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Horsemanship and the Art of Dress-age!

Krisean Performance Horses “Life With the Blue-Eyed Wonders” by Jill Smith
15221 N. Shady Slope Road, Spokane, WA 99208 • 509-466-4612 • jillsmith4@earthlink.net

Commander Cool

The winter hair is starting to shed off the horses so spring must be right around the corner. I noticed that my sweater had gone from mohair to mor-hair thanks to my shedding white stallion, Commander!

Speaking of Commander, I thought I better go see what he was up to as there was a whole lot of quiet coming from the stallion corrals. Usually on a nice spring day the stallions are starting to feel the urge of breeding season and there is stallion verbal commotion echoing through the ranch yard!

Rounding the barn corner I stopped dead in my tracks. Now when you own a talking horse, like my perlino quarter horse stallion, Commander, you get use to expecting the unexpected! But I certainly did not expect to see Commander sporting a large, black top hat on his head and a jaunty white tie around his neck! Black ribbons adorned his tail and there was a smug looking white rat sitting on his back.

“Sooooo, Commander, what’s up and, er, who’s your pal there?” I could barely utter a word in my astonishment.

“Sooooo yourself, miss smarty pants cowgirl, you haven’t heard that this is the dress-age?!” Commander smugly replied. “Mares are looking for stallions that stay up with the times. No thanks to you, it was Timer here who clued me in on what well dressed stallions are currently wearing.”

“Just what DID Timer tell you about well dressed stallions?” I said as I glanced over at Timer in the next corral. Timer, my Arab stallion, all of a sudden needed to examine something up in the sky and wouldn’t even return my look.

“Timer told me that this dress-age thing was all the rage. More and more people and horses are getting into it and I, for one, didn’t want to be left out!” My blue-eyed wonder replied. “You have to have the right dress and really cool moves. The moving, of course, I already have down pat, but I certainly needed a more sophisticated outfit!”

Now I got it! He was referring to the horsemanship art of dressage! It really is becoming more and more popular as people who really enjoy riding are finding out how beneficial basic dressage training can be. Its purpose of developing a horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to work creates a horse that is calm, supple and attentive to his rider. But how do you tell a well intended white stallion that he looks ridiculous?!

“Commander I think you mean dressage pronounced “dress-ahhzh” not dress-age. It’s about more than wearing a top hat, tie and tails and usually it’s the rider who wears those things. That doesn’t explain why you’re looking a little mousy”. That got me a glare from the indignant white rat on Commander’s back.

Commander, not ever being one to let me take the upper hoof, indignantly replied with a glare in Timer’s direction, “Obviously you don’t know that rat catching is a big part of dress-age. So I’ve caught me the biggest rat around for just a little sharing of my grain.”

Careful, careful, careful, don’t make him feel too stupid, I thought, but I can’t stand here much longer without bursting into the largest guffaws a cowgirl can have!

“I think that Timer was referring to ratcatcher shirts. In dressage, the show shirt underneath the riding coat is called a “ratcatcher”. It’s a buttoned shirt with a stand-up mandarin-style collar covered by a separate, matching choker or a stock tie, with the final look usually resembling that of a turtleneck. Would you like me to find you a turtle to join the rat?” OK so I just couldn’t contain myself. Let me tell you a little bit about dressage.

Dressage, a French term, is commonly translated to mean “training”. The fundamental purpose of dressage training is to develop a horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to perform so that it maximizes the horse’s ability as a riding animal. Standardized training methods are used that let a horse progress from a novice to a fully adept performer. At the top of the dressage training peak the horse can smoothly respond to a skilled riders’ minimal hand and body requests by performing the requested movement while remaining relaxed and effortless.

Dressage has become a favorite competitive horse sport with competitions ranging from amateur beginning levels all the way up to the Olympics. Often referred to as horse ballet, it is a formalized sport with distinct dress codes of top hat or velvet helmet, formal riding coat, ratcatcher shirt, white tie, gloves, light colored breeches and high black boots.

All riding horses can benefit from dressage training but the higher competitive levels are usually dominated by the warmblood horse breeds. Beginning levels start with a disciplined walk and trot and advance up to increasingly difficult maneuvers required of the horse and rider. Dressage follows classical principles which have been developed over hundreds of years. Currently, competitive dressage involves nine progressive levels incorporating multiple tests within each level. Special tests are also written for musical freestyle, sport horse breeding and performances incorporating multiple horses and riders.

According to internationally known trainer, Karl Mikolka, “Dressage is the gradual development of the physical as well as mental abilities of every horse regardless of breed and bloodlines. It’s a method of training that makes each horse – not just the perfectly built – into the best it can be by enhancing gaits and optimizing natural conformation. Dressage is good basic horsemanship.” More information can be found at the Inland Northwest Dressage Association at www.spokanedressage.org/

I looked back at my poor humbled white stallion who had removed his hat and tie and stripped the ribbons from his tail. With revenge in his blue eyes, he was preparing to become a snorting, world class, dressage jumper as he aimed at Timer’s corral.

“Commander, I wouldn’t expend too much energy as we have mares to breed and you’ll need all your superior strength and natural studly good looks.” I calmly mentioned, knowing full well what was always at the top of his performance list. “You might reconsider the passenger on your back though; he doesn’t look much like a dressage rider.”

With his temperament returning to its usual calm level he looked around at his back and simply said,”Go rat on somebody else!”

Jill Smith is a Spokane, WA entrepreneur, international business owner, artist/potter and cowgirl at heart. She raises Arabian racehorses, Arabian/Quarter Horses, palominos and Cremellos/Perlinos. High N Command (pen name, Commander) is a smart-talking AQHA perlino stallion, constantly trolling for mares.Visit our web sites and blog www.kriseanhorses.com and www.cowgirlco-op.com

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