In defence of dressage…The Guardian UK

3 Sep

It is spelled with a ‘c’ because the following article is from The Guardian, a British newspaper (or tabloid or rag, depending on your viewpoint).

Yes, the Paralympics continue and yes the Bunderschampionat in Germany just finished anointing the top German sport horses and yes Burghley 4* just came to an exciting conclusion, but I am still in thrall to the Olympics…
So here is the link (in case you also also want to see the comments):


As the British dressage team celebrate one bronze and two gold medals, their sport is taking a hammering in the press. Sports editors couldn’t pick the GB team out of a lineup, and published photos of the Dutch team instead. Giles Coren said it was like having “Crufts at the Olympics”. Pundits imply that it is less sport, more circus act and portray it as an activity for a tiny, rich minority. And yet British dressage hosts 2,000 days of competition a year throughout the country, and 2.4 million people in Britain ride frequently. So why the unpopularity and misconceptions?

Many people assume you must be a millionaire to compete in dressage, because of the cost of the horses. True, top dressage horses are eye-wateringly expensive. But what critics fail to realise is that riders rarely own the horses on which they compete, just as jockeys do not own racehorses. Sadly, top riders such as Carl Hester and Dutchman Edward Gal have had their best horses sold out from under them.

To get to the top in any discipline requires full-time training, which means athletes must have independent means or some form of sponsorship. Yet Charlotte Dujardin started as a groom, a minimum-wage job if ever there was one. In fact, there is a paid career path in dressage that seems to me to be lacking in many other sports that are somehow perceived as more accessible.

Following on from the idea that you have to be rich is the idea that you need no talent, that the horse does all the work and that consequently, riders don’t need athleticism. This is nonsense. Watch a horse and rider perform dressage from a distance, and the rider looks as if they are hardly moving. Then watch the close-ups of passage, that strange slow motion trot that was originally used in military parades. There is a tremendous amount of movement in passage (take it from me as a rider, the thought of dressage without a sports bra is too painful for words) and so for the rider to create the illusion of sitting still, they must move in synchronicity with the horse. The difference between each movement lies mainly in the use of your hips, legs and core muscles. Even at my low riding level, I have a nicely defined set of abs and the cardiovascular fitness of someone 15 years my junior.

Dressage, from the French word “dresser” (to prepare), was initially a means of training cavalry horses. This is not a sport for the effete or the afraid. If you have no talent, money alone will not bring you success. Dressage horses weigh several hundred kilos and have minds of their own. All the power that is used to drive a horse around a canter pirouette can just as easily be used to dump a rider on the floor. What the critics forget is that dressage is actually one of the most inclusive of sports. Men and women, young and old, compete against each other on equal terms. The coverage it is receiving saddens me. I fear that portraying it as elitist will make it so, and that those from poorer backgrounds will not be tempted to try it. While critics carp and snipe about an inner circle, that circle will never be widened.

So to anyone who watched and is at all tempted to take up horse dancing, I say phone your local riding school or the British Horse Society and find out what you can do to get involved. If nothing else, you will meet a wonderful animal that, as the poet said, carries all our history on its back.


2 Responses to “In defence of dressage…The Guardian UK”

  1. Savannah Brentnall September 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    The good news is that UK riding schools are reporting a surge in new students since the Olympics. So it seems that the bad press isn’t affecting people’s desire to participate.

    • horsesportnews September 3, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

      now to figure out how to translate that to the U.S.!!!

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