I recently spent a couple weeks riding exclusively in my dressage saddle, letting my jump tack just sit on it’s rack collecting dust. I’ve tried to do a bit of a flatwork crackdown this year, asking a bit more of myself and my horse. But then when I put my jump saddle back on, everything felt weird. My legs had gotten used to being longer, my body more upright, and riding more with my seat. Suddenly I felt like a jockey on a racehorse. Granted, I have the opposite problem when I spend too many consecutive rides in my jump saddle and then try to dressage – I feel like my stirrups are 1000 miles away and none of my body parts will go where they’re supposed to. That’s when I realized that it’s really not that easy of a thing, at least for me personally, to constantly go back and forth between saddles and riding styles.


I obviously grew up as an h/j rider. The first time my butt ever even encountered a dressage saddle (a hard as rock, ancient brown Kieffer with no blocks to speak of) I was 19 years old, dipping my toe into eventing when I was fresh off a working student position. I had not a damn clue what I was doing (spoiler alert: still don’t). But back then I sure THOUGHT I did. I mean… I grew up in a barn where I sat on a lot of horses; green ones, made ones, rank ones, easy ones. I did a whole lot of flatwork on a whole lot of horses. Same thing, right? Ah, the naivete of youth. All I really knew was how to hold draw reins.

Yet that first foray into eventing still really didn’t hammer the point home to me, despite my bad dressage scores. I ventured back to my h/j roots, still thinking I was pretty awesome at flatwork. Maybe even more awesome now that I’d had some actual dressage lessons. I mean, my ragtag crew of various hunter and jumper project horses could all do shoulder in and leg yield and walk-canter transitions by the time I was done with them. I did serpentines, I spiraled in and out, I bent and counterbent. That was definitely more than most of the other horses in the barn did, therefore wasn’t I pretty great?



dressage circa 2002, starring one ancient brown Kieffer

Switching back to eventing in 2014 was a real kick in the pants. I was mature enough by then to have a healthy respect for dressage, but really the first thing I learned was that I know nothing. The flatwork I was doing was not dressage. It wasn’t even all that correct, now that I know what correct actually looks like. “Real” dressage is hard, it doesn’t come naturally to me, my position isn’t good, and I have to really focus on every single step to even be semi-passably decent at it. Add to that the complication of discipline where dressage isn’t sole focus, and constantly going back and forth between saddles. It’s not as easy as I want it to be.


It’s funny, because when I switched disciplines I thought the XC would be the hard part. I was wrong. But for as much as I’ve struggled with the dressage (and as much as I still sometimes dread it), the more I learn, the more I actually like it, and the more I find in it that applies to and compliments my jump training. I’m glad that I didn’t go running and screaming back to the jumper ring on any of those thousand occasions that I contemplated it. It’s not fun feeling like you’re shit at something, but it does make me try harder to be less shitty.

Has anyone else switched disciplines in their riding career? What was the hardest part for you?

30 thoughts on “Naivete

  1. Oh gosh. Yes. This. All of it. My history is similar to yours, but you’re a much better rider. My butt didn’t meet a dressage saddle until I was 19 or 20, and my first dressage lessons made me cry. WHY WERE MY STIRRUPS SO LONG? WHY CAN’T I LEAN FORWARD? WHAT IS THIS ON THE BIT NONSENSE THAT I CAN’T MAKE THE HORSE DO!? I stayed in H/J land for quite a few years after that, and the switch to eventing in the last few years has been a real kick in the head. XC is hard and sometimes scary. Dressage is hard and every time I think I understand, I find out I don’t. Stadium is usually my happy place, but in the past year, that’s gotten hard too. All the switching back and forth between seats and styles makes it feel impossible to ever get good at this eventing thing! And yet… we keep doing it.


  2. I know it’s a less drastic difference, but switching from hunters to jumpers has been a real kick in the pants for me. Almost two years later and I still need frequent reminders to stop perching and actually sit in my tack. If a switch WITHIN h/j is that hard, I can only imagine that switching to a whole different discipline is bonkers difficult.


    1. When I haven’t jumped in a while I still default to hunter mode. Trainer is like “STOP HUNTERING, YOU WILL DIE”. Loping around in 2-point on a loopy rein isn’t so good for jumping XC fences, turns out. 😉

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  3. I didn’t get a chance to try riding until college, so it’s always been a challenge, especially in all-purpose schooling saddles. I have tried Western and vaulting but keep coming back to dressage and jumping. Dressage is harder.

    Got my Presto Warrior shirt yesterday- so pretty! Wish I was going to Rolex to wear it around cross-country.


  4. YES. I’m currently in the process of switching from hunters to eventing and it is soooo hard. Dressage is really cool for the like 2 strides that I feel like I have control over all of the 8 limbs that are otherwise just flailing about. Right now I’m really having a hard time figuring out how to post the trot in a dressage saddle with those longer stirrups. My heels are like, hey crazy lady you’ve just spent the last 15 years telling us to go down and now you want us to just hang out here and relax and not be down?? And then I get all this tension in my knees and hips and of course that throws off my balance and then my hands get really active and the horse really doesn’t appreciate that so he braces against me and what I’m trying to say is I’m really bad at dressage right now. It’s more than a little humbling since I’ve been posting the trot since I was like 14 and now I can’t seem to get it together. One day we will though, probably.


  5. Dabbled in H/J and dabbled in dressage then face planted into endurance. I discovered flying through the forests and fields, jumping the occasional downed tree or creek is what me and my current horse were meant to do. I do take the occasional dressage lesson though and as much as I whine about how hard it is to my hubby (who then questions why I am spending money on it if it hurts and is hard), I really do enjoy it. Bonus, actually having a seat comes in handy when horse eating sticks/rocks/shadows/stumps suddenly leap out and attack us on trail. I didn’t really find the transition in position or saddle difficult, but the increased speed was a bit nerve racking at first. Going from growing up in an arena working at w/t/c as a teen to young adult then having a 20 year break from horses, to now being over 50 and riding mostly a fast trot to a hand gallop in the middle of nowhere, sometimes I wonder if I am making poor life choices. Then I laugh out loud and go faster! 🙂


  6. One thing that really helps switching between dressage seat and jumping seat is doing a lot of targeted stretching and yoga for equestrians. Because jumping seat doesn’t require a lot of flexibility, the yoga and stretching really helps loosen your hips so you can get that longer leg, the yoga helps with core strength(which is a LOT harder at dressage length), and just helps with general body control and organization. YouTube has a bunch of videos (I personally like Dressage Rider Training free content) and I have found that just six weeks of 2-3 times a week has helped my dressage position tremendously.


      1. No, that would be me…I do find a foam roller useful though. It’s kind of like self-rolfing in the sense of “reorganizing the connective tissues”. If the part you’re rolling hurts like hell, that’s the part that really needs it. For me, it’s my shoulders and the outside of my legs between the hip and knee. The leg one is a real crusher. But now that I’ve done it for a couple years it’s a piece of cake. Whole routine only takes about 10 minutes. Some “important” sports medicine doc (don’t want to promote anybody here) says it’s the most important exercise you’re not doing…

        As for switching disciplines, all I can say is that when I switched from hunters to dressage my only thought was, “where the hell are the damn stirrups?”


  7. Oh yes. Yep. Totally. Rode hunter-jumper since 1994 and switched to dressage about five years ago (and became a small-town h/j riding instructor around the same time) and it was like starting completely over at square one. Lots of lunge-line lessons, lots of patience with myself, lots of feeling like “Why the f*%#@ can’t I do this???” But those occasional break-through moments, along with the fact that I found myself a truly fun equine partner who is both forgiving and just the right amount of talented, has kind of addicted me to dressage. I am fully hooked, even though my blood boils a little every time I ride past a mirror and see that I most of the time I still–five years later–look like a h/j rider trying to dressage.


  8. I grew up with the cowboy-est of Dad’s and my Mom college rodeoed. I started at 3 as a can chaser. Did some pole bending before I was 8. At about 10 my Mom (via a 4-H outing) took me to a clinic with a Quarter Horse trainer and it was than that I went hook, line and sinker in the Quarter Horse world. I showed in Western Pleasure, Horsemanship, Showmanship, Trail, Hunter Under Saddle and Hunt Seat Equitation starting about then. I did a tiny bit of jumping once I got the middle school age and also added a Reining horse to the mix. High School years I had 3 horses, one that did only English and mostly jumping (I wish now I could have that horse back, he had TONS of talent, but his rider had literally no idea what she was doing and there were no jumping trainers within about 400 miles), one that did the events I listed above which is All-Around for QH and a reiner. I showed at a lot of AQHA shows and NRHA (national reining horse association) stuff in those four years and then showed intermittently in college in AQHA stuff. The entirety of my life up until I moved to Texas I did quite a lot of ranch riding helping friends and family move cattle. The rule with my show horses was that they had to be able to help do real work. Even the one I only rode English. It drove my Dad NUTS that I insisted on riding him English to move cows, but he was just easier to ride English.

    Fast forward to now and my trainer yells at me at least once at every horse show to stop riding like I’m in a western saddle. I’m fortunate to have at least ridden English as a kid, but I can’t see a distance to a jump to save my life. I still call the arena a “show pen”. Pretty much all my horses can neck rein, sidepass to open gates and know that when I sit down and stick my feet forward that means to stop and most of them have never had a western saddle on their back. Lastly, you will have to tear my reining saddle away from my cold, dead hands. I’d let someone steal my Antares before they could touch my reining saddle!


  9. I have found “good” dressage to be one of the hardest, and the most rewarding, things I have ever done. Compared with dressage, jumping, long-distance cycling and skiing are simple. LOL But aside from the fancy prancing and the eye-popping lateral movements, just feeling a horse engaged and truly carrying itself and the rider is life-changing.

    The process of getting there is admittedly excruciating. It isn’t just the physical challenge, it’s also the frustration that comes from starting out with a horse who has no real clue what this is about (even if they’ve been strong in other disciplines for years).


  10. HAHAHA – yep. I made the switch from endurance to dressage. NOTHING and I mean NOTHING about those two disciplines is even remotely the same. Okay – both use a horse, but that is where any similarities end. I struggled (and still do, of course) with my position horribly.

    Endurance riders have no position – which is the point. In order to ride 100 miles in a single day (something I did three times in one year in fact), your body has to be loose and off your horse’s back without putting any pressure points on his back – no two point. We called it kind of a three point. You just sort of hover on your horse trying to allow as much of the concussive forces to flow through your body without absorbing any of them or sending any back to your partner.

    When I first started schooling in a dressage saddle and was told to sit down and back, I cringed. I was certain that I was going to destroy my horse’s back and sore him. Today, I feel sorry for him as I pound away at him as I try to sit his trot, but I am pretty sure he’ll survive it. :0)


  11. Endurance to eventing (slowly, but surely). With eventing I have to, you know, focus on proper riding EQ beyond “must survive 100 miles in the saddle today” AND I have to dress nicely AND the horse has to properly use it’s body to execute complicated maneuvers both in the dressage court and over fences AND I feel obligated to tone down my super obnoxious neon color scheme. And OH, we’ve had to get new tack where appropriate and new attire for me. I miss riding in my crocs all of the time.

    All this being said, definitely excited to event! Childhood dream was to do XC, so it’s really fun to fulfill that finally.


  12. My barrel saddle has always been my dressage saddle comparison… until I actually sat in a nice dressage saddle. I do definitely find it easier to communicate through my seat but man… I didn’t know those muscles existed.


  13. I’m currently switching from endurance to Eventing it is is impossible 😦 endurance teaches you a whole lot, but most of it really doesn’t apply to anything I’m learning now. Plus all the gear is different. Ugh.


  14. I grew up doing dressage with mostly jumping friends. They would always have me ride their horse in their saddles and I was FISH OUT OF WATER. I wanted to cry almost every ride because WHY MUST YOU TORTURE YOUR ANKLES LIKE THAT??????? Although I still ride in a dressage saddle, I actually do keep my stirrups a little shorter, but enough that my ankles still get a healthy supply of blood.


  15. Changing disciplines is hard. I used to ride all-purpose. Then I moved to a Portuguese saddle (spoiler alert: these saddles will ruin you forever if you don’t know how to properly ride). Then after I came back from a decade off I got into a dressage saddle. What a huge difference. I don’t think I could ever go from one saddle to the next each ride.
    Although I am looking at going into Working Equitation and while I can ride in whatever saddle I want to begin with, eventually at the higher levels I’ll be forced into a western saddle (my bane!). So I’m sure I’ll be feeling your pain soon.


  16. After not riding for 5 years, getting back in the rhythm sucks. I started in H/J, got burnt out from showing too much and started riding western. I had a great “been there, done that, got a t-shirt” Arabian gelding. He couldn’t have cared less until he saw a hunting turkey decoy. Lots of flashy Arab snorts and leg splaying. Took about 5 years off and I’m now getting back into jumping. Now my stirrups feel like jockey length, reins too loose, and too much neck reining. Haha. I just take it a day at a time and focus on one thing at a time. I tend to look down and hunch over, so I really try to take a few minutes to ride on a loose rein (in an open arena) with my eyes closed or looking as far up as I can. That seems to help me remember to think up instead of over. If that makes any sense at all. Lol. It all comes back eventually. Slowly and painfully in my case. Can you say stiff ankles?


  17. I switched from eventing to endurance, so the opposite way to Bakersfield Dressage and Liz.I thought endurance would be easier.. And for position it is (although I find at the 50 and 100 mile level it demands more active maintenance of fitness than eventing – or maybe that’s because I’m now old.). I’m RUNNING to stay fit, for goodness’ sake!
    BUT endurance demands so much more knowledge at the physiology/fitness/saddle fit/horse maintenance level, I think. What to feed, what to wear, what exercise schedule to follow… You can’t get away with ANYTHING being a bit off.
    My much loved horse physio says dressage riders know all about saddle fit but not much about fitness,, eventers know all about feeding and aerobic fitness but not so much about biomechanics, and endurance riders know all about physiology but are clueless about how a horse’s muscles and way of travelling help it do the job! I remain grateful to my eventing background for the fact that my endurance horses hit the arena at least once a week (twice in the early stages of fitness) and I’m sure all that work on balance and flexibility helps them stay sound.


  18. #hunterjumperforlife But I KNOW I’d be absolute shit trying to dressage. No surprise would pop up there. I one time tried to ride a beautiful (and well trained) dressage horse in a dressage saddle, and I couldn’t even post. COULD.NOT.DO.IT. So yeah, I have a lot of respect for eventers and dressage riders.


  19. I have learned that riding is hard. Just when you think you’ve got it, you figure out you’ve been doing some/all of it wrong and it gets harder. But that’s also why it’s so cool.


  20. As a teenager I did a bit of everything all on the one horse, dressage, showing, jumping, eventing we even tried our hand at a little bit of sporting and camp drafting! In my early twenties I realised that dressage is where my heart lies and I virtually gave up everything else. Now about 8years later I still feel not very good and have to concentrate hugely to make things work, but that magical moment when things do come together makes it worth every bit of hard work.
    I really admire people who event and the way you go from dressage to galloping over solid obstacles and then back to stadium jumping!


  21. I rode “hunter/jumper” (literally my education was shit) up until 3-4 years ago. Basically I just think MY WHOLE LIFE IS A LIE. And I know nothing. When I took my first jump lesson a month or so ago everything felt so weird and so wrong. But dressage training is really universal and important in all disciplines so I’m excited to take what I know and apply it to jumping


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