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Equestrian: Dressage with Sir Harvey

Equestrian Dressage

Photo: Laurentia Tan

by Laurentia Tan

My stable name is Harvey - now, “Sir” Harvey - and I was an eventing horse.  Eventing is an equestrian event where a single horse and rider combination compete against other combinations across the three disciplines: dressage, cross-country, and show jumping.  I was brought out of retirement to help Laurentia prepare for an international para-dressage competition.   

I am here to tell you a bit about Dressage; which is also referred to as “horse ballet”.  Dressage, literally translated means ‘training’.  It is a competitive sport, defined by our international federation as ‘the highest expression of horse training’.  It is the ultimate partnership between horse and rider where the fundamental purpose is “to develop a horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to perform’.  In other words, the rider will be relaxed and appear not to do anything while the horse willingly performs the requested movement.  Requiring the power and precision of gymnastics, the grace and subtlety of ballet, dressage challenges mental preparations as well as the physical agility and control.

Equestrian Dressage

Photo: Laurentia Tan

Sometimes, we focus more on training with the horse, and work on the “scales of training”*.  This covers the basic rules in dressage: rhythm & regularity, suppleness & relaxation, contact, impulsion & through-ness, straightness and collection.   Sometimes we focus more on Laurentia i.e. the rider’s balance, straightness, co-ordination, suppleness, use of aids etc.

In other words, when Laurentia is riding, she is not just riding as such.  The basic principles of dressage and the scales of training (i.e. rhythm, contact, suppleness, impulsion, straightness & collection*) must be followed at all times.  We would do various exercises, for example walking 8 m or 10 m circles accurately, or trotting around the arena, making sure that Laurentia has my (i.e. the horse’s) attention / focus.   Also, other examples include, doing a square accurately, making lateral movements, doing double loops along the track and keeping the horse in constant rhythm and in a nice outline.  All this require a lot of co-ordination, stamina and concentration.

Equestrian Dressage

Photo: Laurentia Tan

Para Dressage is where riders with disability/ies are classified into Grades I-IV, Grade Ia being the most disabled, and Grade IV being the least.   Hence, the technical movements required in Grade Ia tests are all in walk only, the Grade IVs have walk, trot and canter.  Laurentia is a Grade Ia and does all her competition events in walk only, but in training she also likes to trot and canter!  

[*The horse must have a steady rhythm ensuring the beats per minute of each pace remain consistent and flowing; the rider must maintain contact with the horse; the horse should have suppleness so there is a fluent feel between horse and rider; the rider must maintain the  impulsion – energy - of the horse throughout; the  horse should move with straightness at all times so that each movement would be displayed at its best effect; and, as the horse develops and gains greater and greater collection, the horse and rider work together in great harmony to make this look easy and flowing.]