Dressage (a French term meaning "training") is a path and destination of competitive horse training, with competitions held at all levels from amateur to the Olympics. Its fundamental purpose is to develop, through standardized progressive training methods, a horse's natural athletic ability and willingness to perform, thereby maximizing its potential as a riding horse. At the peak of a dressage horse's gymnastic development, it can smoothly respond to a skilled rider's minimal aids by performing the requested movement while remaining relaxed and appearing effortless. Dressage is occasionally referred to as "Horse Ballet." Although the discipline has its roots in classical Greek horsemanship, mainly through the influence of Xenophon, dressage was first recognized as an important equestrian pursuit during the Renaissance in Western Europe. The great European riding masters of that period developed a sequential training system that has changed little since then and classical dressage is still considered the basis of trained modern dressage.

Early European aristocrats displayed their horses' training in equestrian pageants, but in modern dressage competition, successful training at the various levels is demonstrated through the performance of "tests," or prescribed series of movements within a standard arena. Judges evaluate each movement on the basis of an objective standard appropriate to the level of the test and assign each movement a score from zero to ten - zero being "not executed" and ten being "excellent." A score of nine (or "very good") is considered a particularly high mark, while a competitor achieving all sixes (or 60% overall) should be considering moving on to the next level.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Impressions from the 2012 Global Dressage Forum

  I went to Holland at the end of October for inspiration and I got even more then I expected. First of all I am motivated by the Bartles Family who take on the overwhelming project of putting on the Global Dressage Forum every year. They are amazing and the Dressage community is lucky to have such a dedicated group of people to bring us together as a Global Dressage Family. Next the speakers, all amazing, candid and generous with their knowledge and time, Thank you!
  When one is able to attend any clinic or symposium with such top characters you always expect to be inspired and learn. Why was this experience so much more? because the quality of the people attending was so fantastic and the tremendous respect for horsemanship and hard work was tangible. The theme throughout the entire two days was POSITIVE :) People were respectful and even complimentary of each other! When asked what they respected most about their fellow competitors it was good horsemanship and hard work! I was floored. Horsemanship! This is something I thought had just about disappeared, and especially in dressage. But, here we were with some of the most respected riders, trainers and judges in the world and they are respecting people that are exhibiting good horsemanship. I was instantly revived and inspired to continue my passion, dressage.
  The Program was great and Richard Davidson , as always, was a fantastic emcee. The tone he set for the entire forum was intelligent, warm and personal. His ability to open people up to show their best traits was fantastic, when necessary he put the elephant out into the middle of the room and got everyone to love the elephant. This was especially clear in his interview with Patrick Kittel, whom we all know has had his share of bad publicity. The interview was special. It was great to hear his perspective on training. Hear about his horses and how he worked his way up the ranks. It is interesting to learn a bit more about Patricks horses especially the famous Scandic. Part of his demonstration was "finding and training a future top horse". I am not sure he wanted to share with us his secrets! But from Jo Hinneman (one of the panel members) we learned to look for natural balance, intellegence and horses that enjoy being connected to people. Of course!
   My favorite demonstration was Ingrid Klimke working with cavaletti. Of course. Anyone who knows me, knows that having Ingrid Klimke on the schedule was what made this forum impossible to miss. Horsemanship, this is what she exhibited, in her interview prior to her demonstration and during her demonstration. The exercises were fun and her explanation of her daily routine balancing the barn and the family was awesome.
   I was also really interested in the demonstration by Tristan Tucker. The title was "training your horse for the award ceremony", but it was so much more than that! He did amazing things with a Grand Prix horse and rider as well as a 6 year old Hanoverian mare he was training himself. This was the first "crossover" trainer that I have seen that actually understood our sport and horses well enough to help us help our horses. He was fantastic. He did not show us his tactics on desensitized quarter horses (nothing against quarter horses! I love them), he showed us his methods on our horses. His feel and thoughtfulness was so fun to watch. For this demonstration I really wish my husband had been there. Poor Matt always having to turn the tractor off and wait until that horse is done working, or while that horse is moved so it does not get upset. Here is Tristan in the middle of the arena with 300 people sitting at one end and an excavator running and MOVING in the middle of the arena calmly riding his 6 year old black Hanoverian mare around! It was so exciting to watch how relaxed she was and how he did not have to muscle her into control, but had actually trained her to be able to concentrate on him and be relaxed because of his relationship with her. I loved it!
   Next favorite: Adelinde Cornelissen on fitness. This was really fun. She brought her personal coach and they demonstrated alot of wonderful ground exercises that can be done to improve fitness, coordination and balance, without the horse. The entire demonstration was exciting and amazing. Her concentration, control and fitness level is out of control. Definitely time to get a program going! Great!
   Of course I am a big fan of Damon Hill! So Helen Langehanenberg and her husband Sebastian doing a demonstration with German Coach Johnny Hilberath was also fun for me to watch. The discussion about the balance, lightness of aids, suppleness and preparation was a reassurance. The ability to stop and walk for a minute when one of the mares became tense was also very nice to watch and showed how the horsemanship theme was prominent in their demonstration as well. Less ego, more horsemanship. Nice! At the end of their demonstration the newly appointed team coach Monica Theodorescu was introduced. She gave a small talk about the German system and additions to the show schedule to include more programs for Young Riders and coming young grand prix riders. The depth of Monica's involvement in the sport is distinctive, her family history, the amazing training and showing she has done herself and now the first Woman German Dressage Coach, fantastic! Included in her talk was a quick interpretation about the German system,"Classical does not mean old fashioned. Our training is based on the training scale. The classical system bases the training on the experience of the old masters without forgetting that we are riding modern horses." She went on to say "Despite all sporting ambitions our horses should be our partners and friends". The other really great thing she talked about is creating a show program and championship format that is attractive to the horse owners, amazing concept!
      The Physio lecture was great. Jarko Dun obviously has alot of experience with top competitors. The guys in the audience got a bit stuck on the controversy of sacroiliac mobilization or lack of. Sorry about that because it blocked the positive interaction from the director of the talk himself. The discussion of what is happening with the spines and neck facets is always fascinating to me. He worked on two horses as well as brought a skeleton to make his points. Great lecture, definitely could use more like this.
        The technical things are not really my thing. It is interesting to see what people are working on, but I am more intrigued by the horsemanship and riding. So although they did a great job, Barbro Ask Upmark with her dressage simulator and Inga Wolframm with her computer sensors to measure harmony between horse and rider, it only confirmed for me that the only science I am interested in is veterinary science :)
          I also need to thank Gerrit Claes Bierenbroodspot for showing me around and keeping me company during the forum. Definitely an exceptional experience and not one I will soon forget!

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