Sunday, November 27, 2016

Trail horse dressage

I had an idea today while taking Theo out for a long trail ride.  We need a trail class for dressage horses.

Wait, hear me out.

What are dressage horses good at?  Changing speeds, rebalancing, halting, going sideways, and paying attention.  Most dressage horses have considerable experience with stepping over things and changing the length of their stride as needed.  Sounds like a great trail horse to me! 

While hacking out dressage horses has become more common (thank you, Charlotte Dujardin, for encouraging this trend), it's still seen as slightly odd.  And when looking for training for a trail horse, most people default to western styles.  Sure, western styles produce good trail horses, but so can dressage.  And I've had several ladies tell me they much prefer going out in a dressage saddle.  It weighs a lot less while still making them feel secure.  There's a niche here that could use some attention.

So how do we display our horses as something other than hot house flowers that can't do anything but look gorgeous in a sand box?  Offer a trail class at dressage shows!  I've seen this done at open shows and it's perfectly feasible.  Just set up a course and people can pop by whenever it's convenient for them and run through it.  Since it's still a dressage show, remove the speed component and add scores for gaits and submission.  You have X amount of time to complete an obstacle, then you must move on.  You are expected to demonstrate dressage basics while navigating uneven poles, opening a gate, or weaving around poles. 

Can you imagine a beautiful, upper level horse in full show gear navigating a bridge?  Or neatly picking his way through a set of rough, uneven poles?  If we're going to spend all of these hours teaching our horses to be obedient and easily changed, why not show off the practical applications?  I know I would pop over and try the course while at a dressage show and it would encourage me to work my horse on obstacles at home.  Sure, it would mostly cater to the intro and training level horses, but even then it would encourage them to come out and show because there's something fun to go with the dry test stuff.

On today's trail ride, Theo did about 100 small leg yields as I kept him off the rocky footing that the leaf cover was hiding.  He very neatly stepped over small logs (without launching or rushing).  He picked up to a working walk when we found a dog and hiker so we could assess the situation.  He turned on the haunches to change direction when we hit the highway.  We went from walk to canter, kept the canter short due to other hikers being around, and stepped back to the walk without fuss.  We slalomed through trees.  How is this not the goal of a trail horse's training?  Maybe if your trails are mostly wide and smooth you don't need these things.  I live in New Hampshire.  Teaching your horse to sit on his butt for a downhill is a survival skill.

Maybe I'm just jealous of the girls going to the open shows that have the option to do trail classes.  Or the versatility classes.  Maybe I think we'd be able to convince some of the ladies at the barn to participate in dressage if they could see it as a way to help their trail riding instead of being some fancy dancy thing with sparkly coats and expensive horses.  Maybe I want to see some of my fellow DQs kick back and have some fun with their horses.  Probably all of the above.

But dang it all, we need a trail horse class at dressage shows. 


  1. Replies
    1. Oh, I wish I could! But they don't have any events in New England. But I did get a big pole to teach Theo how do that.

  2. It exists- it's called working equitation. But before I knew that our dressage club used to do trail for fun. I miss it.