Thought of the night (and a picture of my cute horse just for attention): not all of us are going to come out of this crisis ok. And I’m not talking about people getting sick or dying, although statistically, that will happen too.
There are a lot of wonderful stables, coaches, and lesson programs already hanging by a financial thread at the best of times, in order to keep costs down for students and clients.
Thousands of saintly school horses across the country still need to be fed and cared for, even as their facility’s income dries up overnight.
Boarders who scrimp and save every penny just so their horse can live somewhere with quality, trustworthy care may soon be forced to choose between paying board and buying groceries as work closures and layoffs spread across Canada.
Many barn owners and managers will keep feeding and caring for these horses, covering boarders’ and school horse expenses out of their own pockets even as their bills don’t get paid, because they don’t want the animals to suffer.
The financial support measures announced by our federal government will help, but are probably not enough for a lot of people.
What can we do as a group of horse owners and lovers? Besides paying our board and training bills on time (for those of us who can) I wish I knew.
At one end of the spectrum, we’ve got people wondering how to keep food on their own tables and hay in their horses’ bellies. At the other end of the spectrum, there are a lot of very wealthy people competing in our sport, as well as working behind the scenes to financially support elite riders and competitions.
What about all the funds that would normally have been spent to get an army of Team Canada riders, grooms, and officials to the Olympics this year? Assuming the Games get cancelled, where does that money go?
Is there a way to redirect some of the funds that would have gone towards national teams, class sponsorship at shows, and elite rider support back into the grassroots of our sport in these extraordinary times? I have no idea what that would look like - perhaps an centralized emergency assistance fund managed by Equestrian Canada? An “adopt a schoolie” program where people could donate online to their local riding schools? I saw that idea proposed on Facebook and loved it.
Even in these trying times, many of us could spare $10 or $100 to help bridge the gap for those in need right now. And let’s be honest; many people involved in dressage could afford to spare a LOT more.
I don’t have any answers, only questions. As we hunker down for what may be months of restrictions, barn closures, and self-isolation, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can pull together right now. Hope springs eternal, right?
Self isolation- day 87.
Just kidding. Today is Friday. I’ve only been working from home since last Saturday and was last at the barn on Tuesday, but it FEELS like 87 days so far. If I’m not divorced or in jail facing homicide charges at the end of it for strangling my husband, please congratulate me. And I’m sure he feels the same! Losing access to my horse has made me much less pleasant to live with. At least his Mustang lives in the garage and he can take it out for a run every day.
It feels like such a first-world problem to whine about missing my horse, but I do. And selfishly, the one good thing to come out of this whole awful situation was the opportunity to fit a lesson in every day while working from home. I genuinely believe I was on the verge of becoming slightly less incompetent in the saddle. Oh well. There are bigger problems out there.
Aside from the whole global pandemic / threat of potentially fatal disease thing, there is the economic fallout to worry about. People in almost all industries except deliveries are being laid off and seeing their income dry up, while their bills keep coming in. This is particularly scary in our industry, where most equestrian facilities struggle in a good year just to break even. Horses still need to eat, shavings still need to go in the stalls, and hay isn’t going to suddenly get cheaper. Lesson income is now gone, and as more people face job reductions and losses, boarders will struggle to pay their bills. It’s a vicious cycle and I’m not sure where it will end.
The state of emergency rules in Ontario have equestrians confused and wondering whether their barn really needs to close to everyone except staff, or whether sensible hygiene precautions and social distancing are enough. I can’t say yes or no; all I can do is share today’s statement from Equestrian Canada which includes the following advice:
“EC and the PTSOs recommend that facilities that host equestrian-related activities only allow personnel needed to take care of the facilities and our equine partners on their premises. This includes facility owners, facility managers, equine caretakers, providers of equine-related essential services (e.g. veterinarians, farriers), and boarders or owners providing equine-related minimum standards of care*. Non-essential personnel, including students, friends, family, the public, and boarders or owners who are not providing equine-related minimum standards of care* are encouraged to remain off the premises.”
*For reference, by “minimum standards of care” they mean the essential, basic requirements as laid out in the Code of Practice for Equine Care. If you are in a self-care barn, or your horse has complex medical needs that can’t be met by staff, you might be the one needed to provide essential care.
The staff at the barn where I board is well-equipped to provide basic care and much more. Caprice is in excellent hands. Sadly for me, based on the recommendation above, there is no reason for me to be there right now, but the barn staff is doing their best to keep us all connected by sharing photos and videos of our beloved equine partners. I am so grateful for their hard work and care. Reducing the number of people entering the property and using the facilities will help keep those workers who have to be there safe.
So for now I’m like many of you - working from home, stress-cleaning and organizing closets, enjoying long walks with my dogs, day-drinking on a regular basis, and attempting to entertain my children. Pro tip: a Disney Plus subscription for the month is the best $7 I ever spent!
Anyone wondering what best practice for stables during these times are, here are some basic procedures everyone should consider implementing. The wonderful owner, trainers and staff at the barn where I board have put many of these measures in place to make sure we can all continue to enjoy our horses safely:
- limit the number of people at the barn at once (restrict visitors, postpone shows and clinics and eliminate group lessons)
- limit the length of time boarders and students can stay at the barn (staggered entries)
- no communal sharing or serving of food, beverages, serving utensils, etc.
- no sharing of equipment or supplies
- frequent cleaning of high touch areas with dish soap, water, and elbow grease, along with interim wipe downs with disinfecting wipes
- require everyone to wash their hands with soap immediately upon arrival, and to wipe down any communal surfaces they touch, such as sink handles, doorknobs, etc
- require anyone who has travelled outside the country, or who is in close contact with anyone who has travelled to stay away from the barn for 14 days.
- require anyone with symptoms of ANY illness, or those who live with someone with symptoms of any illness to avoid coming to the barn
- consider offering services such as grooming, blanket changes, lungeing, etc. if not normally offered, so that boarders who should be self-isolating don’t feel compelled to come and provide basic care
For most of us, the barn is a safe space, a little respite of sanity amid a lot of craziness. Let’s all help keep it that way!
Discussion time: The following quote came from a poster on the Chronicle of the Horse Forum, in a discussion about why so many amateur dressage riders never get past Second Level. For a lot of people it ultimately comes down to time, money, and other life priorities, and that’s ok.
The problem is when people want to progress, and invest the time, money and sweat in progressing, but still fall short of their goals. Why? Poor coaching? Lack of rider ability? Lack of horse talent? This COTH poster had an interesting perspective:
“[The riders] I refer to as the "yes buts". These are people who want dressage to do it their way. They don't want to do it dressage's way. The ones who want to go to a dressage clinic in a western saddle on a horse they trail ride 3x per week and expect the clinician to be overjoyed at the prospect of teaching them western dressage.
The ones who insist that literally every professional they see doing the sport in pictures is riding incorrectly, and that the only person they know who rides "like the old masters" is some kook down the road who "studied with Nuño", charges $75 to longe, but wont actually get on.
You're never allowed to bend the horse more than 3 degrees, or you're doing rollkur; you're never allowed to actually pull on the reins like you expect an answer, so you should just barrel around murmuring good pony good pony and hope that eventually christ will lay hands on the horse and it will start voluntarily offering a half halt that actually goes through.
They will spend yeeeaaarrrss doing the training level Olympics with these pros and it doesnt occur to them that they havent seem an actual half pass performed since the 80's.
They are so obsessed with lightness and harmony that they literally never apply an aid with enough expectation that they get an answer to progress past training level. Yes, at all levels the lightness should be feather light - but this happens because the horse knows he has to LISTEN to light aids, and isn't allowed to just ignore them for decades.“
I see a lot of this in real life, and even more of it online, where self-styled experts gleefully tear apart successful riders and coaches, despite having no track record of successfully riding, training or teaching up the levels themselves. They cling to some ideal of what “classical” dressage should be, often without any real understanding or experience in training. My coach is fond of saying “There is no such thing as ‘classical dressage’ and ‘competition dressage,’ just good dressage and bad dressage.”
There’s nothing wrong with riding at Second Level or below forever, if you are having fun. There’s nothing wrong with not competing at all, if competing doesn’t bring you joy. But if your goal is to progress, and you find yourself stuck at the same level with the same problems year after year, something has to change. It might be your mindset, your physical fitness, your time commitment, your financial commitment, your coach, or some
combination of the above.
Have you ever felt stuck in the “Training Level Olympics? What did you change in order to progress? Head over to Facebook and join the discussion already underway there, or share your thoughts in the comments below.
Wondering where I’ve been? Lying on the couch, complaining about winter, trying to lose the post-Christmas weight and feeling sorry for myself, mostly.
A couple of weeks before Christmas I had a very minor (I thought) accident in which a sleepy horse got startled in the cross ties, (not his fault, poor guy) jumped up, and came down with his full weight on my foot. I was pretty sure right away that my baby toe was broken but wasn’t very concerned. It’s been broken before and back then all I did was tape it to the toe next to it, shove it into a boot and put up with a bit of discomfort for a few weeks.
However, this horse had winter studs and he landed on an area that contains a lot of very small bones. So instead of just strapping it up with ice and vetwrap, which is my go-to treatment for just about everything, I decided to be a responsible adult and go to the ER for an X-ray. The doctor said the X-ray was clear and sent me home with instructions to take Tylenol and ice it. “Perfect!” I thought. “I’ll be riding by the weekend! That was December 12.
This past Monday, February 3, I finally managed to put my tall boots on for the first time, get in the saddle and have an actual lesson. A short one, but still a lesson. Turns out my toe was fractured after all, and they missed it on the X-ray. Turns out a 1,000lb animal jumping on your foot causes a fair amount of soft tissue and nerve damage. Turns out 47-year-olds don’t heal as quickly as 17-year-olds. Who knew?
Anayway, I‘m back and it’s time to start focusing on some serious goals. In no particular order here they are and how I’m committing to achieving them:
1. Lose weight This one is important for my own health and the health of my horse. At the moment my two commitments to change are not eating after 8pm (my mindless snack window) and writing down everything I eat. Before Christmas I lost 5 pounds and at least managed not to gain it back, but haven’t lost any more, so it’s time toughen up.
2. Improve strength and stamina This one is off to a slow start with my injury but my commitment is to do something physical every day, whether walking to work, doing a yoga video, taking a Zumba class or going to the gym with my teenage daughter.
3. Worry less Although I have one of the safest, sweetest horses in the world, anxiety often rules my head when I’m riding (and in many other areas of my life lol). I still automatically check the amount of snow on the arena roof when I drive up, or get increasingly anxious as wind speeds increase. The mere thought of getting out of my comfort zone to a show, or a hack in one of our gorgeous fields makes me break into a sweat. So my commitment is learning some tools to help me turn off the “what ifs” and enjoy the moment instead.
4. Ride more. This one should be easy but it’s not. My goal isn’t to be excellent and I don’t have the drive, finances, time or energy needed to truly excel. But I do want to be competent and I do want to improve, which means getting my big butt in the saddle. My commitment is three rides a week, no matter what, even if I can’t always fit three lessons in around my work schedule. My part boarder takes lessons on the days I don’t, which helps ease the guilt about not making the drive to the barn as often as I’d like.
Will these commitments get me to my goal of competently riding a Third Level test? I won’t know until I try!
If you follow my Dressage Addict Facebook and Instagram feeds, you probably already know that last I week I ticked an item off my bucket list, by having a lesson with Canadian icon Cindy Ishoy. Caprice was an absolute star, as usual, and didn't put a foot wrong. I worked harder than I've worked in years and realized that I'm stronger than I think. Meredith's not going to let me take as many breaks now, which is going to hurt!
Lesson-wise, as with any good dressage trainer, there was no magic. Simple, consistent riding of the horse from back to front, working on the basics of my position, and keeping Caprice moving honestly forward to the contact. Really forward. Way more forward than my muscles are used to in sitting trot. Farewell comfort zone!
For me, the magic was simply the opportunity to learn from a legend, the person who inspired me to take up dressage. So many people commented on how lucky I am and they are right. But those of you who grew up in the GTA are probably thinking, "What's the big deal? Anybody can call up Cindy and book a lesson or clinic."
That is a big deal. A very big deal.
I was 16 years old and still living in Newfoundland in 1988 when Cindy and Dynasty danced their way to Olympic bronze, along with Ashley Holzer, Gina Smith and Evi Pracht. At that time I had never seen a double bridle in real life, didn't know that reins could be be used for more than turning your horse's head, and didn't have a clue that "on the bit" was a thing, let alone understand what it meant. I had no idea what I was watching when I saw Cindy and Dynasty, but I knew I wanted to ride like that.
Being able to call up a Grand Prix rider to book a lesson was unthinkable. At a time when nobody in the province had competed any higher than the equivalent of Second Level, even watching somebody ride the Grand Prix was unthinkable. Even after living in Ontario for 19 years I've never quite gotten over the thrill of watching my trainer school her upper-level horses at home, or hanging out by the warm up ring at shows, seeing riders in person who were once simply mythical names in a magazine to me. I've had the pleasure of knowing Cindy for a few years now and have interviewed her a number of times for articles, but having the chance to ride in a lesson with her was very, very special.
The opportunities that arise out of living and riding in the GTA are easy to take for granted if you've never owned horses anywhere else in Canada. It seems entirely normal here to have a choice of stables with indoor arenas, and of competition venues and show circuits. On any given weekend we can audit a clinic or book a lesson with national and international stars. Riders have a choice of farriers, a choice of vets, and even a choice of equine hospitals with MRI machines, surgical suites and rehab facilities. We've got countless equine nutritionists, message therapists, acupuncturists, physiotherapists, and even psychics to keep our horses in peak physical and mental condition.
The depth of talent and resources here in Ontario is astounding. Not everyone else in Canada is nearly so lucky. Watch for an upcoming blog post about a new rider development program created by Ontario Equestrian, aimed at using those resources to help more Ontario riders reach the podium. In the meantime, I'm happy to share my good fortune with you, by sharing two of the exercises Cindy had me work on. Good luck!
This one sounds deceptively simple (and maybe for other people it is, but not for me!). Ride a three loop serpentine, wall to wall, with simple changes through walk over the centre line, and a 10m circle each time you reach the wall.
I've heard it said many times: "Every horse can be a dressage horse." Is that really true? The answer is yes. And no. And it depends.
Every horse can and should do dressage, no doubt. Dressage is simply the systematic, correct training of the horse, ideally following the training "pyramid." This type of training is the foundation of every discipline and will help every horse improve strength, suppleness, straightness and the quality of the gaits, in the same way that ballet classes can help every person improve their strength, posture and flexibility.
Although ballet training can help every person, not every person is destined to become a prima ballerina, no matter how many classes they take. Body type, conformation issues, injuries, natural talent and work ethic all play a key role. The same is true of horses.
Not every horse has the physical conformation needed to progress to the highest levels of the sport. A physically unsuitable horse is more likely to develop injuries, or hit a wall in the training beyond which they cannot or will not progress. Some horses are simply more naturally gifted than others; some horses have all the talent in the world but lack the mental focus or willingness to work that is required. Forcing such a horse into a job they can't do, or don't enjoy doing, is a recipe for frustration and heartbreak.
Thanks to decades of careful breeding we have built a better dressage horse - one designed specifically to have the physical attributes and temperament to progress to the highest levels of the sport. While you don't NEED a purpose-bred horse to be competitive, and there are still no guarantees of success if you do, starting off with a horse that is suited to the job is a huge advantage.
In the barn where I board we have three amazing draft crosses who were highly competitive at the FEI levels - two made it all the way to Grand Prix and one is currently on his way there. But they are the exceptions, rather than the rule. There's a reason why we see such a wide range of breeds and types enjoying success at Training and First Levels, and predominantly dressage-bred warmbloods and Iberian breeds at the upper levels.
Whether you believe any horse can be successful at dressage depends on your own definition of success. If your goal is to have fun in local shows at the lower levels, absolutely you can be successful and competitive on almost any sound, healthy horse with good training.
If your goal is to represent Canada on the international stage, or to piaffe and passage down centre line in the Grand Prix, your chances of success are greatly improved by having the right horse for the job.
Think outside the box
If your goals don't match your budget, think outside the box. I was lucky enough to buy a high-quality, imported Hanoverian, PSG schoolmaster for less than the cost of the average used saddle. How? I was willing to take a risk that a 22-year-old horse would stay sound and healthy and was able to give her the quality home, training and care her previous owner wanted her to have.
There are several top quality young warmbloods in our barn who were priced very low due to a lack of handling or late start - problems that should be easily addressable by a skilled trainer. And of course we have our FEI draft cross superstars - not traditional dressage horses by any means, but they all have suitable conformation and a first-class work ethic that has been key to their progress.
Bottom line: choose the horse that is right for you - your budget, your personality, and your goals. Find a skilled trainer who can maximize your horse’s potential through correct dressage training and can guide you in setting realistic expectations and goals. Enjoy your horse and enjoy dressage!
When I was a child, I dreamed of owning a horse. Any horse. it didn't matter what size, breed, or colour; I was obsessed with them all. I railed against my parents who followed the doctor's advice not to let me ride, since I tested highly allergic to horses (and everything else with fur or feathers too). It wasn't until I was 14 that I managed to wear them down and convince them to let me try one lesson a week for the summer. We all know how that "just one lesson" scenario works out!
I part boarded and leased a few horses over the years but my dream of ownership didn't come true until I was 17. I had fallen in love with a handsome QH x TB in our barn, and when he came up for sale I couldn't resist. He was the horse of my dreams! Problem was, I was far from his dream rider.
Said horse was rising three and had only a few months' training under saddle - probably not the best match for a novice teenager who didn't even know enough to know what she didn't know. We struggled. A lot. There were high points, low points, victories, and hospital visits.
My coach offered to take him back in exchange for his older and better-trained half brother. I refused. I LOVED my horse and I wouldn't dream of giving him up. In retrospect that was a huge mistake. But our teenage years are for making mistakes, right? As I gained more knowledge and had the opportunity to work with a few knowledgeable dressage coaches, we turned things around. He was never destined to be a superstar but became a fun, (mostly) safe all-around ride who could hold his own in the show ring or take care of my adult beginner students in a lesson. When I finished university, got a full-time job, and faced the financial reality that I couldn't afford a horse, he ended up with a wonderful family in Nova Scotia and I closed the door on my equine adventures until I got back in the saddle for "just one lesson a week" at the age of 42.
I came up with another wild and crazy dream. Not only was I going to own a horse again, I was going to learn my way up the levels and compete him at Third Level before I turned 50. Again I found my dream horse - the huge, sweet and (mostly) safe gentle giant you all know as Gus, then 5 years old. Again, I was far from his dream rider, but I sure tried. We struggled. A lot. There were high points, low points, victories, and hospital visits. We made it into the ring at Second Level this winter - a huge milestone for both of us - and he was able to do all the Third Level movements at home, to the best of his ability at least.
But I was bit naive, having never ridden past First Level before, and didn't fully appreciate just how physically demanding the collection and self-carriage required at Third is. At that level the horse really needs to be an athlete and athletic is not a word anyone would use to describe Gus. He tried his heart out but with a conformation most unsuited to dressage and a chronic medical condition to manage, he started letting us know this spring that he was unhappy.
After changing everything we could (tack, bits, medication, pads, etc.) and having many consultations with the vet, the conclusion was simply that his body was not going to hold up to this level of work and that continuing would cause him pain. He deserves better. We could have retired him, or kept him as a low level pleasure horse, and if we hadn't found the perfect home for him that's exactly what would have happened.
However, just because he was no longer the horse to help me reach my dreams, didn't mean Gus wasn't someone else's dream horse. His new mom reminds me so much of myself when I first got him. Badly in need of a confidence booster, she loves the fact he stops when she loses her balance and, on her second ride, felt safe enough to try cantering for the first time in over a year. He will work at a lower level on a lighter schedule and will be wonderful at his new job. He'll hear "good boy" over and over again and will be doing what he's best at. She is his dream rider, plus she adores him and thinks he's the handsomest horse in the world. She's right.
There's Gus-sized hole in my heart at the moment but I know things have worked out in the best way for me, for him, and for his new owner. My dream of Third Level is on a temporary pause but that's ok. Taking care of my horse is more important. I believe there's a horse out there who thinks I'm their dream rider (ha!) and will love teaching me the next steps.
Poor Gus. When it comes to the tail department he's not exactly well-endowed. He suffers the thin-tailed curse of many of his fellow chestnut Weltmeyer descendants - an issue made all the more obvious by just how out of proportion his under-sized tail is to his over-sized body. And because his tail breaks just as easily as it tangles, it's hard to keep it looking sleek and smooth when brushing only serves to make it even thinner.
I know, #FirstWorldProblems, right?
But a problem nonetheless. So when the folks at Equi-Spa contacted me to see if I was interested in trying their products and whether I had any specific grooming concerns, my answers were yes and yes. They suggested two products: Fairy Tails Lotion and Fairy Tails Orchid Oil Gloss and I readily agreed to give them both a try.
*Full disclosure: This is the bit where I have to tell you that the products were provided to me at no charge in order for me to review them. There was no financial consideration and no suggestion that the review should be anything but my own unbiased opinion, based on my own experience and actual results with the products. I don't have a stake in the company and don't personally know any of its owners or employees.
The lotion comes in a regular bottle and is applied by hand. It's thick enough that it doesn't run out of your hands, but thin enough for easy application evenly throughout the tail. I used a generous amount on the first few applications, but with regular use needed less each time. I always applied it to a clean, damp tail after shampooing.
The gloss comes in a spray bottle but is thicker than other sprays I've previously used. It comes out in more of a stream than a spray and doesn't apply quite as evenly as finer sprays. I preferred spraying it into my hands first and then rubbing it into the tail. I tried it on a clean, damp tail but also applied it several times to a dirty, dry tail and it definitely helped to keep the hair smoother and free of tangles between washings. A little goes a long way with this product, making it more economical than I first thought.
I've been using both products for almost a month now and I'm pleasantly surprised. I've tried a variety of lotions and potions on Gus's tail in the past and while most of them do help with detangling, with repeated use they seem to leave the hair either dry and brittle, or a bit sticky. Based on the consistency and initial results, I suspected Fairy Tails would lean towards the sticky side as well, but that hasn't been the case. The more I used it, the more I like it. While the tail doesn't have that silky, slippery feeling that silicone based products create, it has remained smooth and tangle free, even through rainstorms and mud baths. The tail also feels (and perhaps looks?) a little thicker and fuller than it did before, although that may just be wishful thinking on my part.
My only complaint? Both products, but particularly the gloss, are very heavily scented. It's a pleasant floral scent and isn't overwhelming in a barn setting but I quickly discovered that if I didn't wash my hands thoroughly afterwards, my allergies would go into overdrive. That being said, I am allergic to everything and super-sensitive to floral scents, even naturally-derived ones. YMMV.
The verdict: I give Fairy Tails a 4 out of 5 for being easy to use and doing exactly what it promises. At $16 (US) for the lotion and $20 for the gloss, they are comparably priced with other "natural" coat care products. However, since the products aren't available in Canada yet, you have to factor in the exchange rate, shipping costs and any duties which may apply. Once my free samples run out I would definitely order more of the lotion (because it is less scented than the gloss) and would consider trying some of the company's other products, such as the Kiss A Frog foot wash, which claims to protect the hoof from fungal and bacterial issues such as thrush and mud fever.
See for yourself! Bearing in mind that Gus' tail is usually a tangled mess just one day after washing, conditioning and detangling, check out this little video clip on my Instagram. This is him straight from turnout in a muddy, dusty field with no brushing or finger combing before taking the video. It's been about 4 days since I washed his tail or applied any Fairy Tails product and even though it's dirty, it's still smooth, shiny and tangle-free.
If you've me say it once you've probably heard me say it a thousand times: I hate horse shows. Except I don't really. After going to our local CDI as a spectator this past weekend I realized that I just hate showing. I resent the amount of money I spend on doing something I dread. I hate running back and forth to the port-a-potty because my anxiety is in overdrive. I hate that I can't conquer the overwhelming feeling that I might die if I encounter the water truck on the way to the warmup ring (even though my horse has only spooked hard about 5 times in his entire life). I hate that some people take showing so seriously and get worked up over a mistake or a low score as if they were life-or-death issues. At the end of the day we're not doing brain surgery; it's horse dancing.
So why do I show? Because I suck at it. And my mental state makes my horse suck at it. While he seems to enjoy "camping" with his buddies back at the shedrow and watching all the goings-on at the wash racks, he's not particularly enthusiastic about having to perform in the ring. So we'll keep doing it until we both get comfortable enough that getting through a low level test without a major error or meltdown is possible.
But this weekend he got to stay home with an abscess while I enjoyed all the fun of a show with none of the stress. All my past whining about showing negates the many, many good things about it, so here's a quick list of 3 things I love about shows:
1. Dressage shows are for everyone
Many horse sports have a reputation for being elitist, but getting up at 5am to feed or braid has a way of putting everyone on an equal footing. FEI competitors can be found hand-grazing their six-figure mounts next to little kids and their lesson ponies. Want to meet one of your Olympic idols? Sure there was an autograph booth for that, but you're just as likely to meet and chat with one at the manure pile, by the warm-up ring rail, or in the line-up for coffee. I saw competitors of all ages, all shapes and sizes (so confidence boosting for me to see several plus-sized riders looking awesome and riding fantastic tests) and all skill levels. Likewise I saw horses of every breed, size, shape, colour, description, and price point.
2. Dressage shows are inspiring
Unless you're lucky enough to winter in Wellington, or board somewhere with Grand Prix riders, we lower-level riders don't get the chance to see top-level dressage in person nearly often enough. Being able to watch riders warming up and competing at the highest levels is inspiring and educational in and of itself. But so is watching the pros put their young horses through their paces at the lower levels. So is watching an amateur with her self-trained draft cross hold her own against pros on fancy warmbloods in FEI classes. So is watching a rider struggle through a challenging warmup or difficult test, and live to knock it out of the park the next day.
3. Dressage shows are fun
Hands down, the best part of any show is the camaraderie. The dressage community in Canada is small and closely-knit, despite being highly competitive. Shows are a place to reconnect with people you haven't seen since last season, and to meet in real life some you "know" through social media. Everywhere you go there's a small army of family members, friends, barn-mates, and supporters taking off boots, holding horses, giving pep talks, and offering congratulations or condolences. At the end of the day it's not unusual to find small groups gathered outside of each shedrow, often trading war stories and laughs over an adult beverage or two, as their horses contentedly much hay nearby. Dressage may be an individual sport but these moments are a great reminder of our team spirit.
About the author
I'm a middle-aged, overweight, rusty re-rider who refuses to let any of that get in the way of my passion for dressage.