Coming from over 20 years of dressage riding non-gaited horses, much of my focus had been on the quality of the trot. Before buying SeilTanzer, my German warmblood in 1989, I had looked at over 50 dressage prospects to find the best trot I could afford. Back then the trot seemed to define dressage, especially in the show ring.
Eighteen years later I bought my first gaited horse, Makana. Dressage was the only training method I knew, so out of default that’s how I trained my Tennessee walking horse from the age of three. I haven’t force a trot, rather I use relaxation, balance, and rhythm to establish her flat walk. This proves to be extremely helpful as my mare has more gears than my trotting horses ever did.
When my naturally gaited horse turned five I began to bring her to schooling dressage shows. Ironically, this is where I realized the true essence of dressage. Each judge said that they had not evaluated a gaited horse in the dressage ring, but each commented on the qualities of rhythm, relaxation, harmony, balance, impulsion, connection, straightness, and rider’s position and effective use of aids. And that’s what dressage training is all about. Dressage is more than trot.
Dressage is a French term for “training of the horse and rider.” In fact the United States Dressage Federation recognizes the dressage training pyramid in the development of the horse. Not one element in the dressage training pyramid is “trot.” All horses whether they flat walk or trot will benefit from progressive training which develops rhythm (with energy and tempo), relaxation (elasticity and suppleness), connection (acceptance of the aids and bit), impulsion (energy and thrust, straightness with alignment and balance), and collection (engagement, self carriage, lightness of the forehand).
So whether your horse is a scopey warmblood with lots of hang-time, a backyard pony, or a smooth-gaited Walking horse, dressage training will improve the quality of its natural gaits, and you’ll develop an amazing connection with your horse that is both enjoyable to ride and watch.