What makes a good dressage rider?
Is it long, slender limbs and a short torso? Is it natural talent with uncanny "feel" and athleticism? Does it take starting dressage at an early age to make for a good dressage rider?
While all these qualities help, they are not necessary to make a good dressage rider. We've seen many times in the past that some of the most influential horses, such as Podhajsky's Nero, were very ordinary horses with great heart. Likewise, a good dressage rider has heart. The most gifted, talented rider may not have the heart and therefore never realize their full potential, while a rider with less talent but more heart can reach Grand Prix. That's the beauty of dressage.
A dressage rider has to be able to think creatively around problems they encounter in training. They have to be compassionate and kind to their horses so they can understand why they are struggling with flying changes or shoulder-in. A good dressage rider has to constantly look for learning and improvement. A good dressage rider has to work every day to figure out how to improve themselves for his or her horse. They strive for improvement in small ways and are flexible in their training, letting the horse write the book (as a great old master used to say) as they work to help the horse. They have to be scientists, uncovering they why and how, artists to create beauty with their horses, architects to plan and execute proper arena figures, athletes with strength and stamina, and personal trainers to make a complete exercise program for their horses. They have to be dedicated to push through the frustrating periods where nothing seems to be going well and wise enough to know when it's better to go on the trail that day instead of pick a fight.
Good dressage riders can't hunt for excuses as to why they can't do something or why their horse can't. Seeking the reason so they can fix it is one thing, but seeking excuses so they can avoid it is another. Good dressage riders don't avoid doing what they can to improve their own fitness so they are better loads for their horses to carry. Good dressage riders don't blame their horses for something the horses are struggling with, nor do they use them for their own personal gains. Good dressage riders aren't lazy and put off what they can do today until tomorrow or the next day. Neither do good dressage riders drill until their horses are over-trained and bored with their work. They don't put the glory of medals and ribbons above the health of their partners. They don't compromise quality training for a shortcut, no matter how tempting it is.
Some of the best dressage riders are older, because they use finesse instead of brute strength. Some of the best are young as well. Some riders with short limbs and a long torso have better feel than those with long limbs and a short torso. Some of the best riders are missing limbs or have significant physical handicaps. Some excellent riders started young, some didn't start until they were older. What ties them all together is passion, sensitivity, dedication, and empathy. It doesn't matter what level they ride; a good dressage rider may never compete, nor may they ever fully reach the FEI levels. What matters is that they are good partners for the horses with love and compassion for their hooved friends and work to be the best they can be for their horses' sake. This is what all good dressage riders should strive for. Do you have what it takes to be a good dressage rider?