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.
O’er Hill and Dale
If you are going to compete at the FEI levels, you want to ride on the best possible footing available. And in general when you school, the fewer distractions you have, the easier it is to progress. Slipping and falling on your head would be one such distraction! There are various other times where uneven or deep footing is more than a nuisance: teaching your horse to make medium trot is a good example.
That said, within reason it’s worthwhile to expose your horse to less than perfect conditions. I don’t mean where he’s likely to get a stone bruise or pull a tendon or have his feet slide out from under him. But if the surface he works on is always “too perfect,” he will stop paying attention to how he places his legs. In short, you want him to develop his coping skills to deal with moderately sloping ground, uneven places, and especially with puddles. These are all things that are part of real life, and you do your horse a disservice if you don’t make him familiar with them.
My own early riding included a lot of fox hunting. Picture plunging through a hock deep bog or skidding down an ice covered blacktop road with the sparks flying off your horse’s borium-shod heels. You would not much find me doing those things today, but it does put our “encase them in gauze and bubble wrap” philosophy in perspective.
Without endangering your horse, the more things he’s familiar with, the more he can help you which, in turn, frees you to concentrate on important matters—the next fence or the next movement, for instance—and not be waylaid by details which should be his concern, not yours.
In Praise of Barn Ratz
I think we are all familiar with published rants which bemoan the decline in social mores and the increase in ignorant or slothful behaviors none of which would have ever happened back in our day. The punch line is always the revelation that the rant was first published in 1911 or 1824 or maybe even in the Old Testament.
I am a big fan of fist-shaking old coots like Jimmy Wofford, Denny Emerson, Bill Steinkraus, and George Morris who rail against the decline of horsemanship in the current equestrian culture. That includes things as simple as not knowing how to pick out a hoof, or how to put it on a leg wrap, or even what your horse’s diet is. It includes people who don’t know the right way to change their stirrup length while mounted, how to open a gate from horseback, or how to jump up or down a bank.
Though clean, pressed, and workmanlike ought to be our minimum expectation, I would note that some of the spit and polish which was customary in the old days was actually applied by an underpaid groom or demanded by a pedantic ex-army colonel father.
I’m OK that a professional who earns her living schooling horses has them handed to her in succession and not have to do all the tacking up and cooling out. Obviously she knows how to do all that stuff. It’s just not a cost effective use of her time. However, if you are a kid or an amateur, unless you’re rushing to a dental appointment afterwards, you really should be doing those things yourself! Likewise, as much as I approve of familial bonding, parents are not supposed to be slaves to their children. The pony club rally custom of parents being exiled from the stable area may be extreme, but it encourages a more complete relationship between kids and their horses—a pretty good one—to carry through your whole riding life.
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