal, and work to help the horse achieve this ideal more easily, more consistently, and on demand. However, to privilege one expression of a gait over another is a value judgment that resides inside our heads. End soapbox.)

When an ASB enters the ring, he knows the drill. Enter at a trot heading left. Walk (perhaps. The big-time performance classes are not stringent on this.). Canter. Reverse. Repeat. There might be a little modification: the instructor throws in a second canter if the students are not sufficiently worn out, a horse competes in walk-trot instead of walk-trot-canter [Show Report: Class 78]. By and large, the routine is the same every ride, every class, every year. The result is a different attitude on the part of the horse. No one wants a Saddlebred who asks, ‘What next? What next? What next?’ They want one who says, ‘Hot damn. Here we go.’

Different requirements from the horse equal different goals for the rider. My job – on a Saddlebred – is to assist the horse to look as flashy and striking as possible. Then to sit lightly until I am called upon to assist further. Granted this is easier on a trained horse who knows her job. I imagine that riding a young Saddlebred requires stronger assistance and less time staying out of the way. But the underlying philosophy remains. I would think.

Folks who know more about dressage &/or saddleseat, please weigh in.

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New ASHA logo

Categories: Horse Shows, Horses, Riding, Sports Psychology

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4 replies »

  1. Couple things: horse trotting down center line has a very good idea of what’s coming up, especially after doing the tests once or twice. Gets really interesting when you’re switching from a season at Second level to a novice eventing test.
    Also, disagree with use of the word “control” as in “control each of their body parts”. Real dressage is more obedient cooperation than control. Same way in ballroom dance – my partner is not controlling where I go and what I’m doing as leading, and I’m not being controlled as much as following. Same in dressage. If it’s “control”, it’s more like roll-kur. That isn’t submission, that’s domination.

  2. I pretty much agree with you. I use to ride saddleseat, and as you know, there is a very definite feeling from the saddle when you get the horse ‘right’. It is actually not so different a feeling from getting a horse ‘through’ in dressage. They come up in front from the wither, really sit behind, and get light in the bridle and powerful behind all at the same time. In saddleseat the goal is to get that horse ‘right’ and then stay out of the way unless needed (like you said)…they want the brilliance. In dressage, a big epiphany for my recently (even though I’ve been dabbling in dressage for several years), was that, you rarely just leave the horse alone. In dressage you are constantly tweaking and adjusting (a little shoulder fore here, a little more forward there, move the hindquarters over a bit in that corner, drive into the outside rein more with the inside leg, etc, etc, etc). As the tests get more complex (shoulder ins, leg yields, counter canters, etc) the more constant tweaking is necessary. I find it a bit maddening sometimes myself…LOL! Sometimes it is just fun to get that horse set-up ‘right’ and feel it explode brilliantly underneath you. 🙂

    • Know what you mean. The one time I really truly created a collected canter, it felt like I was riding a soap bubble. An immensely powerful soap bubble, yet light and fluffy and awesome.

  3. “Hot Damn, Here we GO” is right, that’s exactly what i’d like to hear from my ASB, although I think you’ll find that not all barns do the “show pattern” every ride. We mix it up a lot at home, otherwise they tend to get bunchy and start anticipating the next order. There’s nothing more frustrating than having your horse blow his energy because he hears the speaker click on, and takes off at the “next” gait, only to have the announcer call a time out or talk about the sponsor of the class! That said, the best rides i’ve ever had at shows were rides where as we made our entrance the horse told me “sit up, hold this, stay out of my way” and I actually obeyed him!

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