dressage


See an update to my previous post regarding Ashley Holzer competing in the Olympics

Pop Art is one stunning horse. Okay, I’m a canuck so I’m a little biased! Canada may actually have a shot at something with this combination…unless the judges go for the flashier but less correct riders <cough>rollkur <cough>.

Here’s a recent video from June 25th at the qualifier in Blainville, Quebec in which they received 77.150%, the highest score in three days of competition at the CDI-W Blainville Summer Classic.

What do I notice in this clip? First of all, he is not behind the vertical. Second, he has a wonderful self-carriage. For the piaffe, his back legs are positioned nicely underneath him, he is nicely balanced uphill, his back looks supple and his head is in a nice frame. This is a perfect example of a classical correct piaffe.

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:

http://www.sustainabledressage.com/index.php

http://www.classicaldressage.com/

http://everyrider.typepad.com/everyrider/2007/03/the_rollkur_deb.html

http://www.hippocampus-nl.com/s2e.php?content_id=337

UPDATE AUGUST 2008 – Ashley Holzer is indeed competing in the Olympics. From the Dressage Daily website in March:
Not so many weeks ago, Holzer had taken herself out of the running for the Olympics because Canada had planned to require its riders to compete in Europe prior to heading to Hong Kong. Holzer felt that would be too much travel for Pop Art. After Canada dropped that requirement, Holzer then said she would go to the 2008 Olympics in Hong Kong this summer if she qualified.
Good for her for sticking to her guns and getting Canada to drop the stringent requirement!
From the Ecogold website Ashley has arrived in Hong Kong and states : “The team has arrived safe and sound in Hong Kong. The horses all travelled well. It’s hot but the barns are air-conditioned to a very comfortable temperature. The stabling and the footing are top notch! Pop Art is loving this incredible facility. These Games seemed very well organized. The village is not the usual dormitory but a luxury hotel only for athletes. This place is wonderful!”

I have to say, although I love dressage, I just shake my head at some of the things that go on in competition these days. Why have the 2008 Olympic Dressage competition in Hong Kong, at a time of year when cyclones are common and pollution, heat and humidity is horrendous?
Ashley Holzer is one of Canada’s most successful international dressage riders and in the past year has been dominating the dressage world. On Dressage Daily today, in the first show of the year at Wellington:

Ashley Holzer and her own Pop Art rose to the top of the leader boards in the Grand Prix FEI test of choice scoring a whopping 76.250%. Those lucky enough to catch the first ride in the morning were treated to perfection in the pirouettes, and watching a totally harmonious and medal winning ride.

What is disappointing to all of her Canadian fans is that she may choose not to participate in the Olympics. Why? She feels the criteria will be too stressful on her horse

Ashley Holzer, one of Canada’s leading Olympic contenders, is opting out of the 2008 Olympics based on concern that her nation’s Olympic criteria will place too much stress on her horse. In December, Canada announced that members of its 2008 Olympic team would be required to travel to Europe to compete at Rotterdam and Aachen. The horses would then go into quarantine in Europe before shipping to Hong Kong. Holzer said she’s decided competing in Europe before traveling to Hong Kong would be too much stress for Pop Art. Hence, she’s opting out of the Olympics and other Canadian riders may follow.

“I told our Canadian officials that I think it’s just too much stress on my horse. Rotterdam and Aachen are two very tough shows and to add them to the stress of Hong Kong, I just felt is too much for my horse,” Holzer said. “I can respect their decision that this is the best way to prepare the team, but I lost my best horse once before and I know how quickly things can happen. I think Poppy is the most unbelievable horse and I don’t ever want to put him in a stressful situation. He’s just at the beginning of his career.”

Why on earth Canada is putting such stringent guidelines for competing is beyond me. When they qualified for the Seoul Olympics, they flew international judges to Canada, so the riders could be judged at home. Why is it not the case this time? Instead, horses must spend up to 5 months traveling and competing in Europe, not to mention the quarantine and expense involved. And a lot of it is on the riders dime. See Globe and Mail article

I have further found out the the SWISS dressage team has pulled out of the Olympics  because of concerns for the well being of their horses.

Although Canada will miss out, I applaud Ashley Holzer’s decision in putting her horse first ahead of ego. If only everyone involved in competitive horse sport thought this way!