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I have seen, many many times, that trainers have associated Dressage with weightlifting. They talk about the strength building, the potential for muscle soreness, and the overall change in how a horse carries itself.

For May and me though, Dressage is more Yoga than Weightlifting. Strength is, as always, an important component of Dressage. As she gets stronger, things get easier for her. Movements go from ok to good. However, how do we get from good to great?

We need flexibility to get there. If you have ever done yoga, you know the balance between flexibility and strength, and you know how the movements build upon one another. Dressage with May is a LOT like that. Take our warmup routine lately, for example.

We start on a loose rein, and I ask her to simply come over her back, while we did big 20 M circles and oversized loops through the arena. The back needs to loosen up from her earns all the way to the top of her tail. Because naturally, with no human interaction, this horse runs around like Pepe Le Pew (tail and nose in the air).

So we need to start here:

Back end is starting to track up. Nose is poked out. Horse is open from check to chin. Tail swings back and forth with each stride. The “circle of energy” is more of an oval, but it is developing.

The bending continues to be a focus point when we move into serpentines. Straight, then bent, then straight, over and over again. The shoulders start to come up at this point and the hind end is asked to track up more so that it doesn’t slip out during the change of directions.

Then, we start stretching laterally. Leg yields open up May from left to right, so that the back to front flexibility and strength gets better. Think about stretching your arms straight in front of you before stretching straight up. Same concept. May is still not SUPER flexible laterally, so this is hard for her. She wants to move slower and kind of lean into the movement to make it easier. All the while, I have to make sure that right shoulder is staying where it should instead of moving outside the “box”.

Once those help loosen her up, we have introduced should ins to May’s routine. Now, we are asking for bend AND lateral movement. This is still super hard. Kind of like a new yoga move that you can only hold for a few seconds, May can only hold this movement for a few strides. Then, I give her a break.

As we straighten out, I find myself with this trot. Although, with less tension. (and what are my hands doing?!)


This trot translates to a more connected canter AND a more connected walk. It might not be fast progress, and it might not be fancy stuff. However, it is building the right muscles and the right flexibility to create a better Dressage horse in the future.

What about you? Do you think Dressage is more like yoga or weightlifting? (or wrestling!?)

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  1. Liz

    I concur – yoga is a great comparison. The strength and balance it takes to properly maintain yoga poses is quite similar to dressage and yoga calls for proper alignment and a lot of core work like dressage does (for horse and rider!). It can be so hard to hold new poses at first, but with time and strength, the body eases into them easier and can hold them longer – and maybe with a smile on your face as opposed to a grimace lol!

    1. Emily

      My goal in yoga is just to keep breathing… definitely haven’t gotten to the smile phase yet! hahaha. I guess it also goes along with the idea of not “forcing” new poses/movements. If it’s really, really hard, you are probably not ready for it yet.

  2. roamingridersite

    Great comparison. Without flexibility, breathing and relaxation the moves are that much harder. May is looking really good!

    1. Emily

      Thank you! After getting a long weekend off, she was a bit of a spitfire last night hahaa

  3. the_everything_pony

    HA wrestling LOL. I like that. I would agree with you! I never quite thought dressage was like weightlifting. Especially as Amber and I started to dabble with dressage last year, there was a lot of strength involved yes, but flexibility and lightness and smoothness of movement that I usually thought of ballet. Yoga is a great comparison too! I need to get into Yoga more. I always feel better doing those types of difficult movements/stretches. It’s the matter of actually GOING someplace when I’m already super busy that makes it hard. But then if I find something to do at home I’m just super tired and want to relax sooooo….. Anyone have some motivation I can borrow? lol

    1. Emily

      Oh Ballet is a great one! Although, I feel like sometimes we are riding the struggle bus a little too hard to look like ballerinas. I need more yoga in my life. It really does make a difference in how my body feels, but committing to anything else right now is HARD haha

      1. the_everything_pony

        Omg yes lol. I am way to inflexible and on the struggle bus too much to be a ballerina haha!

  4. emma

    lol i’ve done neither yoga or weight lifting so…… i’ve got no opinion on that matter. it’s definitely taken a different approach than jumping tho, at least for me

    1. Emily

      Yeah. I can’t train Dressage like I can train jumping… Although, I can’t really explain HOW it’s different other than Er Mah Gawd Jumps!

  5. nadsnovik

    I really like the yoga analogy! With June that relaxation is really something I’m focusing on. The swinging back end, the circle of energy. Dressage is actually really fun when you see the progression. Like being able to hold poses longer in yoga!

  6. KC Scott

    Dressage is like scuba diving for me. Pretty peaceful and I enjoy the view…until the shark shows up and P insists we need to VACATE NOW.

    May is looking great!

    1. Emily

      The preview only said “Dressage is like scuba”, so I had to open this to figure out WHERE you were going with it. Hahaha Poor P, having to dodge ninja sharks like that.

  7. L. Williams

    I think its both or maybe even Pilates. Like you need to supple up before you ask for things like positive tension.

    1. Emily

      Pilates is a good one too! Definitely a lot of working on “Small muscles” along with big muscles groups, while keeping the flexibility as the first step.

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