What is dressage?

I have a trail riding buddy that occasionally brings up the fact that I ride/rode dressage.  At first it was the very occasional question about what level and whether I’d shown previously. Lately, it seems like my riding buddy has been questioning how I can be a goofball on trail rides and yet still fit into the pre-defined concept of what a dressage rider is supposed to represent.

I desperately want to tell my riding buddy that the pre-defined concepts are wrong. But every time I try, it comes out jumbled and utterly inadequate.

I don’t know how to explain dressage to my riding buddy in a way that accurately captures what dressage really is. It seems like our terminology in the U.S. is laden with words that mean control. Our definition for Submission (the base of everything) means “yielding to a superior force”.  Stephen Peters said that he felt the word “cooperation” was more in line with the original meaning. Even the USEF committee felt the word submission was being misinterpreted so they changed the entire Submission directive this year to read, “Willing cooperation, harmony, attention and confidence, acceptance of bit and aids, straightness, lightness of forehand and ease of movements.”

It seems like the topic of what dressage is only comes up when I’m completely off guard. I end up stuttering out some gibberish. Sometimes I unintentionally reinforce the belief that dressage means controlling/dominating a horse when I try to explain that it’s about precision, refinement, and power.

So, how do you explain what dressage really is to a non-dressage person, in a language steeped with words that have underlying meanings of dominating, subjugating, and forcing?

How do you explain it in such a way that the gist is conveyed before they lose interest and change the subject? What is the ‘elevator pitch’ you give to explain dressage?

Third Trail Ride on Joy

Well… I took the Joy-meister out with the neighbors on another trail ride last night. I’m really loving this BB pad. Very comfy.

Before the trail ride, I worked her in the side yard for a bit. I’ve been doing a little work on getting her to bend her body around my left leg. She’s got that club foot on the left fore and travels with her bum to the left constantly. I work on it a little bit every time I ride, but I find it so frustrating that I can only work on it for a short bit (otherwise I get grabby and kicky. eek).  I finally found the key to getting the bend on a circle with Joy is to shove her entire butt to the right. It’s not pretty, but after I do that she can bend around the leg for a few strides before that bum comes slamming left again. We actually got like two or three strides of something resembling good bend on a circle yesterday. I was so thrilled I called it quits on the work, and we rode over to the neighbors house to meet up for the trail ride.

The awesome part… we rode, by ourselves, all the way over to the neighbors house again. She still balks at the sandy spot with the hole off to the side, but she walked past it when asked (gave it the hairy eye-ball the entire way past).

After meeting up with the neighbors, we circled the field and then went through the woods. Joy was kind of funny. She wanted to sniff the path for the first 10 minutes of the ride. There were some low hanging branches, and I had to duck over Joy’s shoulders to get under them… but there was no neck there to lean against. Just air. Joy had her nose on the ground like a hound dog, sniffing her way down the path.

About a quarter of the way into the ride, Joy realized that the other horses were doing drive by grazing’s, so Joy had to try to emulate them. Except, every time she’d try to grab at a leaf or stalk she mistimed it and ended up nipping at air, or grabbing a part of a plant that wasn’t going to be easily bitten off.  It seemed to frustrate her to no end that she couldn’t get all the edibles the other horses seemed to get.

We came out the other side of the woods into a large field. There were turkeys, but Joy never saw them (thankfully). Once we’re in the field, Joy was really striding out. She passed the lead horse and just kept walking like she knew where she was going. We lead the group for probably a good 400 yards before Joy saw a downed tree and stopped dead in her tracks. The great thing.. all Joy did was stop and stare at it. And once the other horse passed it, Joy didn’t give it a second glance.

Then we had to walk past a big white semi-trailer parked alongside the field. Again, Joy never gave it a second glance.

The only time we had an issue the entire ride was on a section where we had to go around a fallen tree and immediately down a steep decline. The lead horse was more sure footed and was able to navigate the tight spot much quicker than Joy could. By the time I had Joy around the fallen tree the lead horse was half way down the steep hill. At that point, Joy decided we were going to recreate the scene from The Man From Snowy River.


I immediately panicked. Death grip on the reins.

Joy’s giving me the “Let go of my face, lady!” reaction.

Half way down the hill I remembered that leaning over your horse’s neck in the fetal position was bad.

I sit up and back, and release my death grip.

Joy stops trying to hurl herself down the hill.

We get to the bottom of the hill and meet up with the rest of the group. Joy lets out a “Whew!” kind of breath, and proceeds to amble on like nothing happened.

Oh, I almost forgot. On the way home the group wants to canter down this straight stretch. I haven’t cantered Joy much (maybe three times), but she trots fast so I figured we could keep up just fine at the trot. So off they go….

Joy and I are trotting along, and she’s getting fast and faster. And then we’re cantering. Again, I freak and death grip the reins. Joy is now practically cantering in place. It dawns on me that this isn’t good either so I let go of her face, and Joy proceeds to canter happily down the trail after her friends. I’m still freaking out and trying to bring her back to a trot. I don’t know what I was freaking out about.  The mare has never once offered to do anything stupid under saddle. Not once. But there I was, all “OMG, I’M GOING TO DIE!”.


We’re still cantering along when suddenly we come to an abrupt, and very ungraceful, halt at the horse eating stone.
Nearly tossed me over her head.

We went the rest of the ride on a loose rein.  Joy was totally digging the outing. Ears perked, calmly looking around at everything, body relaxed.

She’s going to be an awesome trail horse.


Re-enforcing the stalls

Because of Ava’s quirks, we are sustaining quite a lot of stall damage. Lately, when Ava leaned against the wall (and I mean lean, as in full weight) I was hearing some ominous groaning and cracking going on. Plus, she’d cracked the top board nearly in half. I knew that stall wall wasn’t going to hold out much longer if we didn’t do something to shore it up.

My amazing hubby installed a 4″ x 6″ post to the center stall divider (lag bolted into the rafters and floor) in hopes of preventing Ava from smashing, kicking, or brute force pushing, the stall wall down. He did this in 90 degree heat, with humidity off the charts.

I, of course, helped!

First, I cleaned the area where the brushes are stored. Then, I scrubbed out all the water buckets and the water tank, I brought hubby a couple of screws, disinfected all of the brushes, and cleaned some more stuff.  I tried knocking down cobwebs, but mainly succeed in dropping spiders in my hair.

I think at that point Hubby was getting a bit miffed at my lack of true participation, so he asked me to help him hold a stall mat while he cut it to fit. I put my entire weight against that mat to keep it still, but amazingly my fat ass wasn’t heavy enough to hold it…

He put the toe of his boot on the mat…. it held still.  The toe!

I feel like letting everyone know that the “24/7 turnout miracle cure for all bad behaviors” is a farce. Ava has total freedom and 24/7 access to pasture, she has free choice hay, she has buddies, and a big pasture to stretch her legs in.  She stands in the stall 23 hours a day and kicks (even if no one is near her) or leans on the walls.

I bought your lies, you hippies. Never again!

Second Trail Ride

Joy and I went on our second trail ride this evening.

This is hands down the easiest pony ever. She didn’t care about anything. She wasn’t quite brave enough to lead, but she was happy to follow her favorite gelding. The only thing that kind of made her hesitate was the horse eating rock. But all Joy did was march over and give it a good sniff.
** so proud **

We even trotted on the trail some.

Oh, and she even listened to me when I asked her to leg yield and bend! I was super proud of that. I wasn’t sure she’d respond to leg pressure the same in a new environment. She did. We did some mini leg yields down the trails whenever she got a bit nervous, and that brought her back to paying attention to me. Worked great.

She only got nervous twice though.

For the most part I held on to mane and gave Joy a long rein. I have to say… having a pony is fantastic. We were too short to need to duck under branches, we fit through the technical sections with ease, and the lead rider got hit with all the cobwebs. Haha. Normally on Ava, I spend 90% of a ride draped over her neck, or eating cobwebs. This was a very pleasant experience sitting upright the majority of the ride.


I’ve been trying, for the past month-ish, to wrap Joy’s hind legs. She gets… jerky about her hind legs being wrapped. But my problem is my back starts hurting after a few minutes, and she’s jerking her leg around, and I end up giving up trying to wrap the backs. So today, I decided we were going to do this come hell or high water.

We did have a stern talk on the first leg, but she quickly decided it was easier to let me fuss around with her legs.

I think she looks very dressage-y in her white polo wraps.

She also looks tubby… definitely not a hard keeper. She barely gets any grain.

I don’t normally wrap. Usually, I’m in agony after hoof picking so I skip bandaging (my back just isn’t what it used to be). However, I want Joy comfortable enough with things on her hinds in case she needs bandages for wounds, or for shipping boots, etc.
You know… normal horse stuff.

Anyway, she forgot about them as soon as we walked out of the barn. No big deal. Mainly, I just wanted to ensure I could do it instead of waiting until it was a “had to” situation.

Next step is clippers….

And I still need to work on trailering. I dread working on trailering. I find that so nerve wracking.

But… if all goes well, then she should be ready for her show debut come next spring, or early summer.


I haven’t been without an indoor arena before, so we’ll see how it goes….

Do you want to go Riding?

Joy and I took our first trail ride together last week. I was very, very nervous. I still don’t have a saddle that fits Joy (lack of money), so I was riding her in the bareback pad.  I’m not confident in my stick-ability even with a saddle, let alone without a saddle. I didn’t know what to expect from Joy. And I’m not confident that if she decided to bolt that I could stop her (or stay on).

She did freaking amazing! I went with my neighbors on their two geldings. At one point we passed a house where the husband was mowing and their dog was ferociously barking. Joy didn’t care. She was very intrigued by the scene, but wasn’t scared.



We walked around the outside of the field behind the houses, and then through a grove of pine tree’s. The only time Joy spooked was when the lead gelding spooked, but she came right back and proceeded on like nothing happened. We even led for a very short bit.

I was so proud of her!

That was a week ago. Today I jumped on her for the first time in a week, and rode her in the side yard for a bit. Then I rode her over to the neighbors house alone to see if the neighbor wanted to go trail riding tonight. Joy was a little trooper. I’ve only hand walked Joy down this path three or four times, and every time I get to the edge of our property she gets really nervous and balks about going over the sandy spot that separates my property from the neighbors. Today, I was riding her, and she balked at the sandy spot. It was at that moment a cat crashed through the brushes next to us and scared the crap out of Joy – who jumped sideways and then stood stone still.

I was sitting there wondering how I was still on the pony, just catching my breath a moment, when Joy decided that she really wanted to walk over to the neighbors house. It was like she made up her mind that we were heading over there, and she marched off over the sandy area like she was on a mission.

She walked past the scary dark hole, the really weird looking manure pile, the metal hay rack, etc. Not one issue the entire ride over.  All by ourselves!!

Once we got to the neighbors barn I walked her around (I was trying to get my neighbor to come outside). She didn’t care about the horse trailer, wagon, or anything else… she just wanted to see her new boyfriend (who she is madly in love with).

I finally tracked down my neighbor, who I then bombarded with “Let’s go trail riding!!!!”

I feel like Anna on Frozen.

“Do you wanna go riding?
Come on, lets ride the trails!
I never see you anymore
saddle up your horse
ride the trails with me”


She said she’d go with me later tonight…  I probably drive that poor woman nuts.

The only problem came when I tried to get Joy to leave. She wouldn’t. I had to get off and lead her home because no amount of kicking was getting her to budge from her new man.



Anyway… the neighbors horses ran, bucking and jumping, next to us as I led Joy home and Joy didn’t care. Once I got home, I jumped back on and rode her around the side yard for a short bit just to re-solidify that putting my leg on means forward.

I’m not sure she’s convinced that “leg on” means forward. She still thinks she has a say in that.

Now I’m waiting until it’s time to meet up with the neighbors to trail ride….

I can’t believe how lucky I am to have a pony like Joy. She makes everything so easy.