Five New Ways to Spur Interest in Dressage


SuggestionBoxFirst, a disclaimer.  I really like dressage.  I admire the discipline, the skill, and the artistry.  And I love horses.

Second, dressage comes with a good bit of gravitas.  This is not that.

Nonetheless, I think dressage could use some help – or at least a few additional classes – in order to increase its mass appeal.

Dressage, I am here for you.  I have some suggestions.



1.  Road Apple Bingo.  This one is for the spectators.

bingoThe standard dressage arena is 20 meters by 60 meters (66 x 197 feet).  After you work the arena to make sure the surface is smooth, you crisscross the ring, dividing it into 4 meter squares (that would be 75 squares, in case you are counting).  Number each square prior to the start of day’s competition.

Spectators to the dressage show get numbered cards, that look just like a bingo card.  Any time a horse poops into one of the squares, a square on the card gets filled in.  You, the spectator, have the lucky card, and “BINGO” you win a prize.

Training level test – IT’S A WINNER!

Imagine the thrill of a spectator watching with 4 numbers filled in, anticipating each lift of the horse’s tail as the key to a new saddle, bridle, or blanket!  Imagine craning your neck, not only to see if the 10 meter circle is really 10 meters, but also to see what square was just filled!  Imagine the thrill for first level riders who, encountering stands filled with spectators waiting to see the horse’s movement, get to experience an arena full of cheering fans for the very first time!

mulligans1_r1_c1__526922.  Mulligans.  This one is for the competitors.

One of the things that I think that dressage competitions sometimes forget is that it is not everyone’s dream to be on an Olympic team.  There are plenty of wonderful folks out there that love their horses, get up early to feed them, braid them, brush them, and go to dressage shows because they are trying to have some fun.  It seems to me that nothing is more demoralizing than taking the weekend off, getting up before the sun rises, proudly putting on your most uncomfortable clothes, and then ending up with a score of 42 for your efforts.  I think that folks should get a second chance.

Enter the mulligan.  The mulligan is a golf term.  Simply speaking, it’s a “do-over.” Was your half-pass half-assed?  Was your balance beastly? Was your rhythm repulsive?  Raise a little flag, take a mulligan, and redo that movement!

Of course, this wouldn’t necessarily be legal in upper level competitions.  But how ’bout mulligan classes for friendly events?  Why not sell dressage mulligans to support horse charities?  Three mulligans max, and you can stop shuddering at the thought of a bad shoulder-in.  Genius.


Warm up ring – with better hats

3.  Battlefield Dressage.  Classical dressage is said to have evolved from cavalry movements and training for the battlefield; horses in war needed to be both obedient and maneuverable.  Why not embrace the past?

Here’s how it would work.

Competitors have to ride their tests armed with paintball pistols.  Judges have a remote control, which triggers a target that pops up outside the ring at the judge’s discretion (inside the ring might hurt the horse).  The competitors, riding into battle, have to be ready to fire.  In addition to being scored for the movements, riders get extra points for hitting the targets, and even more for a shot to the head or heart.  Your 62 could easily become a 73 with a couple of well-aimed paint balls.  Granted, it takes a lot of work to get a horse to pirouette, but throw a target that jumps up in there and let’s see how well the horse is really trained.

4.  Betting against the seat.  Las Vegas fans everywhere would love this.  I mean, what’s more exciting than having money on the ride?

I’m not talking about outcomes here.  I’m not proposing that people bet on who wins the class.  No, I’m looking for something a lot less predictable.



I’ve heard of training techniques were trainers place a dollar bill under the rider’s seat. This is to help make the rider quite – I mean, dressage riding is not an old western, and riders aren’t supposed to flop around in their saddles.  Of course, the better the rider, the less the flopping, but this all works into the odds.  Here’s how it goes.

Riders go into the arena with a dollar bill strategically placed.  Spectators bet on the likelihood that the dollar ends up on the ground – heck, the rider could be in on it, too.  If a training level test goes off at 2:1, a Grand Prix test might go off at 40:1 (the odds would, presumably, still slightly favor the house).  The rider gets a percentage if the bill stays in, the show takes the vig for its services, and the pot grows with each ride.  I’m thinking that you could even get an internet hook-up and go offshore!



5.  Award prizes for best comments.

It’s all well and good to win a class.  But, to be honest, there is nothing truly memorable about a winning 64 in a third level class of 4 horses.  A blue ribbon is a blue ribbon, but you can only do so much with one of them, and, after a while, you have enough collages and quilts, too.

YourideahorseWhat is truly memorable are the disasters.  Disasters are inevitable in dressage, and the healthiest thing to do is to laugh about them and to move on.  Or, as the American gossip columnist Elsa Maxwell said, “Laugh at yourself before anyone else can.”

In dressage, you’ve got judges, and judges can sometimes seem a bit cruel.  So why not turn cruelty into opportunity, and win a prize?  There has to be some sort of an award that could be given for the best judge’s comment.  After the show, everyone submits their worst comment, and the rider gets a prize!  Here are some examples of possible award winners:

“Nice horse, with lots of potential” (when the horse is over 15 years old).

“Have you considered barrel racing?”

“Well sat bucks.”

“Salute facing the judge.”

“Horse has a lot of enthusiasm, but apparently not for dressage.”

“Good ride for a first test”  (It wasn’t)

[Scribe’s notes] “Stopping due to writer’s cramp.”

“Disobedient” (in every comment)

“Too much to list here.”

“You must have a very patient trainer.”

“Everyone who rides has days like this and this was yours.”

“Pity about the fire truck!”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
scroll to top