It seems a bit odd for me to try to defend dressage as a sport when I have no desire to do it, and have only watched it on videos. When I started riding 4 years ago, it happened that the first books I read were written by dressage riders. Imagine, if you can, a 50 year old guy trying to figure out how you are supposed to shove a hip bone here or there like the books talked about.
I was getting pretty frustrated when I finally read a book about western riding. Whoever wrote it didn't even MENTION any bones. A short time later, I broke down and took some western lessons. I remember when I asked the others in the group what cues they used for a canter. They all looked at me like I was springing a trick question, and finally someone replied, "Um...kick harder?"
That was when I fell in love with western riding. Stop worrying and just go do it. My cues for a canter on Trooper and Mia remain unorthodox, to say the least. I start by trash talking them..."Bet you couldn't canter to save your soul. Bet you'd look like a lame draft horse if you tried. Oh yeah? You don't think so?" Then I lean forward a bit and say something like "Prove it!" and they jump into a canter. Not always the right lead, but a canter. I probably give a squeeze at the same time, if only to help me hang on. I don't think that qualifies as dressage or proper western riding, but the horses seem to enjoy it as much as I do.
With a bit more time, I came to understand the dressage writers were not giving me bad advice. They expected a reader who was smarter and more knowledgeable than they got out of me. They were writing within a framework intended for a goal I didn't have, and thus were setting me up to succeed in something I'll never do.
That is probably why I came to think of dressage as a system of training intended to bring horse & rider to success in a particular style of riding. A good style, just not a style I have a desire to ride. Well, actually I'd love to do it if I could do it without work. Unfortunately, it seems to require work...
In the end, I came to respect and admire dressage for what it is, not for what it is not. It is like the lady who trained our horses telling about a part draft she owned. She spent a year trying to change the way he trotted before she realized that his trot wasn't smooth, but it covered a lot of ground without effort. She concluded that sometimes you have to love the horse for what he is, not for what he can never be.
There is a lot of wisdom in that statement. It often applies to people, too. When I applied it to dressage, I found I could admire dressage and its riders without wanting to emulate them. And only then could I understand what parts to take as training tips, and what parts to leave to dressage riders.
Anyways, this will be my last post on this thread. I've said what I wanted to say, and folks will agree or not. Thanks to all for a 'lively' discussion.