Riders trot for judge’s feedback in dressage competition

Southlands Riding Club hosted equestrian event based on skill and grace

Southlands Riding Club instructor Margot Vilvang, does a headstand on her horse. Photo by Cassandra Osborne.
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Reported by Cassandra Osborne

Dressage horses and riders strutted their stuff this weekend at an equestrian centre in South Vancouver to gather feedback from judges before moving to the more advanced competitions of the season.

Judges at the Southlands Riding Club provided individual feedback to the two dozen competitors about each movement of their routines, critiquing both the horse’s and the rider’s athletic ability and cooperation.

“It’s quite a technical sport,” said Bronwyn Wilkinson, the president of Southlands Riding Club. “[It’s about] rhythm and suppleness.”

Wilkinson said a common misconception about dressage is that the brunt of it lays on the horse’s shoulders but in reality riding is a partnership. The rider and the horse, she said, must connect and work together to achieve an apparently effortless performance.

“It’s the only Olympic sport where animals are involved,” Wilkinson said. “Women and men compete on equal footing.“

Human and horse in sync

Pippa Emrick, a hunting, jumping and dressage instructor at Southlands, said she focuses on the precision of dressage.

“You have to make your horse and you be so in sync,” Emrick said, “[It’s] a conversation back and forth between the two of you. You can’t just be one-sided.”

After the competition, there was a prix caprilli class to practice jumps that add an extra element of mastery to the performance.

In dressage competitions, horses and riders memorize complicated routines to show off different forms of movement such as trots, canters, piaffes and pirouettes. Dressage is often compared to ballet because of the grace and poise of the movements.

“It requires a lot of athleticism,” said Margot Vilvang, an instructor at Southlands. “It requires balance, patience, strength [and] skill learning.”

Wilkinson, who has witnessed numerous riding competitions, said it is important to not lose sight of the spirit of the sport that brings human and horse together.

“There’s an element of competitiveness and sport to it but there’s an element, an enormous element, of humanity as well,” Wilkinson said. “It takes a lot of patience and kindness and understanding to bring a horse along.”

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