Most people will agree that dressage does not enjoy the same popularity in the United States as other sports. It is distinctly low on the totem pole of what the average American enjoys watching. Except for a few dressage celebrities, classes are usually ridden for the judge, the trainer and perhaps a long-suffering husband. While our sport did get a pop of publicity during the Romney campaign, essentially they used dressage to paint a picture of elitism and foppishness. This might be enough to resign most dressage enthusiasts to thinking that our sport is on the fringes and always will be. I myself have had those same thoughts.
That being said, I have faith that dressage can be inclusive and rise in popularity. What we are forgetting here is the United State’s HUGE capacity to watch “nothing” happen for large quantities of time. Take golf for example. I use golf because I myself am not involved in the sport, but I have family members who are passionate golfers. They will wake up at five in the morning for their tee time. They oogle over the latest clubs and routinely watch golf tournaments on TV. It is an active part of their lives but to me, the sport is mind blowingly boring.
This is not a reflection of the sport however. I know golf bores me because my eye is completely uneducated to the subtleties of the game. I have no clue about technique, how the course will affect strategy, which club choice means what… it is all lost on me. Generally I think of older gentlemen in pink pants puttering around a ball. But golf has made changes to its sport and style to alter perceptions. You now see golfers in ball caps and athletic gear versus the checkers, plaids and puffy balled berets of yesteryear. Of course they are still present but now the eccentric garb is a novelty not the majority.
This must be what the layperson sees when they look outside in at dressage. They see a bunch of people dressing up like butlers out of Downton Abbey riding vvveeerrryyy sloowwwwlly. Many people within dressage regard the shadbelly as a throwback in our sport, obsolete and needing replacement. Just in golf, they say the garb can alienate potential participants. Personally I love putting on my shadbelly, but if the sport transitioned into something more “athletic” I would understand why and support the transition.
Horses are in America’s history. They are a huge part of our culture and I believe there is room for dressage in that culture. There are so many backyard horse owners, or small barn boarders that could enjoy our sport and have their relationship with their horses improve. The sport itself is rewarding on its own merits without the rider participating in competition. Sometimes people get frustrated, thinking that because their horse is not an eighteen hand warmblood they cannot enjoy dressage. That is not so. If you and your horse, no matter the breed or age, work toward growing within the sport, then you are a dressage participant.
Of course nothing is going to change overnight, but perhaps one person at a time we can begin to open the doors to the dressage world and let in more people. What our sport needs is more armchair experts, people who do not currently ride but still enjoy watching. We need people to sit on the sidelines “watch the game” as it were.
And hey, there is always the change that the horse will dump the owner and gallop around the ring while a judge in a floppy hat yells for help. To my knowledge that excitement rarely happens in golf.
- The Best Online Learning Resources For Dressage (dressagedifferent.com)
- Confidence In The Show Ring: The Audition Mentality (dressagedifferent.com)