A couple of years ago I started assembling some thoughts for a blog, but, oops, it became DRESSAGE Unscrambled. Other than The Godfather, Part II, I can’t name very many sequels that measured up to the original.
So, now it’s back to Plan A. I ended D.U. for the same reason that you stop eating potato chips—at the time I was full and, presumably, so were you. But like an old dictator haranguing the crowd, I’ve got my second wind now. You probably join me in observing that many, many riders get in their own way—by over-analysis, by under-analysis, or sometimes because they just ought to be in analysis.
Dressage is full of Truths. You are bombarded by them in books and articles, during lessons and lectures and even over a glass of chardonnay at your dressage club meeting. Unfortunately, those truths are not all equally applicable across the board in all circumstances. Some obfuscate; others downright confuse.
Navigating the whole shell shocking world of dressage is as fraught with pitfalls and booby traps as the task of Buying Your First Horse is to an unwary and unaccompanied novice. I certainly don’t claim to have a monopoly on dressage wisdom, but the same rules that apply to the human condition are equally valid as applied to our sport—exercise some common sense and avoid the mistakes that everyone before you has made.
And, for heaven’s sake, don’t take it all so seriously. It won’t make you ride any better. As before, the tales which follow are not arranged chronologically but in studied disorder. Some are meant to illuminate. Others to distract. Some just can’t stand to hide in the dark any longer. Light and Truth R Us.
And, oh, by the way, feedback is GOOD! I’m afraid that within me there’s an element of Alexander Haig after the Reagan shooting or Riff in Rocky Horror–“I’VE GOT TO KEEP CONTROL!” Consequently, this isn’t an open contribution blog. Tell me what you think. If it fits in, I’ll post it. If not, at least I’ll have learned something. CLICK to comment on anything below.
It’s a fine line . . .
. . . between the numerator and the denominator. I think Abraham Lincoln said that.
It’s also a fine line between empathy/feeling for your horse and over empathy/making excuses for every resistance, objection, or failure to perform.
Let’s agree that horses are at our mercies. It isn’t even their idea to be ridden in the first place, much less to jump a Normandy bank and drop into water or to execute a line of zigzag half passes in the canter. When you confront this question, it comes down to what it means to be fair to them. More than once I have arrived to give a lesson and found the owner wrestling make her horse bend only to discover that the day before he had a whole neckful of fall vaccinations. Do we wonder why he might be complaining? And if he does finally comply, what would it prove?
At the other extreme occasionally I hear the most eye-rolling excuses from riders who anthropomorphize every reaction their horse offers. “He hates his green saddle pad.” “He won’t work after the kids leave for school.” “He didn’t get his treat when I put his bridle on.”
I admit to being kind of old school— not so archaically-minded as to condoning ponies in Wales working in the coal mines, but long before the advent of modalities like glucosamine, hyaluronic acid joint injections, custom saddles refitted every few months, theraplates, BEMER treatments, equine massage, et. al., horses still performed. They did difficult things and they did them well. If you saw a little scrape and it was “too far from his heart to kill him,” you went and rode anyway. Probably you made allowances and didn’t push your horse to the limit, but you did not necessarily give him four days of stall rest either.
As I said, there’s a fine line. There must be kindness and care and reason. At the same time speaking as one who wakes up with mild aches and pains or feeling a little tired and goes about life regardless, it’s not unreasonable to request that your horse does the same.
Everything in Context
So the WEG is over. If you watched it streaming or were there live, you saw some wonderful horses and great rides. There was much to emulate.
One word of caution: nothing exists in a vacuum. So if you were taken with how quietly everyone rode, don’t make that your immediate goal. Instead work to make your horse balanced and attentive enough that you can make him perform with a quiet seat and imperceptible aids. It’s a subtle distinction, but you have to remember what conditions must pre-exist to permit you to look like that.
If you have the good fortune to spend time on the lunge line, that’s a perfect occasion to think of nothing but how you sit. However, there are times when you are schooling a horse that you do yourself no favors by putting the form before the function.
Similarly if you watch all these international riders sitting to the trot and conclude that’s what you should be doing with your youngster, you’re taking what they are doing out of context and, again, running the risk of doing more harm than good. Whether you caught it or not, I was happy to see several riders in rising trot as they circled the arena before the bell. Helping their horses relax and flow forward was their highest priority and was perfectly appropriate before the scoring began.
The top horses moved in an almost unworldly way. Simply watching them on the centerline from their first halt until the turn at C, you saw an amount of shoulder freedom, expression, and engagement that was extraordinary, even compared to medal winners from as recently as 20 years ago. It would be correct to conclude in your own showing that the judges would like you to concentrate on more than the halt but to ride the entire centerline thinking of those qualities. But once more, everything in context!
Most likely your own horse does not move like Verdades or Bella Rose. What makes them beautiful is not just how animated they are but how supple, elastic, and uphill their training has helped them to become. If you try to build more energy and life into your own horse’s performance, don’t abandon the Training Scale. Before you pour more energy in, be sure you have created a “vessel” that can contain it in harmony.
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