Many years ago, when I was still a youngster in jods, I came across an article in Horse Illustrated or Practical Horseman about a woman who went to Europe as a working student for a well-known dressage trainer (whose name I can’t recall). At that time in my history, I was blithely packing around the hunt course and Pony Club meetings on my little Welsh pony, “Rowdy” — my only knowledge of dressage limited to the vague bits and pieces I needed to succeed at rallies and improve my flatwork. Prior to that I’d witnessed my instructor, a dressage rider and combined driver, hop up on one of the ugliest mares I’d ever seen and in a split second transform her into an elegant, free-moving beauty. While I was certainly amazed, jumping remained my one true love for many years to come. So… what do these two things — the article and my old instructor have in common? The art of being proffy.
In the magazine article, the trainer constantly stressed one thing to his student: whatever happens (rain, snow, sudden green-colt insanity, a carousel starting just as you begin your march down center line, an unscheduled dismount) — “it doesn’t matter; carry on.” Spill coffee on your white show breeches before your class? “It doesn’t matter; carry on.” Miscount your tempi changes? “It doesn’t matter; carry on.” Whatever has happened in the past no longer matters. Being professional, or proffy as he called it, means that no matter what the circumstances, you ride your next stride and work with what you’ve got.
My old instructor exemplified this attitude. She grew up immersed in dressage as a cavalry officer’s daughter, and learned from the best, gaining her riding medals in Germany, and later working with Major General Jonathan R Burton, then Major Hector Carmona in the States. However, unable to afford finely bred and trained animals, she re-schooled race-track rejects, farm horses, slaughter-house rescues, her one “prize” being a mean-as-sin Hannoverian that she rode in a side-saddle Grand Prix dressage exhibition at the Pan American Games. Again, begin proffy means taking what you’re dealt, and making it work.
The mainstream media has recently been making much of dressage’s snooty reputation. While dressage can be an expensive sport (like any sport, frankly), many of its devotees are average people of average means who make personal and financial sacrifices to engage in something they enjoy. Just because someone takes pride in their horse, their equipment, and their sport doesn’t make them snobbish, it makes them proffy. You see, being proffy isn’t about having the finest horses and wearing the best clothes: it’s about grooming your rescued, rehabbed horse-of-no-breed until he gleams, then putting on your polished, 15 year old boots and hand-me-down breeches, tucking in your thrift-shop polo shirt and riding … the best you can every time. Being proffy isn’t about “stuff” — it’s about having the grit to work as hard as possible so that you can be a credit to your horse, regardless of his breed, brand, and (your) bank account. And frankly, that’s the whole essence of dressage.
- Piaffe Girl