Dressage, aka horse ballet.
It is an equestrian sport that has been likened to figure skating and ballet for its graceful movements, and the years of training required to compete at peak performance.
This weekend at Midway Exposition Center, about 111 horses and riders from Missouri and various other states will compete in the 2007 Missouri Dressage Classic. The competition is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. each day starting today and ends around 4 p.m. There is no admission fee for any of the events..
The sport focuses mainly on the technical training of the horse and the relationship between horse and rider. The word “dressage” itself is French meaning literally ‘to train’ and is pronounced like massage.
“It’s essentially a dance,” said Pautz, a dressage instructor for the past 26 years. “You have to get along with your partner.”
In a dressage competition, a horse and rider enter the ring and perform a test, or a predetermined pattern. While executing the pattern, the judges will be watching for the smoothness of the transitions between the horses’ gaits and its response to the rider’s instructions. The instructions are not verbal, and should be almost impossible to see when executed correctly.
Pautz says that though many people might view the sport as “snooty and horrifically boring,” it is anything but.
“There’s nothing easy about dressage,” Pautz said.
Proper training may take more than several years before the horse is ready to compete at an upper level. Many horses that compete at the Olympic level are well into their late teens. The dressage competition this weekend is split into varying skill levels, and age divisions within those skill levels.
For five minutes, each rider and horse duo will attempt to bring both athleticism and grace into the arena.
Pautz says the connection with the horses keeps the participants competing,
“You really have to love the horse,” Pautz said. “That’s why we do it. We love horses.”