Dressage is the French word for ‘training’. However, ‘training’ may be interpreted in two ways. The first is ‘equipping the horse with the skills needed for a specific purpose’ (e.g. pleasure riding, hunting, jumping, driving, plowing, logging, military/police mounts). The second is ‘developing the full potential of the horse.’ Incorporated in this second goal may be the intent ‘to achieve the same quality of movement under a rider, as demonstrated by the horse while completely free’. Dressage fits in the second, more general category. In practice, the two perspectives link together.
The benefits of dressage, or ‘flat work’, are recognized and used in disciplines that are more specific. (Ian Miller warms up his show jumpers with dressage!)
At Willowbank, we attempt to apply a time-tested ‘dressage’ methodology for developing the potential of the horse, faithful to the principles of gentle, light communication between horse and rider. There is always room for adjustments, our programs are developed in response to the horse or the horse-rider combination. The overall system can easily accommodate groundwork from equine agility training, techniques from Centered Riding TM and current ‘natural’ horsemanship, and techniques from mental health practitioners to promote healthy horse/human relationship.
Willowbank uses the Para equestrian development system of video and professionally judged dressage tests, from time to time. But the goal of dressage should not be winning, but helping both self and horse to express their potential in body, mind, and spirit. This documents progress and motivates further effort. A rider ‘competes’ only with him/herself.
Willowbank is concerned simply with the well-being of horses and riders, and the contribution horses make to human well-being.