Recently, I attended a Dressage show to groom for a couple of my friends. Being a rider of a “certain age” myself, I noticed how most of the competitors were like me or older. When I have been to Event shows or Hunter/Jumper shows, it seems like most of the participants are quite young. What is it about Dressage that attracts mature riders? It most certainly doesn’t look easier than the other riding sports.
I know that some mature riders are also professionals. At the 2012 Olympics, a 71 year old rider from Japan competed quite respectably at the top level. For this article, I am most interested in the adult amateurs who started competing in Dressage later in life.
I had many questions so I turned to a pro for my answers: Jessica Costello is a Level 3 Dressage Coach. She rides and coaches at the beautiful Pine Ridge stables in King City. She told me that she primarily showed in eventing until she was 16. Jessica got hooked on dressage at age 14, while riding and working with the Pracht family at International Equestrian Sport Services (IESS, currently the site of RCRA). She is an accomplished competitor with lots of international experience. She currently rides up to 10 horses per day (okay…. Wow!) and coaches many riders of all ages. I thought she would most certainly have great answers for me!
Many of Jessica’s students are in their mid-fifties or even older. She has a theory about why Dressage is attractive to the mature rider. This is a time in their lives when it is their turn to do something for themselves. Their kids are grown and they have advanced in their careers. They have time and money to buy the nice horse, to train at the nice barn and really enjoy it. Often younger riders get to ride only occasionally, if they have small children or demanding careers. But as we get older, it becomes our time to fully invest our time and attention in this sport.
Mature riders often find Dressage more intriguing. It has a certain “mystery”. Some riders are coming out of another equestrian discipline. Others are individuals who have always wanted to ride and they start with weekly lessons at a riding school and progress to specializing in dressage.
The main thing that Jessica recommends to someone who wants to be a successful dressage rider is to stay fit and active. She highly recommends yoga. She also likes Pilates. One of her most fit students is a cyclist. Many of her dressage students have persevered as riders all their lives. By being consistent with your fitness and staying active in the sport that you enjoy, you can keep riding and showing in Dressage for a long time.
Jessica also has some younger students. She finds them fun to teach because they are flexible and it is easy for them to physically get the job done. Although Dressage is her specialty, she encourages young riders to try a variety of equestrian disciplines. “It’s fun to jump fences and gallop courses and they should experience that.”
Now, I could not have this conversation with Jessica without asking about the other half of the team: the horse. What about the horse? I had just watched her ride Elvis, my friend’s lovely 5 year old, Dutch warmblood who has a huge, spectacular trot. Having had the privilege of riding this particular horse myself, I knew his trot feels huge and is difficult to post to let alone sit to. It has always amazed me how my friend can sit to his trot. Jessica rode him and made a sitting trot look effortless and beautiful.
We all love to watch the flashy movement of some of these upper level dressage horses. Do mature riders have to sacrifice that type of movement for safety and comfort? “Yes”, was Jessica’s response, “It is a much nicer picture riding a horse you can sit to.”
Jessica was very decided on what makes a good horse for a mature rider or any rider for that matter: movement you can sit to; size you are comfortable with; and a temperament you can love. Also, she does not recommend purchasing a horse under 6 years old for most ameteurs. At 3 they can be sweet and docile but they mature and “come into their own” at around 4 or 5. A horse’s true colours really show when they are around 6 years old.
To quote Jessica, “I wish people would buy horses that they can enjoy everyday without fear.” She introduced me to “Darby”, her example of an ideal dressage horse for a mature rider. He was half Oldenburg and half thoroughbred and all sweet-heart. He was kind, tolerant and he stood patiently for our entire interview. Thank you, Darby and Thank you, Jessica. I will be putting these ideas into practice when I choose my new horse.
If you wish to contact Jessica Costello, her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or you can phone her at 905-252-6197.