What Does Dressage Really Mean?
by Pat Parelli on Sep 06, 2023
By Pat Parelli
Dressage. What does it mean? Don't get me started, but I am started, so here we go. In the mid-'80s, I was doing a clinic in Alpine, California. The stable I was teaching at was next to another stable where Charles De Kunffy was teaching. He could hear my microphone, and I could listen to him. After three days, I was invited to lunch, and we had quite a conversation. I will never forget him saying, “Our costumes are so different, but our principles are the same.”
Since then, Charles De Kunffy, known around the world as a dressage master and master instructor, has written several books, all of which he's given me. This was my first step to truly understanding what dressage meant. One of his best books is called Dressage Questions Answered. In it, he talks about two types of dressage. Number one is the training scale, which uses rhythm, relaxation, contact, impulsion, and straightness to create collection. Number two is a sport called dressage. Well, that was just the beginning. Then as I investigated more, I discovered that the word dressage is not only specific to horses. High-level animal training is really what it means in French.
Remember, there are two types of dressage. One is the training scale, and the other is the sport. This often is confusing.
Then, I went to Spain and discovered they have Doma Classico and Doma Vaquero. Doma is just a Spanish word for dressage or high-level animal training. Doma Classico is preparation for warfare. Doma Vaquero is preparation for high-level animal training and anything to do with cattle.
The Spanish were the first to bring horses to North America and Mexico. The way cowboys and buckaroos work originated from the Doma Vaquero approach. There are many variations, but most people do not realize dressage, whether in preparation for warfare or cattle work, including bullfighting, is an art form.
Some of these sports have been resurrected for Western riders, including cowboy and Western dressage. Western dressage is similar to the sport of dressage English riders use except in a Western saddle. Cowboy dressage is different. It involves different obstacles and is in an arena with markers for the 10-meter and 20-meter circles. Western dressage is in a 20 by 60-meter arena usually. No matter what it is, I call it precision riding.
I have been fortunate to study with a true dressage master, Walter Zettl. Walter Zettl came to Colorado and Florida six times a year for six days and gave nine lessons a day. I rode four of those and sat with him for the other five for about six years. I asked him one day, “Why are the letters so confusing?” He said, “That's very simple. There was officer training 500 years ago, and these letters indicated coordinates.” I know many people have an acronym to remember them, but he explained it was to sort out whether people had the strategic brain it takes to become an officer.
We all know that not everybody has that, so I came up with something much simpler. X is in the middle. My Precision Pen is 20 meters by 60 meters long or 66 feet by 198 feet long. It has X in the middle, with the letter A at one end, and C at the other. But if you go around clockwise from A, you'd get to B, C, and then to D. Then, every 10 meters, I put a little flag. Instead of these letters, I put a yellow flag at the first 10 meters from the corner, then a green flag, then a yellow flag, and a green all the way down the long side. I also put the yellow flags at the quarter lines. All this does is give you the ability to learn the lines.
I've got a product called the Precision Pen, and it explains perfectly how to use this concept. Basically, you will make 12 perfect squares in your Precision Pen. Then you will make 12 perfect circles within those squares, both right and left. And very soon, you and your horse will use these positive patterns in a Precision Pen to make perfect circles, not Easter eggs like Walter Zettl used to frustratingly say.
So, in closing, dressage is high-level animal training. And with the correct principles, I believe it can even work for humans.
To learn more about Pat Parelli’s Precision Pen, please visit: Precision Pen Product