Classical Dressage: From Dallying a Rope on my Saddle Horn to Breeches and Tall Boots

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By Sgt. Joe Cummings

This article won the 2019 GMO Newsletter Award for first person experience for GMOs with 500 or more members. It first appeared in the Rocky Mountain Dressage Society newsletter Centaur, March 2019.

If you would have told me 20 years ago I would someday be riding an English saddle and wearing tall boots I would have told you to put the bottle down. I was riding quarter horses; swinging ropes, chasing cows, and riding all over these beautiful mountains. The English world, especially dressage, was very foreign to me. This was a discipline I watched on TV during the Olympics where these tall beautiful horses executed precise movements and the riders looked like they weren’t doing anything at all. I mean seriously, where do you dally your rope without a horn?

Well, you never know where your road leads. Fast forward to the current day and I find myself in charge of a Police mounted unit. Yes, I am a full time Police supervisor tasked with developing policy, procedure, and training for our mounted unit. Our team has 2 members, but we train and operate with various other agencies along the Front Range.

In my jurisdiction we have a decent sized hospital with an active emergency room. One day while attending to some cop business I met an Emergency Room Technician who was busy tending to her patients. Apparently, she has been around a horse or two in her time and as horse people do, we started talking about our favorite subject: horses. I remember her telling me she was into this dressage thing and was a trainer and judge. She said, “You should come out and give it a try some time,” and walked away. Yeah right, like I am going to put on breeches and tall boots.

Joe training in Canada with the RCMP musical ride.

Last summer the department decided to send me to an accredited mounted police instructor school. The first thing I did was call the lead instructor, Chris Laster. Chris is one heck of a rider and a mounted police supervisor in Florida. We had a few phone conversations and he told me dressage is the foundation for all police work and this instructor course incorporates many of the principles of dressage. The light bulb came on. I mean seriously, that old Greek guy Xenophon may have had a clue.

Back to the hospital I went and found that dressage lady and said, “We need to talk. I need to up my game for this school I am going to.” I went to her barn for a few lessons and was hooked. She had me and my horse moving together like I thought I never would. It was coming together for me. I realized that balance is not an evil word. In police context, balance can mean safety. So again, like horse people do, I got out the checkbook and bought a used saddle, some breeches, and those tall boots. I was in it to win it. My horsemanship skills were coming to life.

I went to that school and out of 12 instructor candidates, I was the only one in a dressage saddle. I told Chris my normal patrol saddle was a western saddle and he said so what. You are going to ride this whole school in that dressage saddle. Well I did finish that school in that saddle and did pretty darn good. So I am now a mounted police instructor and a board member for he North American Mounted Police Commanders Association.

I am continuing to take lessons with that hospital lady and am looking forward to competing at training level this year on my big quarter horse Dun Lopin Slow or “Tug” as we call him. If you are like me and have never considered dressage, then you are truly missing out on the opportunity to develop pure riding skills.

As far as that hospital lady, she knows her stuff and continues to help me take my riding to the next level. I am hooked. She has become my friend and mentor. She also happens to be your RMDS President, Gwen Ka’awaloa.

A friend approached me at a show last summer and said,“I was going to give you a hard time for riding English until I saw you ride English.” I’ll take that as a compliment.

Gwen has been steadily working with me to get me ready for my next adventure. I have received a special invitation to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police musical ride training facility in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada for a two-week Mounted Police seminar. Guess what? It’s all dressage.

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