Do You Speak Dressage?

Subtitle: Are you a dressage nerd?

Sometimes I'll be talking to my friends about dressage, and they'll glaze over. I know - how can that be when the latest nuance of my 20 m circle is cliff hangingly riveting?
Okay. I get it. Dressage, especially lower level dressage, is about as interesting as watching paint dry to a non dressage person. The fact that no detail is too small to provide endless happy hours of discussion among dressage people is missed on the unconverted.
Aside from that, we also have a language that is incomprehensible to non dressage people. Just for fun (how dressage nerdy is that - I find this fun), I started coming up with a list of words and phrases we use, in the English language, that have an incomprehensible meaning to non dressage people. Some are used by other disciplines, some are specific to dressage. Here's my list:
  • in front of the leg
  • behind the leg
  • half halt
  • free walk
  • up hill
  • on the bit
  • round
  • track up
  • three track
  • shoulder in
  • the double
  • behind the vertical
  • lunge
  • leg yield
  • circus
  • poodle dressage (I just came across this one)
  • half pass
  • button braids
  • knee blocks
That's what quickly comes to mind. There should be a dictionary for people starting dressage. I had no idea what most of this meant when I started, and I'm sure there's tons more I don't know. It can lead to embarrassing questions, ie a new competitor asked the judge at one of our recent shows, after reading the comments, if it was the rider or the horse who should be round. While others had a chuckle, I can totally see this. Who would know if their trainer hadn't explained it yet? To be honest, some of the terms are somewhat ephemeral concepts that have different twists to different people, but that's a whole new topic. As is the language of instruction, i.e. 'brace your back', 'retard the hands', 'irritate the hind leg', ...Don't get me started!
Here are a few sentences to leave non dressage people scratching their heads (don't hesitate to throw our a few when trapped by a bore):
  1. She's doing third so she can use the double, but her trainer wants her schooling for more up hill first.
  2. When half halts didn't get him on the bit I tried some lateral work, focusing on shoulder in and even moving to four track at times.
  3. The reitmeister says Spanish walk is circus, but don't tell the baroque crowd.
  4. He was over tracking by a foot in his free walk.
  5. The frame was too strung out and he was running on his forehand throughout the test.
Trust me, none of the above makes a lick of sense to anyone outside your horse circle and will get you out of almost any less than happy social situation. People who speak this language alot may not even realize they do it. True story - when my teacher Joan called roadside assistance for a flat tire, she told them it was the outside hind :) Do you have any words or phrases to add to the list? I may just do the dictionary...
Now, God help me, I must go do something useful.


Anonymous said…
or there is the totally different situation of people that are just starting out in dressage, know the definitions to these words according to the book, but don't know what it really means because they haven't actually experienced it in the saddle. I see this far too much. Like my trainer always says: "Well, she read the book."

Or the people memorizing fourth level tests when thet've yet to ride a first level, or attending clinics aimed at grand prix level riders and coming away convinced they can't get anywhere without a 17 hand warmblood, when again, they are riding training level.

You can speak it but it ya gotta ride it, too;)
Hmmm, "poodle dressage" is a new one for me, you'll have to define that one! I have a mental image of toy poodles performing dressage tests whilst being ridden by monkeys, circus style. *LOL*

Personally, I'm a huge fan of "schwung". Sophmoric, yes... but still funny. "He's got incredible schwung!"
Lori Skoog said…
Never heard of poodle dressage. You have been busy! Hope your horse is doing must be busy working with both.

As for the there a nail sticking out anywhere at a narrow spot (gate/stall entrance).
There sure is a lot of lingo. And far too much poodle dressage, which reminds me of my favorite term - the "expensive trot" ;)

I'm fond of "schwung" as well. :)
Carol said…
Horsemom, although we probably aren't immune to it, I don't think we get alot of people here in NS doing 4th level when they should be in 1st level, maybe because our dressage community here is so small. I can see what your trainer means re "well she read the book". It would be very off putting.
Shannon and Lori - I just came across the term poodle dressage. I think it was in Egon von Neindorff's book 'The Art of Classical Dressage'. It means being able to do the movements, without the proper foundation.
Schwung makes me giggle too :) Can't help it.
Lori I don't think it's a nail as it's happened in two different locations, at home and at a boarding barn, but thanks for the idea.
Carol said…
CFS - what is an 'expensive trot'? Expending too much energy?
Amy said…
You can still be a horse person and "Dressgenese" can still be just as confusing. I rode my entire life and trained hunter jumper for 8 years and trying to learn dressage terms and how to properly perform them is harder than trying learn a second language. I support the dictionary idea. I think a video dictionary would be most helpful. Tell the term, give the meaning and show what it looks like being ridden.
Carol -
It's a play on "extended trot". It's the big flashy trot that comes with a horse that usually also costs an arm and a leg.

There's lot's of "expensive trot" in poodle dressage ;)
TBDancer said…
"Expensive trot": I asked once at a scribing clinic about a horse with a beautiful trot--lots of "hover time" and lovely rhythm. "How do you get the horse to do that?" The instructor said, "You BUY it."

My OTTB has a tendency to do the sewing machine trot (lots of "up and down," not much "forward" until he's warmed up) and that is NOT what would get at 8 in gaits ;o)

I love "schwung" too. Also "uberstreichen" (sp)

Some of the people who "talk the talk" but can't ride worth a sack of beans will discuss breathing through the navel and watching through the third eyelid or oo-ee-oo nonsense like that, thinking if they SOUND all esoteric people will take them seriously. I need SIMPLE: For a canter/trot down trans, tell me to put my weight in my heels. THAT gives me a balanced downtrans even the HORSE appreciates ;o)

Sometimes the visualizations from Sally Swift and Mary Wanless are more trouble to explain (and remember) than they are worth. Not that both of those ladies haven't tried to unravel the mysteries of the RIDING. I applaud them for that. But between the terminology and then being able to SEE when someone ELSE succeeds at executing each thing properly, it's a whole other ball game to feel when YOU have accomplished it, as well.

I'm to the point in my riding that "something" is happening, I do "this" or "that" and my instructor will say, "Good CORRECTION!" I have NO idea what happened or what I did that corrected it, but glad I got the compliment ;o)
Anonymous said…
"Hock action" is definitely one of my favourites. Also "scopey" from the jumper side of things, or "dead in the bridle" for the western pleasure riders. "Get him coming from behind," also means something completely different to non-horse people.
Amy said…
OH and I must say you new header, Rogo look amazing and all grown up! You guys have been working hard this summer and it is paying off!
Megan said…
This totally made me laugh. Sometimes I'll get excited talking about my horse and my (non-horsey) boyfriend will stop me and said, "You know I have no idea what you're talking about." My dad and I are teaching him little by little.
Anonymous said…
Carol~ I meant that they memorize the tests (for what reason I don't know) before they are even riding training level.
i apologize if i sound snarky; Had a lovely incident with a dressage diva this morning that I'm still fuming over.
love the poodle dressage!
Carol said…
Thanks for the feedback everyone.
Horsemom, hope you post about the diva. Come to think of it, that's another term for the dictionary :)
Val said…
Thanks for this very amusing post.

I met a diva one time who was wringing her hands, because she did not know what words to use to explain to me what she wanted me to do on her third level (sort of) horse. I resisted rolling my eyes and told her to just tell me; I would be okay. Sheesh!
Jeni said…
Oh My - No wonder I get confused! Being a convert from Western Pleasure world sometimes I just have to stop and say "Do WHAT exactly?"

Dictionary with video would OH.SO.HELPFUL !
Jan said…
Carol, How funny is this! Thank you for a wonderful dose of humor. Yes, I guess we do sound funny to others - and you have written a wonderful post about it!
Anonymous said…
carol~ my blog is on hiatus for a bit, too busy to post with the new year of schooling my boys beginning and three shows coming up to prepare for which is probably a good thing, too many people bugging me as of late and I'd be tempted to blog all about it!
Funny and great list of terms. I think you should do a dictionary with video, that would be helpful. Most of my life has been spent in equitation and hunters. It's hard to study the dressage words and know what they mean at the beginning. And I'm still a beginner in dressage.

I thought of some terms that could cause the glaze over from jumper world though, "finding the distance" "daisy cutter"
"float the rein" "laying on the neck" "chipping" " he chipped in" "do the numbers" "rollback" these could get you away from a boring conversation with a non-horsey person in a minute.
Margaret said…
Oh, I hope to be a dressage nerd by the end of the next few months... I get my horse TODAY!

I think I will learn a lot from you blog...
Edward said…
Hello I just found your blog I will be following from now on I am just starting to try and learn some dressage, so I will be very interested to hear what you have to say and look forward to reading more.
AC Quigley said…
It's true that those not involved in dressage just don't 'get it'. I tend to get carried away when I start talking about it and forget that others don't feel the buzz!
Andrea (new dressage nerd follower!)
Achieve1dream said…
Yep I don't even realize I'm speaking "Dressagenese" until I start getting blank stares lol!!!

"get him coming from behind" made me laugh out loud!
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