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Trotting, lots and lots of trotting- this appears to be the foundation of traditional dressage. Experienced dressage riders are no doubt gagging right now. I struggle to sit the horse correctly, my legs flop around uncontrollably, yet my instructor Derek Frank is patient. He must be amused because even with his hourly rate for a lesson, I’m certain my ineptitude is hard to endure.

Oh I miss those rail classes! That sublime western pleasure jog, sitting the horse was as simple as sitting in the bleachers; watching the world drip past at a snail’s pace. I miss Reining, the pattern is performed at speed; the delightful smooth cantor and quiet lope- there is no trotting in Reining. “Speed five please”, Derek is persistent, “That is speed four, I want to see speed five. Lower your hands, your elbows? Where are your elbows?” finally, I achieve a posting trot at the requested speed. “Now speed eight please.”

Dressage, from the French for training or preparation. Sounds simple enough. Takt, from the German for stroke, this is rhythm and regularity. Balance, the most basic foundation of training for the horse as well as the rider. Achieving any of this seems so far from my present position. “What happened to speed eight? Now show me speed nine please.” We are riding indoors, in a long dimly lit arena, it’s snowing outside. It’s early morning. Casimere, my schooling horse, is not fully awake. As we trot past the doorway, he suddenly notices the bright whiteness of the winter scene outside. In an instant, the sixteen hand warmblood leaps laterally across the arena.

No, I don’t look good riding this dressage saddle, I need a lot of work before I even achieve a level of basic Takt and my posture is lacking. There is so much about dressage that I don’t understand. Gosh darn it though, I’m still onboard this big brown bugger- I can’t sit the horse correctly but at least I can stick to him. Derek is unfazed, “speed nine? What happened to speed nine?”

Tracy Schumer is the editor of High Minded Horseman. A Florida native and lifetime horse enthusiast, she is currently based in Europe where she rides dressage, enjoys carriage driving and is always on the hunt for new experiences with horses.

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