The Unusual Dressage Horse

Sunday was show day for one of my favorite dressage rides: Hudson.  As in ‘Rock’: big, lean, long-legged, chiseled, strong.  Real guy horse.  His owner rides beautifully, and I couldn’t wait to see them in action.

It was COLD.  Rain and mud.  Mud and rain.  Sheets of water.  Pools of water.  Not the most comfortable day to watch a horse show.  No grandstand.  We watched from inside the arena.

I’ve learned a lot about dressage from this horse.  Part of it is we’re a good fit:  like dancing, you just fit better physically and mentally with certain partners. But 3/4 of it is his training and personality.  Hudson is so light on the bit, the slightest pressure of a pinkie will serve as a strong aid.  Holding his mouth is like holding a sheet of paper.  He’s powerfully built, with a rear engine that is always engaged.  He lifts his back easily and swings once he’s relaxed.  My lower legs?  Don’t need ’em.  Riding crop and spurs?  Not unless you want to go to the moon.  Pretty much don’t need reins either.  He will ride completely off your seat.  Hudson is teaching me something of the feel of an independent seat, because of his extraordinarily sensitive response to the aids.  If my seat isn’t quiet, we’ll do something seemingly off the wall…uh…because I told him to.

Before I get on Hudson, I remind myself to “be careful what you ask for”.  I blew an aid one day, and he ended up cantering on the left lead while completely wrapped around my right leg.  Oops.  I brought him back down, corrected my seat, and off we went in a nice wrapped around my inside leg canter.

He has a work ethic to die for, forward is his heart’s desire, and he’s amped without being flighty or spooky.  He’s totally tuned in to the rider.  He’s constantly checking the radio frequency to make sure he’s hearing you loud and clear.

Relaxation is a something of a challenge for him.  He’s big, a nice mover, and an instant responder to any set of aids you throw his way, whether he knows what you want or not.  His brain will plug them all in and give you what you ask for.  He gave me a perfect shoulder-in immediately one day, as his owner walked over and said Huh, I’ve  never asked him to do that.

No one has.

Hudson is a roping horse.

I went to watch them rope yesterday.  He and his owner are headers in team roping.  She ropes the head (horns) of the calf steer* while physically setting the steer up for her partner, the heeler, to get a clear shot at roping the rear feet.  Doesn’t sound, or look, much like a dressage horse, does it?  Watching them fly out of the box was jaw-dropping.  Guess what?  He has to left lead canter while wrapped around her right leg.  There’s no time for anything but seat aids, including the (sorry I don’t know what you really call this) rollback/slide stop** when the steer is caught. She wasn’t asking him to turn with her leg.  She didn’t need the reins in her halt.  All core body strength, weight shift, shoulder and hip placement.


The folks at my barn (thankfully) are not riding snobs:  good riding is good riding, and good horsemanship is good horsemanship.  I can think of at least one dressage horse I’d love to see my friend take over and teach to be light, responsive, and tuned in.

I get frustrated from time to time hearing folks talking about Dressage as if it’s the only path to horse enlightenment, and disparaging other disciplines.

I think to myself: if you ever had the privilege of getting on a Hudson, boy would you change your tune.

Have you had any similar experiences?  Learning something profound from an unexpected, if welcome, source?

Corrections:  Ropers everywhere, please forgive me.

Bella was kind enough to write me privately (trying not to embarrass me I’m sure!) and let me know you don’t rope calves…they are too young; you rope steers.

Also, that amazing instant flip-around move the header does after roping the steer,  is called facing.  A very understated word for that fancy move in my opinion!

2 thoughts on “The Unusual Dressage Horse

  1. I agree. Reining, cutting, and good roping horses are amazing. Some of the reining aficionados at our barn have started cross-training in dressage, switched over for a new challenge, or settled on dressage as a ‘retirement’ sport.

    Part of the reason I ride Hudson a few days a week is to get him loose, stretchy, and relaxed. Bella, his owner, was a fantastic dressage rider before she switched to roping.

    I don’t know a lot about Western Pleasure…any WP folks out there who would care to enlighten us about the joys and demands of WP?

  2. I didn’t really appreciate western riding until I had the chance to attend the rodeo in San Antonio. I was blown away by the reining horses! Now, WP still stumps me, but the well trained cutting/reining horses are amazing.

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