Let’s Remember Why We Do Dressage

In a sport that often encourages us to focus on achieving goals, Janet "Dolly" Hannon reminds us of a critical element in the dressage journey that should not be forgotten.

I wish I had not lost sight at times over the many years that I have worked as a dressage professional of the big question of why we do this. The obvious reason is for the love of the horse. Why would someone work for years and years to hand-walk recovering horses by the hour and go blanket horses in the middle of an ice storm or, better yet, carry water to those horses when their water trough froze if they did not love horses beyond a reasonable doubt?

(Credit: iStock/ Turker Minaz)

It is so easy in this business to get wrapped up in achieving goals and hopefully making enough money to have some sort of retirement that we might sometimes forget why we got into this in the first place. 

We tend to get stuck in the sand box on that 20-meter circle and forget the joys of a horse’s first encounter with trail riding and cavalletti. Or when you feel them understand a concept as simple as a diagonal of canter–trot–canter, and once that light bulb goes off, that sense of pride in those baby steps. 

It is that feeling you get on a horse when the communication between you is so close and intimate that the horse might respond to an inhale or an exhale and give you his mind and body in a way that he, in terms of his survival instincts, should not. 

It is the smile on your face as the wind whips by as you gallop along, and it is the feeling that a balanced canter gives you that is too hard to put into words. When was the last time you laughed for no reason other than just for the sheer joy of riding a horse? I have certainly felt it before but due to circumstance and life events and the inevitable tragedies that can accompany horse ownership had not felt that feeling in a long time. But I am so grateful to feel it again and advise all my fellow dressage professionals not to forget the joy of horse ownership.

That special horse can do so much for your soul and, in turn, your health and ability to be effective in your job. We are so lucky to have a job that involves these amazing animals, and we get paid to either train them and/or teach others to appreciate their generous nature and amazing abilities. I feel so privileged to be able to walk this path and look at the beauty of my horse with love and gratitude.

I wish I had not waited so long to get another horse for myself, and I wanted to share this in the hope that someone else will think about it and rediscover the joy of a very special horse just for you—not a client’s horse, but your own. 

Janet “Dolly” Hannon is a U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) “S” judge and a U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) bronze, silver and gold medalist. Currently, she is the chair of the USDF Freestyle Committee. Based in Golden, Colorado, she teaches and trains at Legacy Valley Farm in Arvada, Colorado (






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