I recently spent a couple weeks riding exclusively in my dressage saddle, letting my jump tack just sit on it’s rack collecting dust. I’ve tried to do a bit of a flatwork crackdown this year, asking a bit more of myself and my horse. But then when I put my jump saddle back on, everything felt weird. My legs had gotten used to being longer, my body more upright, and riding more with my seat. Suddenly I felt like a jockey on a racehorse. Granted, I have the opposite problem when I spend too many consecutive rides in my jump saddle and then try to dressage – I feel like my stirrups are 1000 miles away and none of my body parts will go where they’re supposed to. That’s when I realized that it’s really not that easy of a thing, at least for me personally, to constantly go back and forth between saddles and riding styles.
I obviously grew up as an h/j rider. The first time my butt ever even encountered a dressage saddle (a hard as rock, ancient brown Kieffer with no blocks to speak of) I was 19 years old, dipping my toe into eventing when I was fresh off a working student position. I had not a damn clue what I was doing (spoiler alert: still don’t). But back then I sure THOUGHT I did. I mean… I grew up in a barn where I sat on a lot of horses; green ones, made ones, rank ones, easy ones. I did a whole lot of flatwork on a whole lot of horses. Same thing, right? Ah, the naivete of youth. All I really knew was how to hold draw reins.
Yet that first foray into eventing still really didn’t hammer the point home to me, despite my bad dressage scores. I ventured back to my h/j roots, still thinking I was pretty awesome at flatwork. Maybe even more awesome now that I’d had some actual dressage lessons. I mean, my ragtag crew of various hunter and jumper project horses could all do shoulder in and leg yield and walk-canter transitions by the time I was done with them. I did serpentines, I spiraled in and out, I bent and counterbent. That was definitely more than most of the other horses in the barn did, therefore wasn’t I pretty great?
Switching back to eventing in 2014 was a real kick in the pants. I was mature enough by then to have a healthy respect for dressage, but really the first thing I learned was that I know nothing. The flatwork I was doing was not dressage. It wasn’t even all that correct, now that I know what correct actually looks like. “Real” dressage is hard, it doesn’t come naturally to me, my position isn’t good, and I have to really focus on every single step to even be semi-passably decent at it. Add to that the complication of discipline where dressage isn’t sole focus, and constantly going back and forth between saddles. It’s not as easy as I want it to be.
It’s funny, because when I switched disciplines I thought the XC would be the hard part. I was wrong. But for as much as I’ve struggled with the dressage (and as much as I still sometimes dread it), the more I learn, the more I actually like it, and the more I find in it that applies to and compliments my jump training. I’m glad that I didn’t go running and screaming back to the jumper ring on any of those thousand occasions that I contemplated it. It’s not fun feeling like you’re shit at something, but it does make me try harder to be less shitty.
Has anyone else switched disciplines in their riding career? What was the hardest part for you?