Dressage a time-consuming sport

Lisa Goudy
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The first time Colleen O’Hagan got on a horse, she fell off.

Colleen O'Hagan of Saskatoon rides her horse, Milo, at the Saskatchewan Provincial Dressage Championship on Aug. 23, 2014 at the Golden Mile Arena at the Moose Jaw Exhibition Grounds.

“I was four and I got on my cousin’s horse and it bucked me off,” she said.

That didn’t scare her off horses, though, because when she was seven years old, she started in the Saskatoon Pony Club.

Now she teaches River’s Edge Pony Club and owns River’s Edge Stables. She has ridden horses for 20 years.

She was one of the 30 participants at the Saskatchewan Provincial Dressage Championship at the Golden Mile Arena at the Moose Jaw Exhibition Grounds this weekend. The show runs until Sunday.

At the provincial show, there were participants from all over the province, including Moose Jaw, Regina, Saskatoon, Melville, Turtleford, Mortlach and Lloydminster.

While O’Hagan has participated in this show in the past, it was a first for her horse Milo.

“It was good for his first show,” she said. “It gets my horse out. He needs this kind of experience.”

Milo is a young horse that is “pretty jumpy,” she said.

“It just shows him the ropes and gets him so he’s not spooky at things or looking at things because he hasn’t seen a lot,” said O’Hagan. “I’m just like any girl who loves horses.”

The championships included gold and bronze level shows with national judges.

“It’s sort of the culmination of the dressage season in the province because there aren’t any more shows after this, not national shows anyway,” said Pat Michael, chairperson of the show and president of the Regina Dressage Association.

“It’s really the training of the horse so the horse looks like he’s doing what he’s doing of his own free will and it develops their muscles better and gives them a lot more strength in carrying their weight and their rider’s weight.”

Dressage is also one of the equestrian Olympic sports. There are 10 levels in dressage: introductory, training, first, second, third, fourth, Prix St. Georges, Intermediate I, Intermediate II and Grand Prix.

“Most horses don’t get to Grand Prix, but they can certainly move up the levels,” said Michael. “You really have to have a good mover when you get up to the top level. Those horses are worth a lot of money and they’re probably quite difficult to ride in many ways.”

Most people participating in the provincial show are amateur riders, with only four out of the 30 horses being at a higher level.

“It is a progressive training program,” said Michael. “It takes a lot of time and commitment.”

Each test consists of a number of movements that increase with difficulty in higher levels. The horse is marked on a scale of zero to 10 for each movement.

“If you go into a regular horse show and your horse screws up something, you’re automatically out of the ribbons where in this one they can be really bad in one movement, but really good in another,” said Michael.

When horses are between 12 and 18, they are in the prime for dressage where as racehorses are finished by age four or five.

“It’s a very individual sport,” said Michael. “It’s the rider and the horse working together.”

Follow Lisa Goudy on Twitter @lisagoudy.

Organizations: Saskatoon Pony Club, Edge Pony Club, Regina Dressage Association

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, Turtleford Lloydminster Grand Prix

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