If anyone is allowed to be biased towards dressage, it's our dressage editor Alice Collins. To celebrate this week's dressage special issue of Horse & Hound, she puts forward her argument as to why dressage is actually superior to showjumping...
Jumping really is just flatwork, except for the moments the horse is in the air over the fence. The basics of woah, go and adjustability — sideways as well as forwards — all need to be in place for a top quality jumping round. Basically, each round is actually more dressage than jumping.
No gadgets allowed. You’d never see a dressage horse cranked in with draw reins or wearing some horrifying bit/shank/noseband/sheepskin monstrosity. Snaffle or double: keep it simple.
3. Learning the test
You have ample time to learn the test before a show. None of this turning up, walking the course once and being expected to know where you’re going malarkey. You can have a caller to jog your memory, and nobody swaps the letters round every time you go to a show.
Plaiting — while not compulsory — is universal in dressage, with the exception of natives. Clever plaiting can really accentuate the horse’s neck, and with taller plaits at the poll, they can be made to look more uphill. Big dressage plaits improve the appearance of topline. Jumpers rarely bother plaiting.
How you look on a horse matters. If you have a lower leg like Roger-Yves Bost, you’re never going to get a 10 in your collectives. Being rewarded for attractive riding promotes quiet, effective communication and training. Dressage is not just about getting from A to B by any means possible.
There’s no covering anything up with boots or bandages in the test. And using weighted or pinch boots? Perish the very thought.
Dressage riders have been known to have sleepless nights with visions of riders without hairnets. Hair has to be tidy, not flying out behind as if you’re riding a unicorn on a beach in Wonderland. Just no.
When schooling, you don’t need an assistant to help put up the jumps every time your horse knocks one down. Plus you don’t need to drag all the poles, wings, fillers and other gumph into and out of the arena for every session to appease the dressage riders.
9. Seeing a stride
In dressage, you may have to feel where the legs are to perfect a halt or ride the perfect flying change, but you never have to guess when you’re about to become airborne. Predicting where a horse might launch itself into the air from over a socking great big fence is frankly terrifying and unnecessary.
What better entertainment is there than freestyle dressage to music? It’s the synergy between horse, rider and music and makes for a magical spectacle. Think of Blue Hors Matine, Totilas or Valegro. Dressage riders can show their horses off to best effect round a purpose-designed floorplan, rather than a brand new course designed to trick horses and riders.
You get given a time in advance of your test and can plan your dressage day accordingly, down to the minute. In jumping, you have to guess when your slot might be, which results in hours of waiting some days, while on others you miss your class completely. That sucks!
Every dressage test receives feedback from judges, ensuring you have things to work on at home and improve for next time. There are no suggestions as to how you might improve your next showjumping course, unless you can persuade an experienced person to tag along with you.
13. Longer limelight
From intro level up, you’ve more time in the limelight riding a dressage test than a jumping course. And at grand prix, you get almost 10 minutes in the ring, offering ample picture opportunities and long minutes to savour — for riders and spectators alike.
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We each have our favourite discipline — and…
What other sport allows tailcoats to be worn in competition? They have to be the smartest, sexiest, sleekest, most fashionable and flattering outfits in the world. Wearing these iconic jackets is a major impetus for many riders aspiring to advanced. What do you get to wear when you reach the heady height in jumping? The same outfit. Pah!
In showjumping if you make an error of course, you are eliminated. Plain and simple (and quite mean). In dressage, you get to circle round, come again and are given a little telling off with a slightly lower final score. All three individual medallists in the grand prix special went wrong at the Europeans in Hagen. Let’s hear it for an unlevel playing field across the disciplines…