The emperor’s new clothes

1 Apr



Everyone  in dressage wants the fantasy:   that we ride a creature that loves us and wants to please; that harmony and partnership  is desirable above all else. And this is a GOOD fantasy,ever to be attained or aimed for.

Watching umpteen warm-up and tests at a recent big dressage show left me with only one idea:

  The U.S. needs a certification process for trainers.

Rider after rider, sitting with collapsed hips, shoulders, unbalanced front to back, unbalanced side to side, all giving “aids” to confused horses, and most being told, “Super” in a variety of foreign accents..

Dressage is a sport of ultimate partnership—that is what is being judged. On the other side of the showgrounds, the hunters were going at the same time. Beautifully turned-out, each one producing or trying to produce a ‘dressage test over fences’: a pattern of 8 jumps, ideally presented in one flowing, forward rhythm.

Of course, the problem with the hunters is that in order to get this picture of easy flow, much is done to the horses in terms of drugs, and the now infamous ‘hunter lunge’ where the horse goes around an endless circle until all he can do is shuffle .

So dressage continues to hold the banner for horsemanship, for partnership, for harmony achieved by training rather than other means.

But the obvious reality is that the partnership can only be as strong as the communication—and that communication requires that the ‘speaker’ have a system of signals/aids that is clear to the partner.

Biomechanics expert Mary Wanless once observed, “The rider is attached to the horse by seat and by reins. Whatever degree the rider is not attached by seat—must be by reins.”

Even in the CDI portion of the show, there was a fair number of horses presented in uncomfortable, contorted, unbalanced frames. I was proud that the judges actually spoke to the riders/trainers about this problem  and rewarded the performances that managed to show a degree of harmony, of balance and rhythm-the basis for the sport.

Everyone seems to find it necessary to complain about the judging and it is for sure not perfect and was not at this show either.

Still—the sport is one sport, from grass roots up through Olympics, it is about a rider and a horse, with or without also a judge.

Over and over, we are told that certification in the U.S. is “impossible, the country is too big, there is no way to make it happen,” etc etc.

Instead, we are to watch rider after rider be told everything is fine and wonderful, only to go into the arena and be told a different opinion by the judges.

It is no wonder that people leave the sport. It is expensive, time-consuming, frustrating and frankly—not often fun.

There were no children present at the show; a few of the hunter riders came over, watched for a while, shrugged, giggled among themselves and left.

So I have an idea (of course):  Why not liase with U.S. Pony Club –offer incentives for their members to provide various services at the shows; offer prizes—lessons with or a day with a trainer, a sports therapist, a breeder, a veterinary clinic—to get the kids involved, to find the next generation instead of waiting for them to magically appear in the already expensive Pony Classes, let alone Young Rider ranks.

Why not start putting the emphasis on equitation classes in Pony Club that entitle the winners to a free entry in a similar class at local dressage shows, all the way up to big shows like the CDIs.

Why not start thinking about certifying the people who teach the riders how to transmit the signals to their partners so that potential talent (and even sponsors) do not waste so much time with people who are trainers in name but basically socially adept networkers? Because not everyone wants or can afford to go down the path several times, only to discover they have wasted time,energy,money and horses, as well as dreams and fantasy.


One Response to “The emperor’s new clothes”

  1. Lucas Duarte May 7, 2013 at 6:17 am #

    “It is no wonder that people leave the sport. It is expensive, time-consuming, frustrating and frankly—not often fun.”

    I love that you dare to say this, Super article haha 🙂 very, very well written and thought of

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