August 5, 2007
Dressage is a wonderful way to learn good control and proper riding skills. It's foundation and principals are excellent for any type of riding - from Western to Jumping.
Much of the time, people associate dressage with upper level horses and extreme collection and extensions. However the skills learned in Training Level and First Level are a sign of a well-trained horse who is flexible and responsive. I truly believe every horse is completely capible of Training Level movements. The simply demonstrate that your horse is flexible, responsive and learning to work through his back and hindquarters.
A riding arena set up for dressage allows for good instruction and demonstration of the necessary skills. The dressage arena is set up so the instructor can use markers on the arena to communicate effectively with the student. The markers are letters set up in a standardized method for most of the people working on dressage skills.
There are two sizes of dressage arenas - 20×40 meters and 20×60 meters. The smaller one is for lower level tests only. If you have room, the larger one is better. A meter is about 3.3 feet, so the larger arena is 66'x198'. Typically, the boundary on a dressage arena is very low so as to teach the rider to ride straight lines without the help of a fence.
The arena letters can be bought or homemade. The don't have to be fancy. An easy way to remember the letters is 'A' is at the entrance and then remember this sentence: All King Edward's Horse Can Make Big Fences. 'A' is the entrance, turn left to 'K' and continue around clockwise. 'X' is the exact center between 'B' and 'E' on the 20 meter line and 'A' and 'C' on the 60 meter line. You won't need the extra letters that go in-between until you become more experienced.
My students who jumped were quite 'jump happy'. That's all they wanted to do. Flat work was too boring. I used to ask them, "If you're in an arena with 12 jumps and the arena is 200' x 300', how many strides are flatwork?" They usually couldn't think of an answer. Here's the truth - ALL the strides are flatwork except for the 12 jumping strides. That's how important flatwork is to jumping. You need to get your horse in the proper take-off spot to be successful.
If you've never ridden in a arena with specific marks on where to begin a canter, where to stop or an exact smooth circle, you'll find that maybe your riding skills aren't quite as sharp as you thought. Give it a try - you and your horse will improve. It's a great challenge.