The Final Blow?

Established in the late 16th century by the Habsburg Monarchy, the Spanish Riding School has been the epitome of Classical Dressage and horsemanship. As long as they existed, I held hope for the return of horsemanship for the good of the horse, above all else. Threatened throughout history by wars, politics and finances, it had always remained true to the tradition of excellence.

Until now.

SRSRolkur2

The above picture was taken by Ulrike Thiel in 2008 – along with a whole bunch more. Follow this link to the specific SRS discussion on her FB page that contains the history of the photos, some video and additional information.

How shocked I was to learn that the SRS had aligned itself with The Queen of Rolkur, herself, Anky Van Grunsven. Over 400 years of passing the horsemanship torch, flushed down the toilet in a handful of years, sparked by one woman. I’m sick to my stomach. If the SRS isn’t immune to Competitive Dressage’s abusive, destructive training techniques, the rest of world doesn’t stand a chance and neither does the horse. Shame on those responsible for the direction change of the SRS, like CEO Elisabeth Gürtler.

NRHA Drug Rule Change

Please take the time to read the following blog article:  NRHA Trainers Propose Change To Drug Policy

Now I’d like to discuss a few points.

He (Rod Miller) went on to say, “The caliber of horse needed to make the finals at the Futurity these days has gotten very high. The trainers do not have time to take it slow and train these horses at a pace each can handle without getting sore. Yes the event is demanding, but no more so than many other events that all have drug policies. The only difference is time and the ability of our trainers to get more out of the horses. The brutal truth is trainers have to push these young horses more and more each year just to stay competitive enough to make the finals.

Are you effing kidding me?!  Who thinks like that?  Who thinks it’s okay to lame and break down horses when they know full well it’s going to happen?  Yes, let’s throw a little brutal truth out there, shall we?  Anyone who thinks it’s okay to knowingly push a horse beyond health and soundness is not a trainer and should be removed from all things equine related.

“Drugs and abuse are not the biggest issue the NRHA has, their biggest issue is the trainers have gotten too good. The top trainers of today are able to get these horses to do so much more than in past years, yet the time they are allowed to do these things in has not changed. They do not have enough time to develop the horses to the level they need to be without pushing them. Pushing them means they need drugs to keep them sound enough to ride and show and keep pushing the limits. That is why trainers have no issue with a drug test for the older horses being shown at the FEI level; they are already trained and do not need to be pushed anymore.

Let me correct Mr. Miller.  The issue isn’t that trainers have gotten too good, it’s that trainers are no longer horsemen, therefore, do not have the best interest of the horse in mind.  Getting to the Futurity for fame, glory and money is most important to them.  Million-Dollar *cough* Trainers, indeed!

“Now the one thing that the NRHA will never do is make a change that will negatively effect the Futurity. The Futurity is why the NRHA was created and it is still the main focus of trainers and breeders. Having a restrictive drug policy will negatively affect the Futurity, by lowering the caliber of the horses in the finals. Trainers won’t be able to push horses as hard, if they need to show up at the show with a totally sound horse. Without pushing or more time, something has to give and it will be the caliber of horses in the finals.

Again, are you kidding me?  How narrow-minded and short-sighted does one have to be to think like this?  The one thing the NRHA should do is restructure the Futurity.  And if these so called ‘trainers’ stopped pushing their young horses beyond what’s good for the horse, and stopped paying the nomination fees, and stopped entering horses in the futurity, and stopped initiating rule changes to propagate the cycle of equine destruction, then the NRHA would be forced to change the Futurity for the betterment of the horse and therefore the sport as well.

*$@# ^%!  I continue to be disappointed at what humans will do and how they’ll justify it for a buck, at the expense of such a generous creature as the horse.

The Saddle Pad Test

I’ve been busy with some RL things lately and haven’t had the inclination or concentration to put together an article for the blog, so I’m cheating and going to link to a short article for all to read, ponder, and test out.

Most understand the importance of saddle fit for horse and rider, but few know how to accurately judge a good fit.  The following offers an easy test, requiring nothing more than a clean, white saddle pad and a ride.

Saddle Pad Dust Pattern

Even though this is an ‘English’ test, this could also be done with a clean, light colored (and thin) Western pad and Western saddle, as the same principles apply.

At the end of the article is mention of the true purpose of the saddle pad.  English riders in particular should take note, as they are usually the biggest offenders of using various thick and/or exotically cut saddle pads to fit a saddle to a horse that doesn’t.

Rear Versus Levade

The levade is an ‘Air’ and the most collected movement a horse can do. Its original intent was for use in mounted war along with the rest of the ‘Airs Above The Ground’. The only places you’ll see it performed nowadays are at Equine/Military Schools such as the Spanish Riding School, in travelling shows, or exhibitions.

Below is the levade, executed nearly perfectly. (I believe this photo was taken by Sarah K. Andrew.  It’s been several years since the photographer shared it with me, so my memory is fuzzy.)

Note the placement of the hind feet almost directly under the rider’s seat, how the long pastern is almost in line with the cannon bone, the hocks directly underneath the center of the haunch and lowered, and the horse ‘sitting down’. The horse holds and balances its weight throughout the big, powerful muscling of the haunch, while the hind legs/joints act as a coiled spring. While this takes tremendous strength to achieve, the horse has the advantage of using its entire body.

Levade

The next picture (taken from the LA Times earlier this month (click on photo to enlarge) – article about the current race season at Del Mar and the number of injured/dead horses – thanks, Trailrider, it really was an interesting article) is of a parade horse that’s gotten a bit excited as the other horses leave the gate. This is a rear, albeit a baby one.

Note the placement of the hind feet (behind the stifle), and the placement of the hocks (behind the horse’s buttocks), how vertical the cannon bone remains while the fetlocks and hocks close, taking much of the pressure. The majority of the horse’s weight is forward and down into the stifles. While the withers have raised, it’s only because the horse has left/is leaving the ground with the front legs, and in fact this horse has hollowed its back, dropped its base of neck and withers.

RearingAtTrack

Obviously the outrider at the track wasn’t trying to do a levade, and there’s no point in discussing the difference in rider position. Instead, these two pictures offer great comparison between what IS collection and what is NOT.

I often hear from people how Dressage horses breakdown, specifically in their hocks. Well, people, that would be because the horse isn’t actually moving correctly. The horse isn’t collecting toward the goal in the first picture, but rather doing what the parade horse is doing. A horse ridden and trained correctly will benefit with increased soundness, not suffer from injuries.

Mercedes’ Top Pet Peeves

In no way does the following represent all the equine world insults to my senses, but they seem to happen more often than not.

Firstly, there’s not a whole lot I find more frustrating than getting on a horse, applying leg, and having the horse do absolutely nothing. Even worse is if I get an ear flick indicating the horse ‘heard’, and then nothing. I’ll accept a lateral step, a back step, a jig, even a cow kick at my leg; just give me something to work with.

In most cases the ignore is entirely the fault of the human/s. Most susceptible are lesson horses that have to deal with beginner riders, whose leg aids are often poorly timed, inconsistent, and downright as annoying as TV snow. Still, it’s an easy fix and I have never understood the prevalence.

Related is the horse that has to be aided by the leg every single stride to maintain gait or pace. The horse should respond to the leg when applied and then maintain whatever was asked until the leg is applied again for a new request. Even worse is the horse that has erroneously been trained to move forward only with constant spurring. The spur was never meant to be used to create forward in the horse, but rather a tool for subtle and exacting cues of upper level movements.

The reason most often give for the previous scenerios: The horse is lazy.

Horses are not lazy; they are simply unmotivated in the moment. While that might sound like semantics, I believe it’s an entirely different perspective which can make a big difference in how the person approaches the horse, and therefore how the relationship develops. Is the glass half empty or half full? Being labelled lazy is clearly negative and there’s finality to it like it’s a done deal and can’t be change. Being unmotivated in the moment is less negative because there’s a possible upside; motivation may occur in the very next moment.

Don’t think for a second the horse doesn’t know what kind of a glass it’s being viewed as when you approach. I’ve never met a lazy horse, but I’ve sure met a lot who’d rather lie down then work for the human aboard.

Every 50′ (or less) round pen in existence needs to ploughed under. There’s a reason why the first circle figure is 20m (66′). It asks the horse to bear a little bit of extra weight on the inside hind, and to bend through the length of its body a little bit. Very few green/young horses can negotiate a circle smaller than 20m correctly to start, that is without counter bending, leaning on the inside shoulder, losing the haunch to the outside etc… The same is true of horses that have certain conformation traits that make engagement more difficult and lame/sore/injured/stiff horses.

Sixteen feet in diameter may not seem like a lot, but for the horse it’s night and day. For every circle the horse does incorrectly, it has to do ten correctly to undo the damage of using the wrong muscles the wrong way. Think about that before you opt for a too-small round pen.

Natural Horsemanship is responsible for the uptick in round pen usage over the last couple of decades. Part of those programs is teaching horses to turn in and face the handler, especially during the ‘free’ longeing process. Hate it, and I’ve seen it lead to all sorts of problems.

Worse still is when someone teaches that to the horse when longeing with a line on. The horse should stay out on the circle, facing forward, and wait for the handler to approach. Advanced longeing in a longeing cavesson will include the horse making an inside turn to change direction, but the horse only does so when specifically cued for the change of direction. Otherwise the horse stays on the circle.

I know that Natural Horsemanship guru’s teach turning slightly away/taking a step back from the horse to invite it to you. Blech! Face to face the horse is in a superior power positon, and while this ‘come to me’ is often used for horses that are timid or as part of ‘joining up’, I don’t like it and don’t encourage it. It’s not necessary to win over the horse, nor to later have horses come running when called. And let me tell you, it’s a real bugger trying to reteach a horse to longe properly.

Now is the time when I pick on riders, especially those with their eyes stuck to the ground. Seriously, if the ground is that fascinating might I suggest you dismount, get down on your hands and knees, and get a real close-up look to satisfy your curiosity.

Your bowling ball of a head falls forward, your shoulder’s round, your center of gravity tips forward, your seatbones lose contact with the horse, your lower leg loses its position, and your heel lifts. You are now ripe to end up right where you’re looking. In fact, I find great pleasure in walking up beside such a rider and pushing them off with little effort on my part. But never mind you, you’ve just made your horse’s job of balancing you and itself that much harder and put him/her on their forehand.

And if you’re someone who’s got their eyes planted on the horse’s shoulder to check posting diagonal or canter lead – time for you to learn to feel your horse’s footfalls and body. I really wish instructors would stop teaching riders this short cut in the first place.

The other big rider pet peeve I have is that of the incorrect use of terminology. Specifically the big buzz words like collection, extension, and impulsion. A horse piddling around at lower levels most certainly isn’t doing extensions or collection. They might be capable of lengthenings and a lower degree of engagement, but when you need someone to explain to you the aids of shoulder-in, you most certainly didn’t just ‘collect’ your horse on your last ride. Frame compression, specifically neck shortening, and your horse taking itty bitty steps isn’t collection. Not referring to anyone here unless it applies.

It also annoys me when people use terminology like ‘giving to the bit’, when it’s clear the horse is evading contact and is behind the bit. That kind of ‘giving’ is incorrect. A horse accepting contact can’t necessarily be correctly described as ‘light’. Rather the contact is better described as ‘alive’ and therefore constantly changing as horse and rider communicate and perform tasks. ‘Lightness’ is often evasion, particularly if it’s constant/static, which will certainly feel better to a rider than the horse that leans on the bit, but is still incorrect.

Speaking of bits…if I see one more full-cheek bit without keepers…

Finally, in closing: Western Dressage. Enough said.

Feel free to add your pet peeves and get it off your chest. Perhaps afterwards I’ll consider doing an anti-pet peeve list.