Friday, July 24, 2009

No jumps, no glory?

Next door to the facility I board and ride Greta at is a very nice showjumping barn owned and run by the head instructor, a very nice lady. The arena is very large and covered, with half of it being open on the sides and the other half closed and encircled by stalls, each with their own fan, blanket rack, white board to write the horse's name/registered name/show name/parents and any changes or special instructions. The stalls, I think there are around 30 or so, are maintained by the very nice workers who have a house on the property. There are also around six nicely sized pasture (about the same size as ours) around the arena/barn.

Every morning that I ride, I pull Greta out of the pasture with her nylon halter (it was the most expensive one at the tack shop, but also the prettiest with it being purple and having a purple paisley pattern strip down the sides and across the noseband, didn't know you could get a nylon halter like that, did ya?) and I then I tack her up under the tree that we drilled a sturdy metal ring to the top of it and tied a sturdy nylon rope so we could tack up horses there in the shade. No fancy hitching posts, just a very big tree surrounded by other trees that provide lots of shade.

I groom Greta (I bought my very own fine and coarse curry comb btw, and a hoof pick with a brush!) thoroughly and tack her up, all while listening to the sounds of lessons at the jumping barn next door. I look over there occasionally, and see some nice examples of schooling and color-coordinated jumpers doing their thing that is jumping.

Meanwhile, Greta and I head over to our grassy, uncovered arena (which is why I try to ride as early or as late as possible) around the same time that the classes are switching out next door. There is a gap in the treeline that lines the arena where the gate adjoining the properties is. It is where the students like to go and let their horses graze while their parents or their own cars are parked: this is because that is the shady side of the arena. They see me riding Greta, and a few even bother to wave or smile at me if I happen to look their way.

One day a girl came over and asked me about my horse:


I steered Greta towards that side of the arena, a bit unsure. "Hi."

"That's a really pretty horse you got there. What breed is he?" Greta liked the first comment.

"Oh, thank you! Actually, she's a mare, she's a Swedish Warmblood Quarter Horse cross. She is a wonderful horse."

"What's her name?"


"Do y'all show? It looks like you're doing equitation on the flat, right?"

"Naw, we're not showing yet, I've only had her since the beginning of the summer. She's still getting used to come things, but otherwise she takes everything like a champ. We actually are attempting dressage." I laugh, she laughs lightly too.

"Attempting? So are you going to go for eventing?"

I laugh again. "I can't jump for beans, and neither of us really have an interest in that. Greta is really good at dressage, and I love the sport, so we're just going to go for straight-up dressage." Yes, I used 'straight up' and 'dressage' in the same sentence. I'm so 'down with it'.

She looked surprised. The conversation continued on a little more, not going south at all or anything, and then she had to go and I rode for another hour until the heat wave started to come along.

I could see where the girl was coming from. Usually when people say they ride English, they mean some form of jumping, usually hunter or eventing. I've seen showjumping usually come after they get established with hunter jumping, so they know how to jump a course nicely. Dressage is not as common.

While I don't think it is a dying or lost art, in fact the FEI says it's starting to gain international popularity as more and more people use it to improve in other disciplines and end up actually liking it, dressage is just not the first thing one would think of when it comes to horseback riding. It's jumping or rodeo sports, right? Oh, wait, what's dressage? That's a sport? But the horse is doing all the work, right? I would like to see one of them hop on a horse and make it go without shaking the reins like their driving a cart or kicking the horse like the "cowboys" in the movies or plow-reining all over the place like a bad barrel racer. Regardless...

It is just not thought of as an exciting sport. I can see that. At first glance, unless you're watching a Grand Prix freestyle put to good music and not classical music or that cheap-karaoke-program-sounding stuff, it will look interesting. But if you're watching a regular test, one that is judged solely on how you ride without any music or choreography, it doesn't seem all that interesting. Though I have had some friends comment that it is very appealing to the eye to watch a good dressage rider do something as basic as sitting the trot well.

Jumping is seen as exciting to watch, and I love to watch it myself. The wipeouts (admit it, everyone loves to watch the wipeouts) and successes... and riding it is just as much fun (I have done some jumping before, very little though). To soar over fences or fly across and open field and leap into the water and then plunge out and over a hedge does sound like quite the trip to me, and to many others as well. Jumping is the horse-world version of motorcross or snowboarding or BMX or any other extreme sport you can think of. It is fun!

But here is where jumping disinterests me. Sure, you can build your way up fences, however high your horse can safely jump, but then you have to stop. Really, about eight feet is as high as I've seen most serious showjumpers go, not counting a puissance aka OMG HOLY CHEESE BIG MOTHER MONSTER JUMPS!!!! The higher you progess, usually you have to replace horses, as you wouldn't put a hot TB meant for big jumps in the baby amatuer ring, nor would you put a fat little pony in the Rolex (though that would be a sight to see!)

That is one part that bothers me.

An even bigger thing that bothers me, though I mean nothing derogatory of jumpers out of this (I really do admire the big guns, that takes guts and a horse as tough as nails) is the lack of expressions. Everyone does the same course. Everyone has a similar horse. Yes, this is true of a dressage test, but that test is followed by expressive freestyles later one.

Greta can jump, yes. She went over a sand mound at one end of the arena while I was loungeing her, and it scared the crap out of me, as I'd never seen her jump nor had I ever seen her jump two feet. But she cleared it. Not nicely, but she cleared it. She was meant for dressage though, clear and simple. We like dressage. We like the challenge. Dressage can never be mastered, only improved.

Jumping is exciting, yes, but you can only go so far. With dressage, I could be an old woman who's up with the classical masters and have my own training facility in Germany (a little fantasy of mine haha!) and still continue to learn, to have my "aha!" moments. I would never get bored, only continue on.

Dressage is very rich with history and tradition, something that I've always had a fondness for (for God's sake I'm taking two college-level history classes next year just for fun!) It is a beautiful and expressive art form as much as it is a competitive and international-level sport. Art is also something I'm very into, well, 2d artwork that is. I can't dance for beans, but Greta can!

Dressage incorporates several things that I love all into one activity: history, art, and horses. I can work at it until the day I croak over. That is why, though I admire it, I say "phooey!" to jumping, and dance around in an arena all day instead.


  1. Okay, so I'm going to be coming at this from an eventing perspective. I've had my horse for the last year, and the two of us do eventing, and go to dressage shows and show jumping shows every once in a while. I enjoy dressage, and I enjoy the jumping, especially cross country. But I really don't see how you can say that dressage allows more room for expression, or that while you can always continue to learn more dressage, you eventually hit the ceiling with jumping! In my own personal opinion, both of those statements are seriously incorrect.

    Sure, dressage does allow freestyles in the higher levels, and that's definitely more expressive than doing the same test as everyone else. However, they still do have to preform a regulation test, and not everyone will get the chance to do a freestyle. They're difficult to choreograph, from what I can tell! But what I mean to say is, there's definitely room for expression in eventing. Sure, your score comes from whether you get over the jumps you're supposed in the right amount of time, but there are so many different routes you can take. There's always tighter turn that can be made in show jumping to clench the fastest time, or an innovative route on cross country that others might not try. Plus we get to express ourselves through colors on cross country! ;D I believe there's plenty of room for expression in both phases of jumping.

    And as far as "you can always improve your dressage, but you can only go so high with jumping"? Two things: the height is not the most important part of the course, and jumping is just dressage with road blocks.

    I am 100% confident that a course could be set of 4ft tall jumps that was crazy, insanely difficult that would challenge even the best 6ft grand prix jumper and her horse. 95% of jumping is getting to the jumps in the right spot, with your horse prepared, not getting over the jump itself. Heck, once you're in the air, it's (almost) easy!

    Second, you cannot jump without doing dressage. It cannot be done. You constantly have to collect and lengthen the stride for turns and combinations, and heck, if you miss your turn to a jump and you aren't straight, you can leg yield so that you ARE straight! And if you don't constantly work on your dressage to strengthen the horse, and constantly work towards a more forward canter with more impulsion, you won't be able to go very far. Dressage and jumping are very closely linked. Sure, you don't see anyone passage-ing around a jumper course. I did once see a beautiful canter pirouette executed perfectly in a jump-off round, though. The rider did a perfect 180 degree turn in only one stride and made it over a 5ft+ jump to win the round. She was the only one who even tried to make that turn. Now that's expression, and you can't tell me that horse and rider pair didn't use dressage to do it! As long as your dressage continues to improve, so will your jumping.

    So, to sum up, I think jumping gives you an equal amount of ability to express yourself as dressage does. :) And there is no end to the improvement of your jumping, because jumping is 95% dressage, and your dressage can always be improved!

  2. Thank you for the thoughts Sammi! I definitely understand where you are coming from. I only did very small jumps for less than a year before I temporarily quit lessons because I could go as far as I could go in western without getting my own horse and going further and jumping didn't seem all that much interesting to me (though I love to watch it, especially my friend's eventing shows) so I have no room for contradiction. I would not even consider myself to know anything anything beyond what I read and see in the magazines, some of which I do not get!

    Yes, I understand that one must score a certain percentage before they are qualified to perform a freestyle at any level. I knew that some dressage was involved in jumping (heck, any equestrian sport!) but I did not realize that it did in fact require as much as you explained! You learn something new every day.

    A full pirouette? Was this on TV or on YouTube? I really want to see that! Sounds amazing! I would like to post that on the blog.

    Thank you a lot for your commenting. I am glad to hear things from a jumper's (er... eventer's) perspective. Very informative :D

  3. Oh, and the colors in cross country look like so much fun! If only we could go as far as just coordinating browbands with belts and stirrups and bits (which most of the judges nor audience won't notice anyway haha!) in dressage.

  4. Glad I could help you know a little more about jumping! It's always fun to learn more about other disciplines. I'm nearly western ignorant, unfortunately. :(

    It was a beautiful pirouette. Gave me goosebumps to watch! It was at a grand prix in Missouri that I went to for my birthday. I'll try and see if I can find a video for you :)

  5. Well, I couldn't find a video of the horse and rider I was thinking of, but here's a video of the jump off round-

    After the first jump, the horse and rider I'm thinking of turned before the sun fence. Before it! My mouth dropped open and my eyes got wide, and all I could think was, WOW! I'm fairly positive it was at least a step or two of pure pirouette, maybe more. It was so great to see!


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