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: