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.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Competition vs. "Classical" a point of view

 After the Young Horse Championships and The European Championships there was public outcry from all directions about training, classical riding, rollkur, force vs positive training ....on and on and on. Sadly most of the comments coming from people that are no more competing in dressage then those of us criticizing figure skaters when we don't even know how to skate. I know I should just stay out of this subject, but I find it is very important to my day to day, and relevant to how we are able to make a living with horses.
  Presently I make a meager living at training horses. I would actually say that I have less local business now then when I was 20 years old, fairly uneducated with a Grand Prix Horse in the ring. Lucky for me I have support that is not local, so I am able to continue working with horses as a way of making money. Why I bring this up is because winning at shows does not prove education. Unfortunately. I would also say that this is not all the judges fault. People that are good at making a picture, are just that, good at making a picture....selling a story...........acting out a play. The riding is done for the judges. Videos are made, practice is done, people from the ground are supporting and validating the play. The judges are not always able to discern from where the movements come. For me what it really comes down to is why are you riding dressage?
               It is not about rollkur or judges or points. It is about horses and a way of life that has been passed down through the ages by masters with great knowledge. The horses are bred differently now, so new knowledge must be fed into the system. Conformation is not quite the same, this must be taken into account. But really why do we ride? For ribbons? For fame? For money? Or do we ride for the love of horses and a tradition of art that must be carried on?
              If you asked the whole class at The European Championships how did their ride feel? I think we know from the side the ones that had a good time and felt they had a willing partner in the test. Some of these were not the most brilliant tests, but they were the most correct, and fun to watch. But how can this compete with the play actors? It cannot. So our sport ends up being a bit like the body builders competition with or without steroids. Sometimes we have to be the best of the group that does not do the worst. And in my world that is good enough. The people that are not enjoying their daily riding because they are trying to figure out how to make tricky ways to cover this up and pretend to do that, they are the ones suffering, (sadly along with their horses).  They may have fame for a bit, they may have good clients and sponsors, for a bit. But eventually things come around and people do not want to be part of that.
             When I watch a horse like Valegro work for Charlotte I have no doubt that he would go to the end of the earth for her. I do not feel that he does it because of stress or worry. I would say on the day he comes to the ring not completely himself that this horse would still do his best for her. (and we have seen this).  He would not say no, he might not be able to do the best as he has in the past when he felt better, but he will still try his best. That is what we see, a partnership built on training and trust. Charlotte brought this horse to the Grand Prix a young rider herself. People can judge the way she rides and criticize her mistakes, but they cannot take away the partnership she has with that horse. That is what it is all about. That is why he works for her. To take a young horse even to the smallest venue for the first time is a responsibility. We owe it to our horses to build a secure training system so that when we take them out they can rely on us to have their best interest in mind. Not only the ribbons and notoriety, but their trust. When we do this we build long term relationships that win ribbons and medals in the future. But when you only have money and prestige in mind and no longer care about the horse you will do things, that in my mind, are not good horsemanship. These things do not build long term results. Horses get sour, they go lame they do not perform.
              So I did a test on Glorious not too long ago and I did not win. I made mistakes in the changes and went off course. Not good. However, he felt so great in the ring. He made beautiful relaxed flowing half passes like a grown up. He walked forward with confidence and was completely at home in the ring. I was so happy! I made him feel like the champion he is, no I did not win, but I had an awesome go with a willing partner. So I challenge all of you dressage enthusiasts out there to watch closely. Support good horseman and stick up for good training. It should not be that competition is the ruination of Classical Riding. It should be that we accept the challenge of taking our good riding to the ring. We must not let the stress and pressure take away our riding philosophy. And we must not blame other people for successfully fooling the judges. We just need to support the right trainers and ride with balance and conviction and like 100 years ago when the nasty trainers fell away from lack of interest now too they will loose popularity and positive training will overcome.
                  Ride forward and happy :)