March 2008

In my constant quest for learning all that is horses, it has become crystal clear to me how little I knew. In summer camps and riding lessons when I was younger, the reins were for stopping, and kick was to go.  Call it old school english training. I knew every piece of a saddle and bridle by heart, every bone in a horse’s leg, but the theory can only mean so much if you don’t know the purpose. I loved learning dressage when I got older, but I mostly only knew it from a riding perspective. Natural horsemanship has taught me a whole new way of looking at things from the horse’s perspective.

This thirst for understanding has spilled over to dressage. Having witnessed a number of  top level competitions, including the World Cup, I questioned certain things I saw. Why does the horse look so tense and unhappy, tail swishing –  as if ready to explode at any moment? So inverted I would think to myself. A more relaxed horse, but with less flashy movement got a lower score. Why? To my untrained and inexperienced eye, even I could see that something just did not look right.

Over the last few years a growing movement has arisen questioning these ‘modern methods’ of dressage training and the use of hyperflexion or ‘Rollkur’. I am currently reading ‘Tug of War: Classical Versus Modern Dressage by Dr. Gerd Heuschmann and it explains perfectly why I and countless others question the methods of some of the top riders in the sport. Just as in any discipline, there is no quick rise to the top without consequence, that being the horse’s health and well being. What is surprising is the FEI’s position that the method of rollkur  “is not detrimental if used in a correct manner”. Dr. Heuschmann provides a wealth of technical knowledge including the history of dressage principles and the physical anatomy of the horse. He does not put the blame just on riders, in fact it is breeders, judges, spectators and trainers. In our fast paced world, and drive to win, the basics have been forgotten in favor of the quick fixes. In a foreward of the book, Peter Kunzmann states”

Only the person who possesses thorough equine knowledge can appropriately adjust his actions to suit a horse’s nature and physicality, while at the same time promoting its healthy development – an important issue that Dr. Heuschmann emphatically insists be given time and space.

So many riders look up to these top competitors and strive to emulate them. But at what cost? Dr. Heuschman states:

According to the saying, “you can’t make an omelette without breaking an egg”, many of today’s competitive riders engage in pulling, squeezing, jerking, and more. And, since the equestrian media frequently focuses on images of high performance competitors, it then appears that such riding is exemplary for all. This is not the case! It’s high time we raise our voices and declare war on this push-pull way of riding!

Links of interest:


Since I’ve owned him, Jasper has had an absolute love for water. If it is pouring outside and all the other horses are huddled in their shelter, he is running around clomping in puddles.  Lately, my lovely, gregarious draft horse has taken to sticking his front legs in the water trough. It has so impressed his paddock mate Sammy, that apparently he is doing it too. Now, I have not seen this feat myself, but apparently it is pretty hilarious when he tries to extricate his legs out of the trough.

So I’m in the Rite-Aid the other day and I see kids blow-up pools – $7.99. Now I know you are asking ‘what kind of moron would buy a baby’s splashy pool for a draft horse’?

Um, that would be ME.

Heck, I figured, it might last a week but he might have some fun and I will satisfy his water craving. And I’m only out $7.99, right?

So I blew it up, carted it to his paddock and no sooner had I dropped it down, than Jasper was up to it sniffing it all over. Then he tried to bite the plastic. Oh dear, this was NOT going to last long! So I filled it up with water as quick as I could – and in went a gynormous hoof.

I guess I’m supposed to drink from it


He really enjoyed it…for about 2 minutes, then was off to munch on his leftover hay. I knew the shenanigans would probably not start until AFTER I had left. And I was right. 2 days later I found the splashy pool, deflated, no water, and a big foot wide rip in the bottom where obviously someone had chewed it to shreds.

Ah well, it was fun while it lasted….

Yesterday I put the bridle on Jasper, with the bit attached and let him run around the arena with it on to get used to it. I’ve done this a couple of times before. Putting the bit in his mouth was a non-issue, he willingly opened his mouth and in went the bit. I had measured his mouth beforehand – it’s a 51/2″ rubber bit and it fits his mouth perfectly. He chewed on it a bit at first, unsure where to put his tongue, but he didn’t seem to mind it at all. At his young age, he still loves putting things in his mouth, so I’m sure the bit feels like a new chew toy! He patiently stood as I fiddled with the bridle buckles, adjusting it to fit his huge head keeping everything fairly loose and comfortable.

It’s amazing seeing him with an actual bridle on. My husband looked at the picture and said ‘wow, he looks like an actual riding horse!’ I thought the same thing too. The next dressage star?

Look out Anky!