“There is more to loving a horse than throwing one’s arms around his neck and kissing him on the nose,” states Michael J. Stevens in his “Classical Schooling Guide”. If you agree and you are looking for an honest, straightforward book without redundancies and talkativeness, either for yourself or a friend, this is the right stuff. It leads you to “a loose, supple, straight, responsive, enthusiastic horse that moves with harmony and grace and carries his rider with ease” when you read and ride with diligence. It is a book for the novice rider who seeks reliable advice from a writer who has a wide background of equestrian knowledge. But also the experienced horseman will study this guide with interest and pleasure. The author criticises modern competitive equitation, “because it does not always foster the practice of tried and tested classical training methods” and when “more hardware is used the horse is less able to move naturally and the magic of classical riding disappears.”
Without ever saying anything unnecessary, Stevens clearly explains important milestones on the way to good, advanced riding from scratch: The rider’s attitude, seat, use of hand and leg aids, staying aligned with the horse. Above all: “If you hope to ride classically, you must make an effort to understand the horse’s mind… Nothing beautiful can be produced in an atmosphere of fear, hate and mistrust…but the relationship between rider and horse should always be one of friendship and cooperation. A master-servant relationship is no good for classical riding because the horse must express the joy of life in his work”. Stevens discusses the disappearing of single-handed riding from the scene: “This one change has had a disastrous effect on riding standards,” he rightfully says. Because, how many of today’s top dressage horses could be ridden correctly (and gracefully) on the curb only, single-handed? Their certain inability to do so is the definite proof that their training has been incomplete, insufficient.
Further important issues are explained, such as establishing a good contact, the role of the bit, fostering balance and self-carriage, exercises for lateral and longitudinal flexions, collection, variation of gaits, riding transitions, riding flying lead changes, plus advanced exercises such as canter pirouette, piaffe and even(!) --- terre-à-terre. The author suggests a realistic schooling plan for all this and reminds the reader that thorough classical training which is beneficial for a long-lasting, healthy horse takes time and patience. And not every horse can achieve everything, though it is usually the rider’s fault if things go wrong, not the horse’s. “Dedication, the willingness to learn, a love of horses and a desire to improve their performance, will ensure many long enjoyable years on horseback.” And for all those who want to read further, Stevens recommends to study the Duke of Newcastle, Guérinière, Steinbrecht, Podhajsky, and other great classical authors.
I love Stevens’ “Classical Schooling Guide” because it appears so modest and short but offers so much experience and information from a true horseman. It is the perfect gift for riders you would like to be shown the right way.
Werner Poscharnigg, Feb. 7, 2016
Published by Lavender & White Equestrian Publishing, Galway, 2014
It's hard to believe The Classical Riding Club is 21 years old. That's just under a third of my life and sometimes it certainly feels like a lifetime! But - at last - I feel the chickens are coming home to roost. People are talking about good and correct riding like never before. That means more and more people are against forceful riding, cranked nosebands and draw reins and, if we stick to our guns, there will come a time when they are banned forever. Improvement as a rider can, and will only come through education. That is why I chose to use the word 'classical' when I founded our Club. It implies that the work is proper, solid, based on sound principles of Nature, as well as being humane. This was the legacy left by the Greeks as the Classical Age grew and spread around them. And people have responded to this. People like to aspire.
The good thing is those who care about the welfare of the riding horse now feel empowered. They know they are not alone! Suddenly, there is a great groundswell of support from people all over the world coming together for the common good of every horse. No longer just the proverbial 'bunny-huggers', but serious and knowledgeable riders who love their horses. They too are fed up with seeing horses abused in order to sell on more quickly, win more competitions, or create flashier movement. By expressing their concerns and supporting Clubs or movements such as CRC, they are showing they want these unhealthy and abhorrent practices to stop. Abuse is insidious and it takes many forms. It's not just the gadgets, contraptions, tying up of legs, electric shock treatment and Rolkur that presents a problem. It's about not taking the time a horse deserves, or passing on a horse to an uncertain future. It's about the ignorance that leads to thoughtless riding practices, like putting a very overweight person on a very underweight horse, or bad saddle fitting and other poor husbandry in general, due to a lack of knowledge. Now, on the positive side, by concentrating on the very best, making literature and training more accessible to others through our website, and by spreading the word through Facebook and raising awareness worldwide, all things are possible. For example we never forget there are some very talented teachers and trainers out there who are not famous, but who make a difference - however limited their resources. These people are important and they count, particularly in the CRC family, where they can now be sought out and recognised.
Last year we launched a brand new website. This had always been the dream of our hardworking and brilliant Administrators over the years, Melanie Wilkes, Angela Hinnigan and now Abigail Burns. It was not cheap, but our designer Matt Lovejoy gave us a special price and lots of free support, as did my lovely daughter Allegra with her eye for design. She, Black Tent Publishers and Nathalie Todd Photography all contributed with some amazing pictures. But we couldn't have done it at all without you. By appealing to Members we made up the shortfall of what was required, and we are pretty proud of our on-line status. It says who we are and why we founded the Club.
Had it not been for our loyal Members, several of whom have been here since the very beginning, none of this would have been possible and we would not have made it to this point. The CRC would never have taken off if it had not been for some very special people. The silent majority in many cases ... with some no longer so silent! The Club has always been non-profit making and at the beginning we had to dig deep to keep it going. Subs were kept to a minimum but with a fantastic donation from one of our Members, Dominic Shorthouse, and many years of loyal sponsorship from Albion Saddles, we not only made it into the 21st Century but we've been going at it for 21 years in total.
Then there are our Ambassadors - special people who recognise that we're in this to help horses and their riders and we're here to stay. We are very grateful to them indeed for giving us a vote of confidence - a real seal of approval.
To sum up: our 21st Anniversary Demo is my way of now saying thank you to all of YOU - Members, Friends, Sponsors and Ambassadors alike. Please support this very special Event (poster available to download here ) and I look forward to meeting up with you there on July 30th to watch a wonderful day of training. It is my pleasure to present some extraordinarily gifted Trainers who I have got to know and admire over several years. Even more importantly, they believe in CRC! This Event is going to be very special indeed so without further ado please see below for more information on each of our Trainers for the day. SL
Tickets will be going on sale in our website shop on 10th February, so please keep checking back for further information. Your trainers for the day will be;
Colonel Christian Carde today looks back on over 60 years of experience in riding and training horses. He spent more than 20 years at France's prestigious school of academic riding, the famous Cadre Noir at Saumur and rose to the exalted position of Chief Rider between 1991 and 1999. During his equestrian career, Col. Carde first competed in three-day-eventing up to the highest levels, before turning to dressage. Between 1976 and 1982 he belonged to the French National Dressage team and took part in both World and European Championships as well as the Olympic Festival 1980. He became French Dressage Champion in 1979. After his active career as an international rider, Carde coached the French National Dressage team between 1985 and 1989, the period in which Margit Otto-Crépin won 4 medals for France. Col. Carde trained with renowned French trainers like Col. Ladoucette and Col. de Saint-André as well as with German Olympic trainer, Willi Schultheis as well as the legendary Portuguese riding master Nuno Oliveira.
Christian is a firm believer in the principle that the sport of dressage should act as the preserver of the horse's mind, health, well being and correct locomotion. For this reason he supported the formation of a Society known as Allege-Ideal, the brainchild of Jean Orgeix. In 2002, and together with the late Maitre Michel Henriquet, Christian took on the role of developing Allege-Ideal. Its main aim was to promote and inspire an educated knowledge of equitation which not only adhered to the FEI principles of lightness and ease for both horse and rider but also made it more accessible to all.
Colonel Carde gives Clinics all over the world, but this will be his first Lecture Demonstration in the UK. Sylvia first met Christian when she came to Saumur to give a clinic in 2009 and because of his commitment to Allege-Ideal and hers to The Classical Riding Club, they both felt they had lot in common concerning their aspirations and passion for the future of Dressage worldwide.
Nuno Cavaco is a highly experienced classical rider and teacher who has served and ridden with the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art for 25 years. He trained under Dr Guilherme Borba, Founder of the School and is a kind, sensitive man who has trained a number of horses to High School level. As well as their beautiful quadrilles, the Portuguese School specialises in work in hand and the higher airs and always with an emphasis on lightness. Nuno brings these qualities to his teaching and has a great deal to offer in helping advance his students' riding skills and developing a greater partnership with the horse. During his time at the School, Nuno travelled extensively throughout Europe giving shows and displays. He has gained huge experience in riding many different horses. An added bonus is that Nuno’s equine knowledge extends to the veterinary side of horse welfare and during the shows he was responsible, alongside the main vet for the health care and well being of each horse. Of course this extra knowledge really adds value to his training methods and awareness when working with horses of every age and at every stage of their training.
Nuno is based in Portugal and provides residential clinics at Quinta do Rol where students can ride trained Lusitano schoolmasters. Willing to travel all over Europe, his lessons are both in hand and ridden and he enjoys the challenge of working with every type of horse and rider. His clinics are always full and he is always invited back. His main clinic base in England is at Bacon House, Greatworth, Oxfordshire OX17 2DX, where Veronica Ward can be contacted re future events. See also the CRC website and Facebook.
Sylvia Loch is the only British person to be accredited as an Honorary Instructor by the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art but she started very modestly. As Sylvia Cameron, she acquired ponies that no one else wanted and by her mid-teens had progressed to running her own stables at Kaimes, Midlothian - often with those same, once difficult, animals. As an avid reader and Pony Clubber, she followed traditional methods to run her own summer camps for children 'to own a pony for a week' while she hunted and competed X Country in between.
A severe allergy to horses led to pneumonia and several hospital stays so finally she gave up her passion and worked first in London, and then at sea for a year. Lisbon was their first port of call and she fell in love with Portugal. It was here she met Henry, Major the Lord Loch, an ex-pat cavalry instructor, almost 30 years her senior and they married in l974. Henry and his school of Lusitanos brought her again to horses. This was a time when few foreigners had even heard of the breed and they determined to bring them back to England. In l979 they opened the Lusitano Stud & Equitation Centre in Suffolk, where with 16 schoolmasters working up to Advanced levels, they could offer students their first feel of a collected, correctly trained, balanced horse.
After the birth of their daughter followed by Henry's sudden death in l982, Sylvia founded The Lusitano Breed Society of Great Britain and began her life's work of writing and teaching the principles of riding in lightness as taught to her by Henry. She is passionate about the rider's position and the application of correct aids to make life easier for the horse.
Throughout the decades, Sylvia has studied, taught, lectured and judged all over the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA, Brazil and Europe. Her work on The Classical Seat (1988) was considered revolutionary at the time and she was presented to the Queen after the publication of The Royal Horse of Europe. In l995 she founded The Classical Riding Club as a protest against the prolific use of draw-reins and other gadgets in dressage. Sneered at to start, she has gradually seen the tide of public opinion turning in her direction. She is incredibly grateful to all those riders and students who supported her with the Club and helped inspire a more empathetic and educated approach to horses worldwide. She is still teaching today.
Patrick Print OBE FBHS was born in Warwickshire and having ridden as a youngster, went on to work originally with the late Janet Sturrock FBHS. Later he trained with Pat Manning FBHS who became his main influence. Pat instilled in him the importance of correct classical riding and to improve the horse through the improvement of the rider's seat and a light application of the aids. Patrick was former National Instructor for Scotland in the 1980's, has served on a number of BHS committees and was Chairman of Training and Education before becoming Chairman of the Society itself from 2004 to 2010 on which he had a great influence.
Patrick was also a former member of the British Equestrian Federation Council and was awarded an OBE for services to Equestrianism in the 2011 New Years Honours List. He has also been a BHS Chief Assessor for over 30 years and mentors and trains young riding teachers up to Fellowship level. Now based in Linlithgow, he is a Director of HorseScotland and combines this with teaching clinics all over the UK and abroad while still finding time to ride and train his own 7 yr old Lusitano Embucado.
Patrick was the driving force behind the British Horse Society's opening up to other ideas, both from abroad or from individuals who had not necessarily trained under the BHS system. In this vein, it was he who was so instrumental in inviting Sylvia and The Classical Riding Club to become the first Independent Partner of the BHS in 2008. He provided a refreshing and more welcoming approach on all fronts and his last book The BHS Complete Manual of Equitation is a masterpiece of tact and down to earth classical technique
Uwe Spenlen who lives near Cologne in Germany is a patient, kind and experienced trainer. He is particularly popular in Australia where his performance at Equitana brought him a host of new dedicated students who loved his calm manner, the fact he doesn't shout and the way everyone leaves the school, both horse and rider, with a smile on their faces. His system is very much about working the 'engine' of the horse, so whether in shoulder-in, quarters in, quarters out, half-halts and transitions, those tools gained from his “toolbox” brings a massive improvement after each lesson. He detests and doesn’t tolerate the aggressive way of training generally known as LDR when the horse is shortened through the neck and the nose brought towards the chest. He calls it cruelty to horses, simply dishonest and abuse of the horse’s nature.
Uwe Spenlen used to be an experienced FEI****Dressage Judge who has judged for almost twenty years CDI’s and CDI-W regularly all around the planet. Since 2012 he has retired from judging internationally. In Germany, he has judged at many major top events such as the famous Aachen Show CDIO, German Dressage Derby and European Championships for Juniors and Young Riders. For many years he was Event Director for the “Parkfestival Dressage Grand Prix,” Bad Honnef, and the “European Youngster Classics”, Bonn. Uwe was educated by the renowned and famous horseman and riding instructor, Paul Stecken of Münster. He holds an International Trainers Licence and served as a long time board member of the Dressage Committee of the German Judges Association (DRV). Since almost one decade he is chair of the German Amateur Trainers Assc. (DRFV). He is well-known for the clarity he brought to judging and training dressage, his emphasis on the International Training Scale as well as his focus on correctness and elegance of dressage and the well-being of the horses.
Uwe speaks fluently in three languages, German, English and Spanish and his connection to Sylvia and the Classical Riding Club came through his writing. Members can read his published articles on line in the CRC section of Tracking Up Magazine and they have been very popular.
I was prompted to write this in repsonse to a small article called a Focus on Good Riding published by Horse & Hound on the 14th Jan.
The announcement by the board of directors for the German Equestrian Federation seems
somewhat late in the day (H&H 14 January).
For the past 20 odd years, organisations such as The Classical Riding
Club and many other groups, clubs and schools dedicated to the welfare of the riding horse
have been railing against the use of force throughout the disciplines.
Dressage has been particularly under attack for permitting -
even encouraging - through their mark system - a strenuously forced outline in the dressage horse.
It took a real outcry throughout the world finally to see 'rollkur' disdained and pilloried, but even
today it goes on behind closed doors because it seems to produce what certain judges wish to see.
Could it be that the German Equestrian Federation has finally come to admit there are more people
against the artificial outline of the horse so admired by top level judges. than there are for?
Might it have occurred that as we approach the 2016 Olympics a greater number of dressage seats might
be filled if the governing bodies made more of an effort to protect the horse?
The FEI principles have never been in question. What concerns the horse-loving public is
the fact that certain top-level judges have paid so little attention to them.
Founder of The Classical Riding Club
I do believe the Classical Riding Club and other like-minded organisations are making a difference... About time.
For 21 years - the CRC has been stressing the importance of the FEI dressage guidelines with the regret that these seemed, too often, to be ignored by judges and trainers alike. Of particular concern was a disregard for the lightness of the horse, the absence of force and the importance of the horse appearing to 'give the impression of doing of his own accord what is required of him'.
Clearly, none of these aspects are likely to happen unless the rider is not only competent, but good at what he or she does. According to this week's Horse & Hound (January 14th) 'The board of directors of the German Equestrian Federation have now decided to implement a new rule based around "good riding".'
The rule reads as follows: "When it comes down to team nomination for championships, not only the potential for success will count, but also the strict following of the guidelines for riding.... The Federation disapproves of any training methods that go against the guidelines. "This means explicitly any aggressive riding or training methods which entail a forceful handling of the horse." A Swiss federation's spokesman added: "Equestrianism is often the focus of public attention, but not always in a positive way. An image suggesting violence undermines the reputation of equestrian sports." '
Hallelujah! is all we can say. And for the horse, about time too. And for those who are unaware, please study the very different format of the CRC Dressage mark-sheets (published 1998) which reward good riding not just with one overall mark, but with roughly a quarter of the total marks allotted to how the test was ridden.
Excessive? perhaps - but for the horse probably necessary.
Sylvia will be giving her first UNMOUNTED WEIGHT-AIDS WORKSHOP of 2016 on Sunday, 31st January at Raydon Village Hall, near Hadleigh, Suffolk 2 pm - 5 pm. Ticket price includes refreshments provided by Water Farm Dressage.
These workshops have proved highly popular all over the world and Sylvia has devised a unique and special method of teaching students how to balance their weight in the best possible way for the horse. Practised on the ground, the Workshop provides a set pattern for all mounted work by;
- clarifying position
- reinforcing neuralpathways to assist 'feel'
- adjusting misconceptions concerning the horse's balance
- as well as looking at all the dressage movements and the aids from the horse's point of view.
Because no horse is involved, students have greater freedom to experiment with their own position and the importance of working with gravity (Nature's aids) in every gait/transition and movement. This leads to a greater understanding of what works, what doesn't and why - both physically and mentally. Manoeuvres like counter-canter, rein-back and lateral work are all addressed as well as simple forwards, stop commands with the body rather than the hand. How to balance your head correctly and how much the rider's gaze influences the horse is also discussed and put into practice.
The Workshop is not physically demanding in the athletic sense, but anyone with back or neck problems may be advised to watch rather than actively participate. The organisers cannot be held responsible for any injury howsoever sustained.
Students should wear trainers or gym shoes and clothing that is not too restrictive. This is an indoor venue and we ask participants not to wear 'horsey' clothing as Sylvia is very allergic to horse-hair within a closed environment! There will be a half-hour break for Refreshments and book signing etc.
Students may find it helpful to familiarise themselves with Sylvia's DVD Balance & Bodywork beforehand, but this is not compulsory. The Clinic is very much hands-on which cannot be replicated at home.
Tickets £27.50 for CRC Members; £30.00 for non -Members Please click the relevant link to go directly to the appropriate section of our shop to purchase. Tickets will not be posted out but will be held at the door on the day.
Closing date for entry - 21st January, 2016.
We anticipate a large demand, so tickets will be restricted to a first come, first serve basis.
If you do not wish to order on line - please send a cheque made out to the Classical Riding Club - to
Long Acre, Belchamp Road, Tilbury Juxta Clare, HALSTEAD, CO9 4JT - together with your
email address/phone no for acknowledgement and confirmation.
Werner Poscharnigg takes you on a journey, bringing to life the history of Austrian riding. The reader is captivated from the first paragraph. An unexpected introduction that takes you on an invigorating exploration of the history of Austro-Hungarian equestrian tradition.
The author gives readers like myself, eager to know more about the history of equitation, the missing pieces of the evolution of riding. Historical events and the influences of the riding Masters of the past flow smoothly together throughout the book, making it an interesting read. This is not your suspect historical text book. Poscharnigg’s words breathe life back into the past, even giving life back to the Masters that have been more easily forgotten in modern day. Mainly forgotten as teaching was mainly done through the oral tradition, literature on the subject were rare. “Austrian Art of Riding” is a very special book, generously sharing with us Masters that have influenced the history of riding without the recognition they deserve. The missing pieces of the puzzle in the establishment of equestrian art have been recently uncovered enabling Poscharnigg to document a more accurate history than has previously been possible.
One of these Masters, who sadly passed before he was able to put his knowledge into written words was Johann Christoph Von Regenthal. I’m sure this book, at last, gives this Master the great recognition he deserves. I only wish Regenthal had been able to complete his book, I’m rather intrigued by Poscharnigg’s words on him and I am eager to learn more. This man was described by his famous student Reis Von Eisenberg as “…one of the noblest trainers at our time… Indeed his way to train horses is infallible.”
The author writes: “To become an elegant rider was a necessary part of the general education for all political leaders until World War I (1914 - 1918) and longer. Emperor, Kings… who cut a poor figure in the saddle were regarded as regrettable aberrations from the ideal. For he or she who could not control a horse without effort, was suspected of not being able to rule his country.” As I read on, I began to wonder what the world would be like today if the art of riding still played an important role in education.
After recently finishing the first part of Grisone’s book ‘The Rules of Riding’, I was delighted to find Poscharnigg had dedicated a chapter to this controversial Master. Grisone is mostly remembered for his barbaric methods of training horses. The author discusses why Grisone was considered a Master. I agree. Overlooking the monstrous punishments, there is a ‘treasure trove’ of knowledge written practically and comprehensively. Poscharnigg reminds the reader that “today it is not about the survival, but ridiculous vanities such as winning shows or getting prize money. Therefore, the poor creature has to bear mean spurs, bits, ‘auxiliary’ reins, rollkur… Horse torture of the 21st century is only passed on orally and is executed in secret”. The author urges the reader to understand Grisone further for themselves by reading ‘The Rules of Riding’.
For me, this highlights the sheer dedication and generosity the author has to write this book and to share his discoveries and own opinions with the reader. He has lovingly and painstakingly researched and studied the great Masters, a task in itself that could not be so easy. He shares little gems of discoveries throughout the book, a real treat! One that I must urge you to read and find these delights of history for yourself.
This book, the “Austrian Art of Riding” has an important role to play in keeping the traditions and principles of the classical art of riding alive for many years to come and as lovers of this art, we too, should endeavour to do the same or it will be lost forever. Now, that would be a real shame.
Claire Whitfield, December 2015
This book traces the history of horse riding in Austria over a period of five centuries, beginning right back in the age of chivalry when everyone was taught to ride and horses were used in tournaments. It covers both military and school riding and explains how these two branches of equestrianism were linked. It finishes in the 21st century when the need for the cavalry no longer exists, but high school riding is still supported and practised in Vienna at the Spanish Riding School. Riding in Austria had Spanish and Neapolitan origins and the history is closely related to riding in other parts of Europe, making the book of wide-ranging interest.
The content is unique because the author has reviewed recently discovered documents, and has therefore been able to present a more accurate history than was hitherto known. Some misconceptions have been corrected, one example being that the teachings of La Guérinière had much less influence over the training at the Spanish Riding school than had previously been thought.
Werner Poscharnigg examines the works of numerous famous and influential riders and explains their differing approaches to training and the roles they played in keeping the art of riding alive in Austria. It is interesting to see how the posture of the rider changed through the ages, and how different equipment was used at different times, but the author assures us that the key characteristics of Austrian riding — the softly swinging back of the horse and effortless riding with invisible aids — have remained unchanged for centuries.
A review of Grisone’s early book on the rules of riding reveals some rather barbaric practices, but an early Austrian author, by contrast, is shown to be all gentleness and kindness. Werner Poscharnigg discusses notes left by several chief riders of the Spanish Riding school and tells some interesting stories – you can find out which chief rider managed to ride a piaffe while balancing a glass of water on his horse’s croup without spilling a drop!
Instruction was passed down orally, and it seems this left leeway for chief riders to promote their own ideas, so that when changes occurred it is not clear that they were necessarily improvements. In the early days the cavesson was widely used in training. This is well illustrated in a book by Eisenberg who studied under Regenthal at the Spanish Riding School. Later on, the bridoon, unknown in earlier times, was in common use. Originally different coloured Lipizzaners were bred, but suddenly one chief rider decided to focus on breeding white horses. As a result of this evolution it is now generally held that the art of riding peaked in the 18th century. However, the author explains how Austrian riding has spread to other parts of the world and he projects an up-beat feel about the survival of this fine riding tradition.
The book is richly illustrated and it covers how riding has been illustrated in art – pictures by Ludwig Koch depicting correct and incorrect actions being of particular interest here. There are numerous photos of famous riders that have not been seen before, and there is plenty of information about training methods to keep riders interested. I had planned to skim-read the book in order to write this review, but I read every word, and I will certainly be dipping into it again. You can’t really understand the art of riding without studying the background, and this is one of the best sources of information available to date. It also includes references to further reading material. I am certain that anyone with an interest in classical riding will enjoy reading this book and I have no hesitation in recommending it.
Michael Stevens, December 2015
The last couple of weeks has seen a great deal of discussion and indeed some serious disagreements on the equestrian internet which have taken up rather more time than one would wish to confess. The more I learn about Facebook, the more exhausting it becomes, but I also know it can do a lot of good. Concentrating on the positives, I guess we all want to do the right thing... well, at least most of us! But are we in danger of becoming so zealous, that we are not always so kind to the human beings who own the horses we purport to want to help?
Judging by some of the critical remarks on various horsey Groups, people are all too often doing the wrong thing! But are they?
It's so easy of course to judge from behind the safety of a keyboard! So what are some of the favourite topics? Well, apart from bitless, shoeless (I'm not a fan of calling it barefoot, myself - one imagines children running down to the sea having thrown their plimsolls off), there's the anti- noseband people, the anti-double bridle people, the anti-lunge people, even the anti-stable people ... horses should be free! ... yes, OK if you own a prairie, or a very large piece of parkland, preferably with trees for shelter, a running stream or even better a lake! But for the rest of us - maybe it's not so bad to treat horses as we have for the past several decades - but instead of criticising others, concentrate instead on learning to ride them better. For me, that would be a very good way of removing one of the greatest obstacles (in my opinion) of making life more tolerable for all equines.
The thing is once you start banning things, no bits, no spurs, no carrying of a stick, you are assuming that people use these things unkindly - and yes, that may be true in some cases, but should everyone be tarred with the same brush? Is it not possible that a horse may be perfectly happy with a bit in his mouth if the hands that control it are light, feeling and know when to give and when to take, with finesse? Is it so bad to use a spur with an occasional 'prick' rather than constantly nagging, even booting legs? Is it OK to pull a horse into an outline in a snaffle, when sometimes a better result can be obtained in a tenth of the time in a double? One could go on and on. So while I really admire someone who can ride a whole dressage test without a bridle, a saddle, a stick or a spur... and I even might award some extra points in a dressage test re the latter too... that does not mean it is for everyone.
CRC has tried over the two decades since it came into existence to improve riding generally through its publications and internet site - as well as Facebook - to spread positive messages. Where however, people try to undermine or negate its principles - we stand up for ourselves. We have a rather strict pinned post at the top of our Group Page asking people to treat each other as nicely as they would like to be treated themselves. 'Do as you would be done to' is not a bad maxim for all of us, and of course there's no excuse surely to be nice to horses if one can't at least be polite to their owners? There are many people who can be pretty abusive to their animals, but unless one is there - to intervene on the spot - it is often easier to get through to them by persuasion rather than putting their backs up.
Changing our little horse world at a time like this ... when internationally all around is falling apart ... may seem futile at times. But sometimes it's all we have left - to do something small and make a difference. Especially for that horse standing out there in the field or in the stable.... he doesn't know about the bigger picture, thank God, but in his way he is just as much part of this world as we are.
The Master, Major Miguel Tavora, quietly sits in the corner, observing horse and rider warming up before him. Now and again he gives the odd, short, crisp instruction before returning to silence whilst he watches on. Calling the rider over, he discovers what he needs to know before sending them away again, this time he instructs them to work away from the wall to begin with, changing direction across the diagonals regularly. Why? Tavora explains that “it is very easy for the rider to become lazy when riding against the wall”. Quietly, he then makes his way into the centre of the school, where the work truly begins.
The second day of the clinic proved to be a real treat. We got to watch on as the Master lunged a 5 year old Thoroughbred, Charlie, before he was to be ridden. The overall aim of this lesson was to encourage the horse to begin to relax and work through his back. Side reins were positioned low, around the girth, before attaching them loosely to the bit. Tavora was clearly working with the concept of pressure and release. The pressure of the side reins were only applied when the horse was working incorrectly, in a hollow outline. Once Charlie had learned how to remove the pressure, through working in a better, more relaxed outline, he was able to remove the pressure for himself and the side reins slackened instantly. Charlie began to work more consistently, relaxing into a better, lengthened frame in the walk and take bigger walk steps. Transitioning to trot, Charlie displayed tension again. The Master was careful not to push the horse forward in the trot, ensuring the trot remained slow to encourage the horse to relax, again, to remove the influence of the side reins. With patience, Charlie began to settle and work through his back. Once satisfied that this 5 year old was beginning to use his body correctly, his rider was allowed to mount. Charlie was much more relaxed and willing through the remainder of the lesson. Tavora advised us that patience was needed, and that it was important to “relax the back, make it easier for him”.
A 6 year old Lusitano entered the school, also very tense and sharp. Unlike the Thoroughbred who hollowed himself, this boy had become over bent. “Let him have his neck”, advised the Master, “poll flexed, neck longer to stretch the top line. Soft. Pressure. Release”. He continued to advise the horse’s rider, “hands very down, a little more forward, fingers like silk. Everything very light”. Soon, the horse began to relax as he was encouraged to lengthen his neck. His movement became freer and a sense of calmness filled the air.
Throughout the day, we learn the importance of riding in “rising trot to refresh” the trot work. On a big circle, riders were asked to go more forward in to a medium trot whilst rising, then back to a more collected, sitting trot then forward again into rising trot “as this helps to improve the trot a little bit”. The audience also began to see what happened when the horse was allowed to rush down the long sides and how the rider needs to “avoid rushing the trot on the straight line… He will throw himself onto the forehand.” So what can we do if the horse begins to rush on a straight line? Try to rebalance through riding a circle or shoulder-in for instance. Make use of gymnastic exercises to help keep the horse supple. Aim to keep the rhythm, not allowing the horse to become stiff.
Julianne was riding her husband’s horse, Xix. The lesson began as the previous ones had before with Tavora quietly observing. “You are kicking him with the spur every single stride, allow your leg to be longer”. The Master asked for permission to ride her horse. Off Tavora and Xix went, working in silence, completely focussed on each other in deep conversation. Throughout, the Lusitano worked in a school walk and school trot to aid his balance. Meanwhile, his shoulders became freer, more elevated and the strides slower, with more expression and power. Tavora worked Xix through transitions, shoulder-in and haunches-in on a big circle, occasionally taking the horse large. The movement became slower but more powerful, more elegant. Xix was becoming more responsive to the aids of the Master and as a result, had lifted in front and was now working from the hindquarters and through his back. It was wonderful to see the change and in a short time together. Both horse and rider were in harmony, there was no force just mutual understanding.
Tavora then explained, as he rewarded the horse a long rein, how the work was to help the horse to become more responsive to the leg. “Timing is key”, he goes on to explain “if you’re not able to drop your leg, you’re not able to let the horse through and the connection is lost”. What is important about a rider’s position, is the ability to apply the aids with the right timing and in the right place, this will less disturb the horse’s balance. It is most “important [to know] when to stop the aid. Stop when you got what you need”.
The Master was strict, always insisting when discussing that the rider should stop to talk. It was polite to do so. He was quick to stop and correct the rider if an exercise wasn’t being ridden correctly. He was quiet when he needed to be and spoke when he needed to, even if only a few words, it was enough to get his point across. He showed humour “have you lost something?” he asked, looking around on the floor near the combination as the rider was looking round at her horse’s body, to check bend, “look through the ears!” Tavora also showed generosity, taking the time during his breaks and lunches to discuss questions anyone should have.
Overall, it was a very insightful clinic. Each rider was able to take something away with them, each one wearing a big smile as their lesson came to a close. Every horse was beautifully turned out. It was so refreshing to see an improvement in every horse and their way of going, with no force just calm work and relaxation. It was also a wonderful display of a variety of breeds, Thoroughbreds, Trakehners, Warmbloods and Lusitanos all confirming that Classical Dressage is for any horse when working with the correct gymnastic exercises for the individual horse. The clinic really highlighted to me the importance of people becoming more aware of their horse’s natural abilities, for example, an Iberian is naturally more able to collect whereas a Warmblood will find this more difficult than they would to lengthen. It is being aware of this and adapting the work to the individual. The whole atmosphere was wonderful, Water Farm were so warm and welcoming, supplying us with delicious home cooked food for lunch to warm us up ready and energised for an afternoon of learning.
Sylvia Loch was asked by Portugal to host this clinic on behalf of The Classical Riding Club. Thank you to Sylvia for accepting the offer and rare opportunity of a much respected master, Major Miguel Tavora to come to England to share his knowledge and insight amongst riders and spectators alike. Tavora currently lives in Australia where he coaches a number of Grand Prix riders at M & D Tavora School of Equitation which he runs with his wife.
It seems that nowadays we read less and less. Or rather, it seems we read fewer and fewer books. The crisis of this powerful means of communication is now supported by a thousand statistics. For most people, it seems that they are bombarded with too many messages to find the time to devote themselves to books. Undoubtedly, compared to television and social media, books require more zeal and concentration and, in an increasingly frantic and superficial world, this makes them less attractive than other means of communication. Nevertheless, I’m still deeply convinced, that those who regularly predict the inexorable disappearance of books are wrong. This is because books have a force that only books possess and that, even in the age of Facebook and Twitter, this force is still irreplaceable. Books keep on being the ideal vehicle for the irrepressible need of men and women to give voice to their feelings and to pass on their knowledge,overcoming the barriers of space and time. This is what continues to make books able to move and fascinate us. And it makes no difference if today they turn into immaterial objects, which we can download with a click on our tablets. A book is not, in fact, just an object, but it is first and foremost an intention: the vector of a creative energy that can change our existence.
There are many books that have influenced my life and my views, making me what I am today. However, I can say that only a few have really produced a deep change. And it is of one of these in particular that I want to tell you.
About twenty-five years ago, I was on holiday in London. As I always do (at least in the places where I still find them), as well as visiting museums and monuments, I also visited various bookshops in the area of Charing Cross Road, a place famous for its second hand and antique bookshops. At that time, I already had been riding horses for more than a decade and I had experienced how difficult it was to find books about horseback riding in Italy. For this reason, my curiosity was particularly attracted to the shelves devoted to publications about horses and the equestrian art. I remember that while I was scrutinizing the volumes in a very large, four story bookshop, my gaze was captured by a big, beautiful book. The cover was superb - a magnificent picture by the famous equestrian English painter John Wotton (1682-1764). It portrayed Ferdinand Albrecht, later Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, in his eighteenth-century dress, mounted on a beautiful gray stallion. For me, that image finally summarized the elegance, strength and dignity that I, vaguely, sensed as the most attractive essence of horseback riding.
That picture showed me an ideal of rigor, grace and lightness, but also of strength and agility, that I had hardly ever seen in contemporary riders and that, in that moment, I realized belonged to a different era and to another way of conceiving equitation. That revelation brought me a new consciousness: that was the way of conceiving and practicing the equestrian art that I wanted to become mine too.
I already began to devour the book on the underground that brought me back to the hotel. I was fascinated by the beautiful pictures and by the story of an equestrian tradition rooted in classical antiquity. No matter if I did not understand everything of that story. There were, in fact, names and technical terms that I confess, at the time, I had never heard before and I did not comprehend. But I understood that in those pages, an ancient wisdom was evoked: wisdom developed in millennia of coexistence between man and horse. The same wisdom and skill that made possible that miracle of refinement that struck me in the cover picture of the book and that I also found in many other pictures of that beautiful edition. But above all, two things were clear to me. The first was that the culture of my country had, in the past, a major role in the evolution of the equestrian tradition. The other was that there were still places in the world where this tradition was kept alive by people who may still be considered its interpreters and custodians. These two certainties were a good starting point.
At that time, I was a young student of literature, who was on the point of discussing his graduation thesis. I had already begun to publish essays and reviews in various magazines and I dreamed of a career in the field of research. It was, therefore, quite logical that reading this book suggested to me the idea to deepen the study of the first Italian equestrian treatises. I still remember the great emotion I felt while leafing through, for the first time, a sixteenth century edition of the Ordini di cavalcare (Rules of Riding) by Federico Grisone, at the Central National Library in Rome.
Those readings sent my mind adrift. Some years before I already visited Jerez de la Frontera, in Spain, and I was dazzled by the beauty of the famous cartujanos horses and by the skill of the jinetes of the Real Escuela. Now I wanted to broaden my horizon. Among the illustrations of the book that had most attracted my attention, there was a picture that showed a group of Portuguese riders, mounted on beautiful Alter-Real stallions, performing in the garden of a mysterious Palace of Queluz. I had found another destination for a new equestrian pilgrimage.
You should consider that at the time the Web did not exist. Today if you want to know something about a place or a person, you just search for them on Google. At that time, instead, someone had to tell you about it. Or you should have the luck to stumble on a newspaper article, on a book, or on some rare television documentary. My first riding master (who had worked in Spain with Sergio Leone’s crew) often told me about the splendors of Andalusian horsemanship. She mentioned once that in Portugal there were riders who were considered even more refined. And it was exactly for this reason that that picture of the equestrian carousel in the gardens of Queluz ignited my imagination.
A couple of years later, I crossed Europe in a camper with a group of friends in the direction of Portugal. My friends were simply on holiday. I had, instead, a clear goal: Queluz. We arrived early in the morning. Outside of the magnificent palace there were few cars parked. At the ticket office I did not find any trace of the presence of an equestrian school. I asked the guy who was at the entrance. He looked at me quizzically. Then, when I finally managed to explain what I was looking for, he said that there was no school there. The horses were in Lisbon, at the Jockey Club. They had performed a few times in the gardens of the Palace and it was perhaps in one of those occasions that the picture I had seen was taken.
In short: a failure. However, it was during that trip that, in a small bookshop near the famous cafe A Brasileira, in the center of Lisbon, I found the French edition of Nuno Oliveira’s complete works (Éditions Crépin Leblond) and the beautiful volume by Fernando Sommer D’Andrade, about Portuguese bullfighting on horseback. More tracks for me to follow and other ideas to make my imagination run wild.
Since then, many years have passed and I returned many times in Portugal. Not only I have seen many shows of those incredible riders of Queluz who form the Escola Portuguesa de Arte Equestre, but I also assisted in their training, visited their stables, met them personally and become friends with many of them. I also had the pleasure and honor to take riding lessons from some of them. Meanwhile, although I became a journalist in the field of politics, I kept on studying the ancient treatises about horsemanship and I finally published the results of my research in a book.
I do not think this would have happened, if one afternoon many years ago, in London, I hadn't bought Dressage: the Art of Classical Riding by Sylvia Loch. That book has literally changed the course of my life. It induced me to travel, to study, to write. It opened a window to a wonderful world and showed me a path along which I met many people and great friendships were born, I read books, I learned a lot of things, I got excited, and I had fun. All of this was gifted to me by a person who I did not have the pleasure, nor the honor, to meet personally, but in spite of this, I am grateful to her as to a benefactor.
Every writer first of all obeys to the personal need of expressing his dreams, of giving shape to his own experiences and, in some cases, of exorcising his obsessions. When this impulse is translated into action, and feelings and ideas become written discourse, the author abandons his work to others, hoping that they can benefit from it. It is impossible to determine which short circuits trigger the decisive spark, but some books speak to us differently. They touch keys to which we are more sensitive and so they produce great changes.
I recently joined the group that Sylvia Loch founded on Facebook and I began to regularly post small excerpts of my articles. On several occasions Sylvia’s comments confirmed to me that she appreciated what I had published.
But it was an extraordinary accident that induced me to write this article and to let her know what the influence her work has had on my life and to tell you an example of the unique power of books. At the beginning of this summer, I visited the beautiful equestrian library that has been recently opened in the Palace of Queluz (you can read the article I wrote for this blog by clicking on the following link: The new Equestrian Art Library in Queluz, Portugal).
After seeing, with enchanted eyes, the shelves on which are preserved many precious ancient books about horsemanship, my gaze was drawn to the shelf of recent publications. That's when, with a soaring heart, I discovered the American edition of my book right next to that volume by Sylvia Loch’s from which everything began so many years ago. The circle had finally come full. Thank you, Sylvia!
(*) Author of the book The Italian Tradition of Equestrian Art: A survey of the treatises on chivalry from the Renaissance and the centuries following (Xenophon Press, 2014) and of the blog WORKSOFCHIVALRY.COM