My Secret to Good Dressage

Anna Conley and Reba’s Song MF. Photo by JJ Sillman Photography. Anna Conley and Reba’s Song MF. Photo by JJ Sillman Photography.

Dressage is arguably the most meticulous, detail-oriented phase of eventing. It’s often referred to as the most difficult part or the most disliked. It really takes a perfectionist to appreciate the finer things in life such as dressage. I can admit (as I’m sure many others agree), lower level dressage is like watching paint dry or grass grow or cement sit. I’m not sure how the judges are able to endure one 20 meter circle after another ALL DAY LONG; it’s exhausting, really.

Luckily for me *insert sarcasm here*, I have been blessed with the opportunity to only show Beginner Novice and Novice on eight different horses for the past five years. No, seriously, I could probably ride a lower level cross country course with my eyes closed at this point.

I haven’t always had a reliable, good scoring horse as I do now, though. A lot of work has gone into getting consistently low dressage scores. I was just looking through my competition record. In 2012 I was competing my Thoroughbred, Ramsey, and we were consistently scoring in the high 40s. Much to my dismay, we never placed well.

After years of working with a classical dressage trainer, I’m now able to ride an accurate, consistent dressage test on my mare that normally lands us in the 20s. I never knew what it was like to come out of dressage happy and looking forward to the next dressage ride on my horse.

In my opinion a big, I’m talking MAJOR, part in having good dressage is your confidence level. If you go around with your hands low and looking down the whole time while managing to slouch like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, you’re not going to score well. Not only is that poor equitation and completely incorrect, it looks like you’re trying to hide from the world. You can’t show off your horse like it deserves if you’re riding in the fetal position.

My wonderful dressage trainer, Ellen Murphy, has instilled in me the importance of presenting your horse confidently. Heck, even if you’re not that confident you can fake it; it’s a three-minute test, for pete’s sake. The difference you will notice when you quit hiding and present your horse to the world is amazing. You can OWN a dressage warm-up like nobody’s business if you look up, with a straight back, smiling, with your hands lifted. I can promise you that you will resemble an angel sent down from dressage heaven.

Now you all know my secret. Unfold yourselves and stop hiding from the judge, the competitors and the scores. Own the ring like Beyoncé owns the stage. You CAN do it, you CAN improve, you CAN be the queen of fancy-ness. Ride it like you stole it, people, and never slouch ever again.