SmartPak Monday Morning Feed: Why I Ride Dressage

“… I was able to feel what a ‘real’ Dressage horse should feel like. It was so technical and such an amazing feeling to be able to sync up and ‘dance’ with the horses.”

By SmartPaker Viviane Pilicy

Growing up riding in Germany in a large “riding club,” I was very lucky to be exposed to several disciplines within the English riding style before fully committing to Dressage.

Photo courtesy of SmartPaker Viviane Pilicy

My riding journey started with Vaulting, which is basically gymnastics on the horse. Before being allowed to ride in lessons on school ponies, every kid had to participate in Vaulting first. Once we were able to stand on the horse hands free, spreading our arms like the wings of an airplane in a canter, we were allowed to graduate into the next step of the very systematic German approach of learning how to ride.

Once graduated in basic skills of riding like mastering posting trot, sitting trot, cantering different figures, riding transitions when asked (not when convenient), we were allowed to participate in cavaletti jumping lessons. Cavaletti meaning the “jumps” were not higher than about 1 foot. It further taught us to adjust the horses’ stride, navigate lines with more control and improve the balance in the saddle as well.

Photo courtesy of SmartPaker Viviane Pilicy

At about teenage age, we all graduated to a more sophisticated weekly training schedule where it was of course still about us learning how to ride, but also how to train our horses:

  • Monday off
  • Tuesday Dressage lesson
  • Wednesday Jumping lesson
  • Thursday & Friday on our own
  • Saturday cavaletti lesson
    • These lessons were to set up with trickier lines with low jumps, working on adjustability and gymnastics for the horses
  • Most Sundays were for trail rides

Looking at an entire year schedule it was structured in the following way:

  • January – end of August dressage and jumper shows
  • September conditioning the horses on the trails
  • October was “fox hunt” season
    • The dogs followed a scent set by two lead riders
    • Depending on our skillset and horses we were able to choose between joining the galloping or jumping group. We even had a pony group.
  • November saw the start of preparing for quadrille rides
  • December “Christmas Riding Parade” where we showed off our quadrille which could be a dressage and/or jumping quadrille, sometimes we also worked together with the vaulting group and mixed up performances.

Photo courtesy of SmartPaker Viviane Pilicy

Growing up like this gave me a well-rounded education to explore and learn. I was jumping up to 1.30m courses, 1.50m individual jumps and riding Third Level Dressage in a snaffle and double bridle. When I was about 17 years old, I found myself liking Dressage better than jumping. I started developing a better feel for Dressage than jumping, especially when it got higher, it was just not my cup of tea anymore.

I really started liking how I was able to improve my horses’ gaits and use Dressage to help him overcome conformational deficits.

I was then quite fortunate to ride at a large sales barn which had many different upper-level Dressage horses, Third Level was the bare minimum these horses were trained to. That was the first time I was able to feel what a “real” Dressage horse should feel like. It was so technical and such an amazing feeling to be able to sync up and “dance” with the horses. Every horse was different, and each had their movement or gait they were specifically good at, which taught me what it was supposed to feel like. I started learning to teach horses movements or to do movements better. For example, I would ride a horse that had very easy half passes and would be able to transfer that feeling to a horse who wasn’t so good at it yet.

That was the time I really started liking riding Dressage. I was able to make an impact on what a horse was able to do and how they would feel in their body including correcting horses who weren’t ridden correctly and did not feel straight, supple, soft in their bodies. Until this day I very much enjoy constantly going back to the basics of training the basics, to have better results when training up the levels. I have to thank my versatile base education in the riding school for over 10 years to appreciate the basics as much as I do today.

Photo courtesy of SmartPaker Viviane Pilicy

You can find this and more on the SmartPak blog. Go SmartPak and go riding!