Mastering an equestrian dance
Mikelle Roeder has been looking to master a unique equestrian event for the past 10 years — the sport of dressage.
Dressage is an Olympic sport that focuses on strengthening a horse while staying calm and attentive, according to the United States Dressage Federation. At the competitive level, the sport involves separate levels of series of movements to be performed by a horse and its rider.
Roeder, a Stonewall resident, has been working hard to improve at this sport for the past 10 years.
She started out in “eventing,” which is basically an equestrian triathlon. It involves dressage, crosscountry and show jumping.
She switched to purely dressage 10 years ago because her husband was worried she might get hurt. But making the change wasn’t difficult, as she’s always enjoyed dressage.
A dressage rider can earn three medals through the USDF — bronze, silver and gold. Roeder currently has her bronze, and is partway to her silver.
“You have to have so many scores at each level to keep moving up,” Roeder said. “It’s not just competition for me, but it’s also a way to improve my relationship and communication with my horse, which I like to think of as my dance partner.”
Roeder explained that the sport of dressage takes a lot of time and focus to train for, and it’s important to follow every step and not take shortcuts.
“Your horse could seem ready to move up quickly, but its body needs time to develop, so skipping a step could be dangerous,” Roeder said.
Roeder was close to getting her silver a few years ago with a different horse. But the horse suffered a career-ending injury, which meant she had to retire him.
Roeder had qualified for a regional championship in Houston, but had to cancel the performance when her current horse, Black Velvet, suffered a colic issue.
Colic is an abdominal obstruction in a horse that can be anything as light as a gas bubble, to something deathly like twisting of the intestines.
“You know the ‘C’ word for humans is cancer? ‘Colic’ is the ‘C’ word for a horse,” Roeder said.
“I was terrified,” Roeder said. “I’ve lost a horse to colic before, so it was scary.”
Fortunately for Roeder and Black Velvet, who was imported from Germany, they were able to catch it early, have her treated in San Antonio, and it turned out not to be very serious.
While Velvet may be healthy, Roeder said she wants to play it safe, so she is going to spend the winter improving. She plans to start showing again next spring.
Her goal is to eventually make it to the gold, but she knows there’s a lot of work to do before that happens.
“I have to have a good instructor who is steeped in classical dressage, I have to keep myself fit because every aid you deliver to your horse during dressage has to be very light, very specific and effective, and I have to keep developing my riding skills,” Roeder said.
Roeder used to have a top instructor, but she moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She’s currently working under her former instructor’s assistant, who does great work, but she is also moving soon.
So, Roeder is currently looking for a local instructor who has the time and experience to help her.
While dressage is a competitive sport, it can also be used as a way to just train a horse. Roeder said dressage is beneficial for every horse.
“It’s a lot like ballet dancing for people,” Roeder said. “It can help a horse become stronger and more agile, which will prepare them for a lot of different things. Dressage makes every horse and rider better.”