Get Started In Dressage With These Helpful Tips

As the Olympics have started, I am sure there will be a few new dressage fans popping up all over the place - at least, that is what the equestrian communities hopes for as equestrian disciplines might not be part of upcoming Olympics anymore. Of course, it is my favorite parts of the Olympic games, as more people get to appreciate this fine art. Dressage is a wonderful thing to take part in, either professionally or as a hobby. There is no finer way to bond with your horse and have lots of fun in the process. Moreover, dressage is the basis for all other disciplines.

Many people will watch dressage on the TV and dream of taking part. However, most of the time, the dream ends abruptly. This is not because they are not good enough, it is because they do not know where to start! Well, if you have clicked on this post to find out how to get started in dressage, then you are in the right place. Throughout the course of this post, I will provide you with all the info you need to follow your dressage dreams - and who knows maybe people will watch you compete in the world's most prestigious arenas one day.

Me, dreaming of going to the Olympics one day

Finding An Appropriate Horse Show

We will start things off with something most people have trouble understanding. A lot of wannabe competitors do not know where they can take part in dressage competition. Finding the right competition is a lot easier than you might think. There are various affiliations that run competitions throughout the year. Perhaps the most recognised of which is British Dressage. Your first task is to approach an affiliation about taking part in a competition.

British Dressage will offer different tests to help you get started in dressage. You can download test sheets to see what you have to do. There is no need to become a member if you are only just starting out. You will be able to compete in various competitions, by entering the open section. By doing this, you can experience dressage for the first time. It helps you get a feel for the sport and allows you to figure out if you like it. Most other countries have the same regulations, just like here in Austria as well.

If you compete and don’t like it, then that is fine! Some people prefer watching the sport rather than competing in it. Besides, you can always have your own dressage competitions on your own to get your fix. However, if you do like competing, then it is beneficial to purchase a membership. This will allow your horse to gain qualifications in other British Dressage events as you improve. Here, a membership is needed as you need to ride specific scores to get the next higher license - allowing you to enter the next higher class(es). We are working on the last few scores for the highest license in Austria!

Of course, like I said, there are other affiliations you can join too.

Dress Code

If you wish to take part in a dressage show, then you have to make sure you follow the dress code! For an unaffiliated show or a non-rated show, standard apparel might be fine, but as soon as you enter a rated show you need to wear white breeches, white gloves, a dark show coat. Many people think that you have to shell out loads of money on expensive dressage clothes. However, this is unnecessary; you can get everything you need without breaking the bank.

As the rider, you have a few items that you need to wear. The first thing on your list will be a suitable riding helmet. It is recommended that you get one that is following your national standards. Some people choose to wear a helmet just to be safe, actually, in lower level dressage a helmet is a must whereas later on you might go with a top hat (at least, in Austria). Just remember to cover your helmet with a black or dark blue cover in case it is not yet black or blue. To me, a helmet should also match show coat or boots. To go along with this, you will need a show coat complete with shirt and tie. Again, the colors you are looking at will be navy or black, some also do brown. Moving onto your lower body and you will need a pair of light colored breeches. In Austria, you will not see any other than white or champagne. To finish the look, you will need some brown or black tall boots and some riding gloves. It may seem like a lot but just think of it as your kit like in any other sport.

After you have sorted yourself out, it is time to turn your attention to your horse. That is right; your horse has to follow a dress code as well. They need a plain saddle and black or brown bridle. During your first tests, you have to use a snaffle whenever you compete. These are not essential as you progress. Your horse can wear boots when you warm up, but not during the actual competition.

It is not about the ribbons

During The Competition

When you and your horse are ready to go, it is time to start a show. There are certain rules and tips that you should follow at your first event. To start, make sure you arrive with plenty of time to spare. You must find the secretary’s office and declare your horse. They will give you a competitor number, which you have to put somewhere on your horse. In Austria, your horse has a dedicated number/letter combination that does not change. Ours is HAFL - I guess you would have guessed it!

Then, find out where your class is and where you will complete your test. Once you have done this, you can get in a few moments practice. Ride around and practice your test over and over until it is ingrained in your brain. Make sure you know the time, as you might not be called into the arena. It is down to you to ensure you turn up on time.

When your time has come, you will perform your test in front of a judge. Any mistakes you made will be declared by a bell. Don’t worry; everyone makes mistakes when they are just starting out. Actually, we ALL make mistakes - that is the reason why we never ever see a 100%  test. The horn can sound quite menacing, but it is just to ensure you hear it. If you know your mistake, you can raise your hand and go back to the start of the movement. If you don’t, then ask the judge, and they will tell you. You won’t lose marks for asking, so don’t worry!

You can collect your scores after the test, and ask the judges for any feedback. If time is your enemy, then you can have them mailed to you at a later date - at least, in some countries.

Paying For Dressage

It is no secret that competing in dressage shows can be hard on your piggy bank. There are hundreds of advice out there on how to  save money competing. However, I do think it is important that people know the financial commitment they are getting into. Along with the outfits, membership, and competition fees, you have lots more to pay for.

Touching the holy grounds ofAachen

Transport to and from the competition can be the hardest thing. You have to get yourself and your horse down to wherever it is being held. If you live close to a competition, then things are easier. However, most of the time, you have to travel miles. This means finding a horsebox for sale, attaching it to your car, and towing your horse. Getting a horsebox is another expense, not to mention all the petrol costs.

Finally, you have to think about your horse’s health and wellbeing. Competing can put lots of strain on its body. So, ensure you have all the necessary things to help it recover. And, you will have to book health checkups for it, to make sure it is in good condition. What's more, several countries request certain regular vaccinations like flu shots here in Austria - twice a year!

As you can see, dressage is a huge financial commitment. My advice is to try and work out how much it will cost you per year. Then, you can see whether or not it is a feasible option for you. Hopefully, if you are young, your parents may give you some financial help to get started.

The first steps are the hardest

I hope this post has helped you understand how to get started in dressage. It truly is one of the most underrated sports in the world. Everyone always raves about it when it is on during the Olympics, but then forget about it. I want to try and get more horse lovers into dressage because it is a wonderful experience. Dressage is like a dance between horse and human and it takes so much time to learn this dance - but as soon as the pieces fall into place, it is more fun every single day.

On a sidenote: I just read an article today on Horse and Hound where "researchers" found out that pursuing your Olympic Dressage Dream may cost as much as £468,000 to go from a total newbie to Olympic level over the next four years! Unfortunately, they only took costs for lessons into account... I guess the number needs to much higher...the horse, the boarding, vets, equipment...over years! Still, it might give you an idea of how much money, time, sweat and effort is put into an Olympic dream to make it happen. Good luck to all competitors!

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