I try to avoid describing what dressage is, and even more so, why I do it, at all costs. It's not that I don't like discussing dressage (I do!), but after the words come out I realize that I have hardly done the sport justice. Instead, I end up embarking down a rabbit hole of explanation that to the non-equestrian just simply doesn't add up.
I've been through countless conversations with very well meaning individuals who upon hearing I ride ask automatically "Do you ride Western?"
"So you jump?"
"No, I do all flatwork. I ride Dressage."
Or, occasionally I've run across members of the public who've been educated by political comedian Stephen Colbert, and upon my mention of dressage respond proudly "oh yes - HORSE DANCING!"
Outside the barn, stumbling upon someone who understands dressage, or even better - rides themselves, is like finding a four leaf clover. It's a rare and exciting moment, generally revealed by one or both of you being too lazy to change out of full seat breeches before venturing into public. Recently, I was the one guilty of wearing dirty breeches to grab a drink and pizza after an evening ride. While waiting for my food the woman next to me noticed my attire and began asking me about horses.
"What type of riding do you do? Dressage?"
For a moment I felt that quick burst of excitement. The question came out too quickly, too casually, for her not to be somehow involved in dressage - right?
"Yes, I do!"
Then came the crash.
"OH MY GOD, DRESSAGE IS SOOOO BORING! My daughter did it for years. I was thrilled when she quit and I didn't have to attend another dressage show."
I chalked this unnecessary outburst up to the fact that this woman was clearly NOT sipping her first Cosmopolitan, nor had she witnessed Charlotte and Valegro E-V-E-R. Luckily, after being around horses for many years I've perfected the art of grace under humility. So like a true DQ, I smiled politely and took my food to go.
While I may describe the origins and ideals of dressage with factual accuracy, I am only too aware of my shortcomings afterwards when faced with responses such as "so, you do a lot of circles?", or "does the horse get bored?". Truth be told, I don't know if I can truly convey what it means to be a dressage rider to someone outside the community. How does one explain the sense of euphoria experienced after a perfectly executed canter half pass to single flying change? How do I explain that - to me - the feeling of ultimate connection, power, and harmony in a weightless pirouette canter is surmountable to any cross country jump or oxer? The fact that a 1,200 pound animal can decipher a multitude of subtle cues to create an effortless choreography simply blows my mind.
Outside my tight nit barn of fellow dressage devotees I know that there is a larger community of us "dressage people", sprinkled about. I can't help but smile when I spot one, often revealed by a pair of full seat breeches at the grocery store, or the bumper sticker last week that stated boldly - "DRESSAGE, ASK ME ABOUT IT."
These are my people.
They understand this dressage language. Phrases and words like "piaffe", "in front of the leg" -or more commonly - "behind the leg"," tempi changes"," late behind", or my personal favorite - "more activity!" aren't met with puzzled stares, but ignite a connection. Somewhere along the lines our stories intersect, and I wonder how we might benefit from sharing those daily discussions about training challenges, personal goals (bronze medal here I come!), or whether or not there exists a truly indestructible turnout blanket. So for those who are fluent in my favorite equestrian dialect, I invite you to speak up.
Welcome to Dressage Talk.