I know most non-horse people think of it in terms of Stephen Colbert's funny sketches and interviews with Jan Ebeling about his Olympic mount, Rafalca, partially owned by Ann Romney....horses and riders "dancing" with and without music. That's part of it, but it's really so much more, and it's based in military training for field maneuvers.
What I love about dressage is the training. I love the end result, of course, the beauty and harmony of horse and rider, but it's much like learning dance in the process of training. Very physical and cerebral, requiring focus and patience and daily work. I can get lost in my own head and attend to the details of the ride, even at the low level I am at, and think about all the moving parts -- mine and the horse's -- and where to put them with each stride. I remember being that focused when I was training as a dancer, too. The muscular and biomechanical control I gained allowed me to place my limbs wherever I wanted, to balance, and move through space efficiently and seemingly effortlessly.
To do that with a horse is an incredible experience. I've felt the harmony of horse and rider before, briefly in separate rides, usually only for a few minutes at a time. I've been searching for that feeling since I started back to riding two years ago. Today, I found it again, briefly, only for a few moments at a time, but it was there, and it was wonderful.
I've been riding with a dressage trainer and judge for the last few weeks, and it has been a great experience. Fun, productive, challenging, and very positive so far. My lessons have been basic, but straightforward, progressing in small increments to more and more challenging geometry, learning to resolve issues and refine my basic position, and regain my confidence and control. I've found I am not the things I was told I was, and I DO correctly know the details I was taught years before. That, in and of itself, has been a relief.
I'm enjoying riding again. I'm practicing the skills I know, and learning the new ones I need to know. Right now, it's all USDF Introductory Level, walk-trot, haven't even cantered yet, but that's fine. I want the solid foundation of a good position, correct riding, and firm knowledge of the very basics before I get into other stuff. Yes, this means I have to spend time with the World's Most Boring Dressage Test, but it doesn't feel as boring anymore since I actually am focusing on the components of riding that make up the test instead of just riding the test over and over.
And I'm riding a pony. A real pony, a 13.3h Welsh/TB cross mare who has schooled up to a bit of Second Level. It's been interesting; I've never ridden such a short equine before, ever. But her owner and my instructor both say I am doing a great job with her, so that makes me feel good. I still can't get over her being so short, though. For my birthday next week, my instructor says I can ride one of the big draft crosses or other big guys she has, if I want to. That should be interesting after a few weeks of pony-riding!
At any rate, I had a great lesson today, and I finally feel like I am making progress and finding my place. Now if only I could find my *horse*.