Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Monday, March 21, 2011

With this knowledge strive to cooperate with rather than impede the horse...

Face Behind the Vertical
A "modern" deviation from the classical ideal. 

by Erik F. Herbermann

Another matter, related to the main topic, is begging for discussion here. Riders are being encouraged to ride their young horses virtually in an advanced, "Grand Prix" frame (a short, high neck and head carriage) and are penalized for working them in the more "open" (less erected) frame better suited to their level of development. Young horses do not have the strength or suppleness in their backs and hindquarters to bear the strong lever action of high head carriage. Prematurely resorting to these concepts only teaches the youngsters, in sheer self defense, to stiffen their backs and hind legs. Instead of recognizing that they are overfacing their horse, most riders read such resistance as an unwillingness and apply more and more force to make it yield. Predictably, the work digresses.

Is it any wonder that the "rot" sets in early, when a horse's natural beauty is squandered, and that so many horses break down from related maladies because of this? For the true horseman, it is unbearably sad to observe just how many horses beyond First or Second Level are distorted in their gaits, and not infrequently lamed, because they have been indiscriminately hauled and crammed together by the reins.

Are we so blinded by our selfish motives that we have lost sight of our equestrian purpose, that we become traitors, neglecting our responsibility towards the horse and forfeiting our friendship with it --- but worst of all actually damaging it --- for some ill-conceived notion of supposedly "advancing" ourselves.

All this is an unconscionable travesty, and the blood of many good horses is on the hands of those who partake in such perversion, but especially on the teachers who propagate it and on the judges and "The System" for condoning it.

We are sentencing ourselves and our horsemanship to the unspeakable stupidity of the dark ages when we deliberately ride the horse behind the vertical or in too advanced a frame for its level of development or when we forcibly hurry its training to suit the preconceived notions of our ambition-driven training schedule.

Though we might not all do such incorrect and damaging things to our horses deliberately, the fact remains that many of us are partaking in such violations all the time. We need to look at ourselves honestly and must avoid being head-in-the-sand ostriches, pleading ignorance as our defense. It is our inescapable duty to come to recognize the above-mentioned points for the grave offenses they truly are against the creature we profess to love. But above all, we need to recognize that such behavior also debases the inherent beauty and dignity of our human nature. There is such a deep need for us to cultivate, patiently and with deep respect, a very thorough knowledge of the natural workings of the horse and with this knowledge strive to cooperate with rather than impede the horse and assist it to carry us more easily by improving and developing the balance and freedom of the deliciously beautiful gaits it has to offer. Because as things stand, we have unfortunately all too often inadvertently destroyed those gaits long before we have come to realize what a treasure we possessed before our "training" started.

Shouldn't we who are responsible for designing the tests and we who are going to be judging them try to assure that the Training Level tests become a far more clear and honest guideline as to how young horses might be reasonably and systematically trained in preparation for more advanced levels? Young horses, at least up to First or Second Level, should be ridden in a longer, more open frame (nose well in front of the vertical, poll the highest point) and should be allowed to demonstrate bright, forward-going gaits. Anything else is a disservice to the horses and misguidance to the many riders who placed their trust in "The Competition System" and who rely on it for the direction their training should take.

If we are sincere about making substantial headway in the quality of our riding, then there is only one valid standard towards which we all --- judges, teachers, and pupils alike --- should strive, and that is to live by the classical equestrian ideal --- that guideline which is solely governed by the nature of the living horse.

We can best begin to implement our new direction first by building our work on a foundation of solid, correct, working gaits and second by getting away form our hand-oriented (saw-the-horses-head-down) riding, which will necessitate working the horse more effectively from behind. Furthermore, there is also a superb exercise which can act as an antidote for the "face behind the vertical" malaise. It can help us to "renaturalize" the horse, which will have become warped by having been actively "formed" with our hands. The exercise is the "forward and downward" riding of the horse. This in itself, however, is a broad subject and will be left for another essay.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this article. I've bookmarked each post so I can read them through more thoroughly on my next day off, but I don't think there can be enough articles like this out there.

    I have always ridden my older horse in a more "open" frame, and while he might have lacked some refinement, the judges at Intro and Training level appreciated me riding him like a learning, green horse, instead of a poorly-emulated upper level frame. Our scores usually showed that as we frequently beat the cramped ones, and received positive verbal remarks, too. (At Training his gait scores took a bigger toll, but his canter was what it was...)

    My newer horse I am working to undo a few years of the BTV habit, and teach him to move forward and freely again... Should be interesting to see how he fares when he gets back into the show ring. Articles like this reinforce my faith that I'm not the only crazy one out there. :]

  2. Good stuff - I'd like to link to all the articles, if I may - but first, would you put them on a sidebar on your blog for future reference?

  3. Now That's a Trot-

    Glad you appreciated the article. Keep up the good work, and thanks for stopping by! :)

  4. Kate-

    Link away - sidebar is done :) Thanks!

  5. Thanks so much for taking the time to put these articles up. I'm glad you put them on the sidebar for future reference. It should be mandatory reading for anyone who rides or judges dressage. I always think if more people are educated in the correct way of training horses maybe there will be a change. I should do some research but I've always wondered when exactly the whole competition thing went downhill and who started it.

  6. I'd also be interested in knowing when this all began. I suspect it happened a lot earlier that we'd like to admit.

    You know the Sustainable Dressage site? I asked her a while ago to recommend a dressage training video that adhered to the classical principles that I could use for inspiration. She was mostly at a loss. She said that most of Klimke's stuff is good but she couldn't say the same about anyone else. Sad that none of the up-and-comers fit the bill.

  7. GHM-

    I know there was still beautiful work going on in the eighties with Reiner Klimke... that would be an interesting research project. :)

  8. smazourek-

    My trainer also recommended Klimke's video. If I hear of anything else recommended I'll pass it on :)


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