Friday, January 22, 2010


I used to equate dressage with the snobby clique I knew in high school. All perfect bodies and name-brand clothes. The snobby clique had nothing to share with me that I wanted to know. Or at least that’s what I told myself while begging my mother to buy me a pair of Guess jeans. Not to mention another body.

Certainly I believed dressage had a purpose, but it wasn’t hard to make snarky comments while watching those riders sit their perfectly turned out warmbloods, mouths set firmly in a grimace, white breeches velcroed to a black dressage saddle. They seemed too clean, too serious, too exclusive. I was a western girl. We know how to get dirty and don’t need any snotty cliques to tell us how to do it, thank you very much.

Dressage, of course, is really for everyone. It simply means “training” and you don’t need white breeches, a warmblood, or an attitude to do it. A few years ago I met a western trainer who emphasized the importance of its fundamentals and I became intrigued—secretly at first. I began reading books like Centered Riding and experimenting with techniques. Then I got Eli. A naturally good moving horse he seemed made for the sport. Well over my head with a green stallion, I quickly found a dressage trainer to coach us. I never imagined I would enjoy these lessons as much as I have.

Now, I am Ghetto Dressage (maybe I’ll come out with my own DVDs). Picture a circa ‘80s two horse trailer pulling up to a manicured indoor arena. Outside Lusitanos, Friesians, and various warmbloods lounge in paddocks. They are blanketed and beautiful. From the back of my trailer a scruffy Arabian stallion appears. He has no bridle path, mud on his hocks, and a winter beard under his chin. I put a western headstall over his rope halter, throw a synthetic Aussie saddle on his back and off we go. Fortunately, Eli has natural talent and my instructor is the kind of person who doesn’t care what saddle you have or if you are wearing jeans. I don’t think she was in the snobby clique in high school.

Each lesson there is something new to attempt and I am amazed at the subtlety and finesse that is good dressage. It’s hard work and I am confronted each time with my own limitations and bad riding habits. Let’s just say, We have a long way to go, Baby.

Last lesson, while riding a figure, my instructor told me something that has since captured my imagination in a powerful way. She was helping me understand the concept of being straight and balanced, bending on a curve yet never over bent.

“Imagine you are riding the edge of a sword.”

The edge of a sword? A picture of perfect balance, Zen-like in its beauty and harmony. I am taking instruction from Yoda.

One bulge to the right or left, one stumble, one over correction and I am off that sword and taking my poor horse with me. Right. I can hardly keep my diagonals straight and proper timing on a half-halt.

When I think of life, I also see it teetering on a very fine line—the line between choices big and small that place a person on one path or another; the ideas we cling to that shape us; even the razor thin line between life and death on any given day, in any country of the world. The edge of a sword. If I thought about it too much it might drive me mad.

Striving for balance is a good thing but I spend most of life, I think, falling off the sword. The most I can hope for is spiritual balance—asked (begged) for daily—and relying on God’s promises to hold me when I tumble off the figure.

As for the dressage, I’m keeping the image of that sword firmly in mind. And I’m visualizing lots of time with Yoda.

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