Check the Label

( “who is versus who isn’t blather”)

I came upon an advertisement on FB for a distant clinic I am doing. I did not write the copy, and I admit it made me just a little nervous. It proclaimed my work as “Classical.”

On the one hand, that is a flattering description. On the other, I don’t think it is totally accurate. It has always seemed to me that the trainers who so fervently attach themselves to that label are the ones whose methods least exemplify it. Classical has so many definitions that it’s easy to fall into “angels on the head of a pin” type arguments as to whether someone’s methods qualify. If you don’t believe me, glance at the COTH message boards! A lot of finger-pointing and “who is versus who isn’t” blather is at best tedious and often just plain aggravating.

Ultimately the proof is in the pudding. It matters less what people espouse and more what it looks like in real life with the horses. Do the methods work? Are they understandable to the horse? Do they make him better? Beyond this, it’s possible to use completely classical methods and still be a dreadful communicator who either intimidates or bores the horse and rider to death.

I tend to roll my eyes at the USEF’s Pollyanna-ish mantra about the “happy athlete.” Nonetheless that’s a legitimate expectation. Watching a lesson or a training session these would be my measuring sticks: Is there either progress or a clear pathway indicated which will lead to progress? Is the horse either cheerful or developing a relationship to his work that will produce that outcome?

Are the methods logical, practical, appropriate, and sympathetic? These four words mean a lot to me. They allow a degree of leeway when the situation demands it. At times the baggage which comes with “classical” dictates rigidity for its own sake. That may be OK if it’s the game you want to play, but depending on the rider’s own goals and the horse’s background, it may not do more than stroke the instructor’s ego.

Before you judge, you need to watch the trainer work, see it in context, and watch a big enough sample to avoid drawing a conclusion based on an outlier.