BILL– Calm down, people. This “poll the highest point” thing is making everyone crazy! The short answer is that, yes, if we’re talking about the show arena, that’s where it ought to be. And if it isn’t, your judge will probably take note and plaster you with a deservedly low score.
The simple fact is that it’s a lot easier to keep your horse in a steady frame if you hand-ride and intimidate him into holding his nose in, and so what if the poll is low and the horse is behind the vertical? Well, one version of “so what” is that you’re cheating! Yes, it’s easier. It’s too easy! Consequences ensue.
Having said that (and omitting the rollkur extremists from the discussion for now), I reject the idea that the poll always always always has to be the highest point while schooling—a contention voiced in a petition put before the FEI Dressage Committee by some fetlock-hugging do-gooders with no grounding in either reality or biomechanics.
Putting a horse on the aids isn’t teaching him to assume a certain posture. It’s teaching him to adopt any posture you choose—high, low, long, short, or any combination thereof. Just as a person in posture class may be invited to bring his shoulders too far forward, then too far back, then centered once he’s discovered their range of motion, it serves us equally well to make the horse pliable in all axes.
Nor are all horses constructed the same. Depending on their conformations, one horse may need to be ridden deep at times to get him over the back while another who uses a low frame evasively must constantly be ridden up and out. It all depends on a) how they’re put together and b) what they’re thinking.
And finally, if we look at some horses being ridden by the masters of earlier eras, we have to conclude that while modern dressage has its flaws, not everything from the past is to be cherished. Here’s a grabbed frame of Otto Loerke, one of the premier trainers of the mid 20th century and gold medalist at the 1936 Olympic Games. This is not an outline that inspires emulation.
So all in all, yes, we want the poll to be up, but that’s only one part of the equation. The relaxation, the suppleness, the thoroughness, and above all, the pleasing nature of the performance all form the picture we want to see.