Dressage is one of those events that you probably either love or hate. But as a discipline it has a lot to teach us and the horse (as I keep telling the pony club members, although I might as well be talking to the horse most of the time). So for those of you new to the sport or even those very familiar with it, here is a slightly unconventional tour of what its all about.
It all starts with a test, even though the top dressage riders may look as if they are making it up as they go along. Everyone has to follow the same test and then they can all be compared to each other, so it’s a bit like a show jumping course but without the jumps, obviously.
Anyway I digress a test will look something like the one below (Ok not quite like the one below) but in principle it is the same. It lists out the different actions that have to happen at each of the letters around the arena (more on the letters later). The idea is to firstly remember the test off by heart, because life isn’t hard enough, and then … get your horse to follow the test relying only on your ability to guide him. What could possibly go wrong? The test below might give you some idea of what can and usually does go wrong.
The judge will have a copy of your test sheet with them in their little box, or car or wherever the kind organisers of the event have decided to place them. Then the judges, whilst casually supping their tea and munching on sandwiches, will try to excite your horse by ringing a bell or in true pony club style beeping a car horn!!
As you bounce around the arena if you are lucky the judges will score your performance between 1 -10 according to how they feel, (sorry technically assess) your riding ability. Just to add to the difficulty some dressage arenas are in the middle of a field with just a little white plastic gutter pipe to mark out the area. You have to convince your horse that this is not a hunt and they shouldn’t be heading at full gallop for that hole in the hedge at the far end of the field.
The Scoring Sheet
So what does the scoring sheet mean? I mentioned the numbering system 1 -10 well the following list on the right kind of summarises it all.
The judges have a scorer next to them (who actually does the writing and all the work) and the judge will add random statements to fill out your sheet. These include words like;
Impulsion = I want more action!!! (like a rodeo)
Tense = could be rider or horse and is shorter than writing ‘stressed out of my head and pulling my hair out in frustration at this @!#@ pony’ (or vice versa for pony).
Circle could be bigger = as if you haven’t enough on remembering there was a circle at this point, and then convincing your horse to suddenly veer quickly off their gallop track and go round itself. The judge then starts criticising the size of this accomplishment!! (Who says size doesn’t matter)
Finally after you’ve completed the test, the judges decides how well you and your horse have been together, on this wonderful journey of making imaginary shapes in an empty rectangle box. The same scoring system applies as above but with additional interpretations such as;
10 = Didn’t they do well (Name of the rider is probably Charlotte DuJardin)
9 = Wonderful horse (shame about the rider)
8 = Wonderful Rider (shame about the horse)
7= Can’t think of anything obviously critical to say really
6=They do Eventing and think they know everything
5=Would have done better if there were some jumps in the arena
4= Surprised rider is still on the horse
3=Horse has lots of potential (just not in Dressage)
2=The problem with ex race horses …
1= Horse probably on DoneDeal (for sale) as we write this.
I can’t finish an article on dressage without mentioning the letters around the arena. Now if you’re new to this sport you probably assume that the letters are A-E or something like that. But no the letters are AKEHCMBF and nobody really knows why. The history has sometimes been associated with the German Cavalry practicing in their quadrant and using letters above stable doors. There has also been a suggestion that the letters are actually alphabetical – firstly entering at A and then
moving round anticlockwise B,C (D is in the middle) and E. Then there is an outer circle so we have F (G is used in the middle) H, K and M (leaving out i,j,l,all too similar).
X is in the middle G & D mark the midway points at either end of the arena and have been linked with the French for Left and Right (Gauche and Droit). Personally I think they are just one more challenge in what is already a very complicated sport and if that isn’t bad enough the horse will probably spook at the letter markers anyway. (you can read more about the history of the letters here).
Dressage riders go to great lengths to present their horses in immaculate condition and they themselves have to wear show jackets, white jodhpurs, stocks and white shirts (all very practical colours when working with animals and Irish weather conditions). This can take hours of preparation and how long is the test, 3-4 mins. Not that many dressage riders (or members of the public) would want the test to last any longer, but I’m just saying. But enough of my rambles I’d love to hear any of your own comments on dressage?