Good discussion! Here's my experience with all this...
I haven't been into horses all sixteen years of my life, so I've come to monumental realizations fairly recently at my barn concerning this topic. A few years ago at my old barn, which didn't really have a declared specialty, (it was like beginner through intermediate lessons in western pleasure, english pleasure and a little bit of hunt seat) we were basically taught what Gillian mentioned earlier. Luckily I rode at my friend's private barn at the same time so we could learn things on our own, but we totally had misconceptions on what a headset was, what being on the bit was, what collection felt like, and pretty much had never heard of bending. To us, flatwork was simply walk trot canter, and dressage was, (as MIEventer put it) a "higher class of flatwork". No, it wasn't even that, it seemed untouchable. Like unless you had the fancy saddle and the FEI coach, you couldn't even attempt it.
So then I moved to my current barn where eventing/dressage is the focus. The barn owner's mom has a ridiculously beast dressage history, and she's connected with all of the other dressage trainers in our area. I somehow managed to go for awhile without consistent lessons from anyone because I just wanted to do hunters with my seasoned foxhunter. Every once in awhile I would catch a short dressage lesson, (and not understand/pick up pretty much any of it) but I didn't really care because my horse was a sweet jumper, had a nice topline because of it, and I was very happy with what I had- at the time. Fast-forwarding to December, one of my friends at my barn gets a new horse- a thirteen year old dressage/jumper mare who she plans on getting to prelim with. A few weeks later, I find out that my eight year old is showing the beginning stages of arthritis in one of her back fetlocks, and my vet recommends that I find a new horse if I want to compete above 3'. A few weeks later she has her hocks injected, but still looks stiff. A horse chiropractor comes out a month later to realign her pelvis. Now she's moving better, but the damage has already been done. I'm not saying that if I had taken my dressage lessons seriously Lena would be completely sound, but I'm SURE if she was started with a solid and correct dressage foundation rather than jumping into foxhunting, she would at least be in a healthier state right now- like my friend's thirteen year old mare.
I'm so fortunate to have found an amazing dressage coach who understands how to correctly adapt dressage with my riding goals. Like, I'm not sure exactly what path I want to go down with my green OTTB, (eventing or hunters) so my coach is basically teaching me how to LOOK like a hunter rider, but ride like a dressage rider. In the process my horse in learning how to correctly use her back, (so I don't have to rely on something like jumping for her to have a decent topline) and not pull or lean into corners, and I'm not just perched up there! I also don't have to worry about Gracie going "flat", which was my main concern if I pursued hunters with her. The great thing about this too is that I can easily change my focus to eventing- because my horse will have had the dressage basics and only needs to be tweaked rather than completely retrained.
One thing that my coach always stresses about my training is that Gracie and I need to establish a "safety net" if we ever get into a sticky spot, and that would be balance. If Gracie and I are jumping around a course, (regardless of height) I don't want her to panic after a long spot/chip, or maybe we took a corner too tightly and she fell in, maybe I got left behind, whatever. I want her to allow me to rebalance ourselves if we ever get into a jam, and dressage basics are going to help us tremendously to achieve that, and not to mention, help us to BE balanced throughout the entire course!
Another note, there's an insane difference in jumping styles between horses with correct dressage training backgrounds and horses just broke w/t/c. I've seen the "weekend warriors" pop over a vertical with their trail horses in the ring, and the muscles that they use make them look like poo. Even the horses that are consistently jumped but don't have correct muscling, IMO they just have an easier time looking like poo. Not only is dressage important for teaching your horse HOW to move, but it teaches them WHAT to move too. A horse that can choppily w/t/c on the forehand is going to have an awkward deer jump, while a horse that uses his back and moves from behind is going to feel lofty and smooth.
IMO, it all comes down to this; if you just want to have an adequate jumper to have fun with at low rated shows, you decide what training you want to have. But if you've ever thought about pinning at an A+ show, daydreamed about jumping over that huge log that says ROLEX, or if you plan on having a healthy horse for a very long time, take some dressage lessons.
Last edited by kerplop; 04-12-2009 at 04:16 PM.