From show jumping to dressage

For so long, I overlooked dressage. Because I found it boring, because to me it was always the same thing over and over again. I remember going to a one-day event a few years ago and walking straight past the dressage rings. Instead, I spent the whole day watching the riders show jump. The thrill and excitement that I felt watching the riders tactfully ride around huge courses, riding every stride with them from the side line, this thill just wasn’t a feeling I experienced whilst watching dressage. It’s difficult to watch a dressage test without questioning how the rider rode that leg yield, or those 2-time canter changes so effortlessly. Or how, in the higher-level competitions, those athletes ride piaffe, passage, canter pirouettes. I used to think it looked pretty, but nothing more.

And then I would go back to watching all the live LGCT events, dreaming of one day jumping those circuits alongside all my idols. I’d go back to my jumping lessons and the weekly trips to the Sunday shows. I never thought about the fact that I couldn’t ride a proper half-pass or more than a few strides of shoulder-in, and didn’t know which aids to use for a leg-yield. Without those basic lateral movements, could I consider myself a good rider? A good rider is someone who can ride a variety of horses, on both the flat and over fences. I hadn’t realised how important it was until this summer when I was truly exposed to the dressage world.

It was the experience of a lifetime, I couldn’t have found a better yard. Amazing teachers, amazing structures, amazing horses; an eye-opening experience. I’m going to be honest, initially I felt like I couldn’t ride. I felt like a beginner all over again, and that was hard. I know that as equestrians we’ve all had moments where the temptation of giving up looms over us; the realisation you’re not Charlotte Dujardin, and maybe you're better (and safer) binge-watching Netflix from the safety of your sofa. But deep down we all know that one ride doesn’t define how good of a rider we actually are. I’ve thought a lot about that, and I have come to the conclusion, that those bad rides that we all have, are actually maybe the best rides. Yes, we fell down and we feel like we didn’t achieve much. But the fact that you managed to get back up and ride that horse who on that day you just couldn’t connect with, the fact you didn’t get off and give up made you stronger and more prepared for the next ride. It makes you think about what went wrong and how you can fix it. And usually, the problems root from the flatwork basics. Each ride doesn’t need to be amazing, you don’t have to have jumped 1m50 or rode piaffe for it to be successful. Successfully working on the basics, upward or downward transitions, trotting circles and serpentines for an hour can result more rewarding work.

For a while, I felt like my progression was stagnant. I wasn’t getting worse, but I wasn’t getting any better. It’s hard for an equestrian, for any athlete really, to feel like they aren’t getting anywhere. But my experience has truly changed my training and thought path, without strong basic flatwork, you will be limiting yours and your horse’s ability. An intensive month of dressage is the best thing that could have happened to me. Of course, I am excited to show jump again, show jumping is my discipline. But now I can offer my horse a more varied training programme working through correct scales of training rhythm, suppleness, connection, impulsion, straightness and collection, we are now beginning to progress further and have more consistent and successful rides.

Alesha Christian