Profile of the dressage rider/4

di Enzo Truppa

“If the rider is not willing (or able!) to understand his horse, he will succeed in establishing only mediocre communication with it, or not succeed at all.” (KURT ALBRECHT)

Horse Riding can unquestionably be considered a sport that, if practiced well, improves the physical abilities of both the horse and the rider; think only of the general balance of the horse and the elasticity of its gaits, and of the exceptional pedagogical value for the rider. The positive effects that can derive from this last aspect, especially regarding the rider’s ability for self-criticism and control of their actions, as well as the development of qualities of rational courage and the capacity to act coolly and rapidly, place horse riding in a “special” branch compared to other sporting activities.

To further demonstrate this fact, it can be noted that in recent years the importance of horse riding for physical and educational development has been underscored by the success of many specialist centers for the disabled, that have been increasingly successful in many countries.

In horse riding psychological aspects are particularly important, for the good reason that the “tool” used for the sport is actually a living being.

Thus, perhaps more than in any other sport, some physical and mental preconditions must be respected from the beginning.

The first important requirement required of a good dressage rider is respect for this living creature, that must always be present on the part of those who practice horse riding in any form. If this fundamental aspect is taken into due consideration, the “four-legged” partner will certainly become a friend who is willing and ready to embark on the long road that leads to the execution of demanding dressage classes, together with its rider. This approach to horse riding, that is certainly much more solid, is decidedly antithetical to the attitude of those who see the horse as a tool providing the opportunity to see the world from above, collecting prizes and victories in horse-riding competitions.

Starting from the initial lessons, the rider must set a realistic goal and do their best to reach it, directing their efforts methodically and systematically.

We will now outline the profile of a dressage rider who is already fairly advanced in training, being able to take part in a competition.

We will start with saying that before entering any dressage class, the rider should be aware of what is required of each rider who takes part in a competition, but above all, must be honestly conscious and objective with respect to their preparation, that is, if they have reached the training standards necessary to participate in that specific class.

The ability to objectively judge one’s own technical possibilities depends not only on having developed the practical experience needed to take part in a given dressage competition, but also on possessing the theoretical knowledge indispensable to understand what is required at that class level. It can well be said that the theory represents knowledge, and practical exercise ability, and it can confidently be stated that one is not complete without the other.

Considering the logical development of training, the rider will first have to become familiar with their horse and learn to understand it. The first goal will be reached only when the physical and mental equilibrium of the horse and rider are, so to say, “stabilized.”

Given that our equestrian partner does not have the gift of speech, the rider must concentrate on observing the horse and its reactions in all phases of daily work.

The development of a horse’s mental equilibrium must go hand in hand with the physical equilibrium, and in the equestrian training of a rider as well, the world equilibrium constitutes the key to a complex structure.

In my practical experience, this aspect is often not taken into due consideration by some riders. Indeed, in order not to disturb the horse’s balance, the rider must learn as soon as possible to adapt the weight of their body to the horse’s rhythmic movements, seeking above all not to disturb the horse.

The first thing to teach a rider is to develop an independent seat in the saddle, meaning without seeking “holds” on the reins and without excessive movement of the body; this will allow the rider to transmit their aids to the horse correctly and consistently. To that goal, the rider requires the help of a competent person, who can check and correct their position on the saddle.

Here the third partner appears, the “trainer” or coach or, another rider with great experience. This individual’s task is to observe, correct and provide advice, provided they possess the theoretical and practical knowledge deriving from personal experience at a certain level.

For a rider, taking part in a dressage competition must represent an opportunity to determine the level of training reached, for the rider and their horse, thus verifying the technical ability acquired by the combination compared to others. In this sense, a dressage competition must first of all provide the opportunity to acquire clear guidelines, ideas, and behavior that are useful for further improvement of future training, and for no earthly reason should it be aimed merely at obtaining trophies or prizes, forgetting what the true and main goal of dressage competitions is.

This is why in a dressage class, the rider, horse, and secondarily the trainer, submit themselves to evaluation by the judge. The rider and trainer must draw the proper conclusions from the evaluations expressed by the judge on the class protocols and thus develop ideas for a future work program or, in any event, actions to eliminate the problems pointed out.

It is very counterproductive to attribute all problems to the horse; counterproductive and not very honest, given that many errors and imprecisions often actually highlight the technical deficiencies that the rider and trainer have allowed or have even permitted to be consolidated during their preparatory work for the class.

As recalled above, the great educational value of horse riding lies in the development of the capacity for self-control and self-criticism. It must also be explicitly said that the rider should never sacrifice the conscientious development of their horse on the altar of fleeting success based on superficial work, consisting of “short-cuts” not contemplated in classical methodology. In general, that which makes the rider very nervous, in turn produces physical and mental tension in the horse, that will become evident in various negative aspects that end up characterizing the class.

All of this can only lead away from the goal that was set, in evident and strong conflict with the results that could be reached with patience and through correct and methodical work that will certainly lead to success based on a solid foundation.

There is also a third requirement to take into due consideration: the time necessary for training. This additional aspect depends on the conformation, intelligence, character and ability of the horse and, naturally, on the theoretical and practical knowledge of the rider. The result is that the time necessary for training a horse is necessarily a variable element in horse riding.

The ideal dressage rider should never fail to grasp the opportunity to increase their theoretical knowledge and practical experience, and thus in equestrian sports, and dressage in particular, there is a recognition of the fact that even after years of high-level activity, there is always room for further improvement.

For Chapter 1 CLICK HERE

For Chapter 2 CLICK HERE

For Chapter 3 CLICK HERE

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