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
The serpentine is one of the best exercises to teach straightness to your horse. It should be introduced once the horse is going calmly forward, both out hacking and in the school, and can manoeuvre on big circles and corners without undue stress or difficulty. In the early days, I am talking here about large loop serpentines, e.g. three in a 20 x 40 m school; four (later more) in a 20 x 60 metre. At a much later stage the serpentine can be condensed into smaller, narrower turns and loops with the aids given in exactly the same way but in a more rapid sequence. This is an excellent exercise for the more advanced horses.
Perhaps the reason we see so few serpentines being ridden at lower levels is because riders are taught to put straightness before all else, but they are not told how. Today, I find many riders thinking straightness will only come from concentrating on straight lines. This a fallacy. They trot briskly round the arena wall for several minutes at a time, often without changing the rein and then wonder why their horse continues to fall in or out on one rein or the other, and is demonstrably crooked throughout.
We also hear a lot about 'straightness training' these days, but until the horse can bend with equal suppleness both to right and left, disappointment will follow.
I would go so far as to say that no horse can ever be straight without a degree of bend on both reins. Why? Because due to our weight in the saddle, the horse is unable to push his bulk adequately forward and straight, without a generous degree of push from behind. It is this engagement of the hindlimb joints that makes for a straight horse, but strong hindlegs come from hocks that can flex and step deeper underneath. and this can only improve with bend exercises. If one hindleg is weaker than the other, the horse will generally fall into the side of the weakness, but with correct empathetic schooling these weaknesses can be overcome and there are other ways of helping.
Another reason that will encourage crookedness is when the rider is stronger to one side than the other. Repeated leg aids with the stronger leg will tend to make the horse more resistant to that side and many horses, far from moving away from pressure, will resist by moving into it. Others may 'jack-knife' in response, but neither scenario is helpful to straightness.
It is for this reason that the rider must be very clear as to where their inside leg is placed, and they must also make sure that the outside leg and outside rein is not telling the horse to move away from the track, when actually they need to bend and stay out to the track, or out to the circle as the case may be.
All this brings us back to the Serpentine. Once we have mastered the correct aids, it will be a joy to aim for straightness as you leave or approach the arena wall and cross the centre-line. At this point the horse should be absolutely straight for at least three or four steps before the rider carefully prepares him for the next bend. Due to the change of rein, the new inside leg must recognise its role and important position at the girth, which is every bit as important as the necessary outside aids. Riding serpentines definitely requires more concentration than riding circles, but they will really develop the rider's responsiveness as well as that of the horse.
Before I ask a new student to ride a serpentine or even a straightforward figure of 8, I first ask them what aids they use to turn right or left to leave the arena wall. If the answer is to take back on the inside rein and to place the inside leg behind the girth I know they must first be taught to ride a turn on the hocks. This requires that the hands remain as a pair with only a very gentle feel on the inside rein. They must then learn to 'drop'their inside leg at the girth, with a little more weight into the inside stirrup. The acid test for how much to bend the horse's neck is to see no more than his inside eye, since it is the whole horse that we are turning here... not just the forehand and there must be no separation of the hands- just finger control. The outside leg then complements the outside rein which will move gently against the neck. Depending on the horse, the outside leg then nudges or gives a little tap behind the girth to move the horse away from the track.
Once this is done, the rider must encourage the horse to proceed forward and straight to the centre-line with a touch of the inside leg. Horses tend to want to turn too much as they move off, which is why it is very important for the inside leg to act immediately.
BY this time, the horse should be looking and moving forward to the other side, but before he reaches it, the rider must calmly prepare him for the new bend, again by gently encouraging him to look in the new direction, but on this occasion to use the inside leg to send him into the bend and up to the track.
In this way we see the Serpentine as an excellent exercise to teach the horse to respond to the outside aids, (i.e.as in turn on the haunches), and to the inside aids (as though riding out to a circle).
Once the Serpentine is introduced into all your programmes, both for young, stiff, or older horses, straightness and manoeuvrability should automatically improve and all because the horse has become more supple through his body as a result of strengthening behind. Read THE BALANCED HORSE for more on bend and straightness and teaching the horse to take his weight back. Always be aware that very few horses, and equally few people, are born to be equally dextrous on both sides. Often the horse merely mirrors our weaknesses, and it is a wise rider that knows how to correct and make the most of the many exercises available to help us both.
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Such excitement! I had written my Foreword... For AUSTRIAN ART OF RIDING ... (one of three) ...my good friend Charles de Kunffy, being another... and I had seen a proof.
But - there's nothing quite like opening a brand new book based on a subject close to your heart, and knowing it's now out there! My good friend, the erudite Werner Poscharnigg has written a beautifully illustrated and researched book, which was badly needed. Names which I'd heard of but knew next to nothing about are all there; methods for the training of horses in all the countries that were part of the great Austro-Hungarian Empire spring to life . The good, the bad and the ugly training methods are discussed in detail. What is interesting, is this: even the harshest masters of the period, even before Classical Riding was revived... understood about the cessation of the aid ( ie the giving of the hand, and of the leg) in the training of the horse. That's a principle not sufficiently adhered to by today 's teachers or today's riders, but that's just one tiny aspect of this book.
British Dressage and The Lusitano Breed Society of Great Britain have recently launched a special Championship exclusive to registered pure and partbred horses. This is a great opportunity to compete like for like under Rules, and promises to be well supported. The Championship is being sponsored by Premium Medical Protection.
It will be open to pure and part bred Lusitanos registered with the LBSGB and competing at Prelim, Novice, Elementary or Medium. It is hoped that higher levels will be added in coming years. Riders must be BD Members & LBSGB members to Compete.
To qualify for the championship, two scores of 60% or above, achieved this year in regular Affiliated BD, or Team Quest competitions at the level the rider aims to qualify for, are required. Qualifying Scores must be sent to Karen Beaumont
Karen.Beaumont@britishdressage.co.uk. The cut off date for qualification is September 30th.
The Prelim is open to riders and horses who are associate members of BD - which is free of charge - and who are eligible to compete at this level under BD rules. Above that level, non BD members can compete on class tickets - BD will provide two free class tickets for anyone who is not a full BD member, who would like to attempt to qualify for a place in the championship final.
Combinations can compete and qualify at different levels, but can only compete in two classes at the final.
The final will be held at Keysoe on November 7th 2015.
Prize Money will be awarded to Winners at each level.
1st Place £50
2nd Place £25
3rd Place £25
Get your entries in now
The Classical Riding Club is opposed to Rollkur, we do not condone it in any form which is reflected in our Dressage Judging System.
Rollkur - contrary to what many riders think - is not a suppling process other than to "rubberise" the horse's neck. This practice is considered very harmful by all the great Master Trainers of the last 2 centuries. It causes blockages to occur between the horse's back and his shoulders, so that the energy from the hindlegs will not be carried "through". This would explain the lack of engagement that we see in many competition horses today, where the front legs have a very stilted, exaggerated action and the hindlegs do not match them.
What is Rollkur?
Rollkur is just a name for what most trainers, like myself, used to call severe overbending. Briefly, the outward visible signs are:
Horse's head behind the vertical
Poll no longer the highest point
Horse unable to see where he is going
Some of the ill-effects of such unnatural posture are:
Damage to ligaments between the wither and the base of the neck
Hollowing (under saddle) of horse's back
Tightening and tension in scalenius muscles of neck
Restriction of air flow through nostrils
Other various rebound effects, e.g. clamping of horse's jaw, mental stress, swishing tail, blocking through spinal processes...
... All of which combine to give an appearance of a tight, 'stuffy' horse which does not flow throughout his body.
The alternative to Rollkur to supple the horse CORRECTLY is to work the horse on a long-rein with soft, yielding hands first in walk, later as the horse gets stronger, in trot and in canter. The importance of the rider's leg acting at the girth to support the horse's back is vital, throughout this process.
Until we can promote a better philosophy of riding - based on biomechanical truths - incorrect procedures like the Rollkur and all the other travesties - will continue to degrade Dressage as a Discipline.
The "Blue Tongue World Cup" video on You Tube this week is therefore very much a symptom of all that is wrong about Dressage Training today. People are bypassing the old, proven methods where the rider trains at the horse's own pace (as promoted by The Spanish Riding School of Vienna) and are now using abusive shortcut methods in order to win over the judges.
What does this say about judging today?
What does it say about crowd pleasing?
What does it say about the education of riders?
CRC has often been accused of living in the past or being fuddy-duddy. Sylvia Loch has been accused of being an "old curmudgeon"! Isn't that better than being actively cruel and ruining the lives of hundreds of horses?
People need to be educated as to what is pure and correct (i.e. classical) if dressage is to remain a reputable discipline. We don't pretend to know all the answers but we have made a start and implore you to offer your support.
Please add your signature to the petition to request the FEI ban Hyperflexion in the Competition.
About 20 or so years ago a fashion crept in for putting horses in drawreins with the idea that they would come onto the bit more easily and so produce a 'better outline'. We saw this happening not only in dressage circles but also in jumping and eventing yards and even some riding schools.
Those of us who were able to work horses correctly and gradually, thereby achieving a softer, 'rounder' way of going, railed against these methods arguing that unless the rider was very skilled, more harm could be done than good. We also pointed out that a skilled rider should not need such artificial aids and that introducing them too early - especially with the young horse - could lead to muscle wastage between the wither and the base of the neck with real trauma and lasting damage done to the ligaments particularly that of the trapezius.
Between 1992 and 1994 I ran a Petition to gather signatures against the use of Drawreins for competition horses. This was before the age of the Internet and sadly, we never really got the momentum or the number of supporters we had hoped to achieve, although I kept writing articles and books to demonstrate my concerns. Now, although drawreins are still used all over the world and in all spheres of riding, things have worsened. Today we are seeing dressage judges rewarding horses that are clearly overbent and thus ignoring their own rules, i.e. the FEI Dressage Rules and Principles. Riders will school for hours and hours, not necessarily in drawreins but with such an unyielding contact that the horse is equally constricted and 'tied in' (as he would in tight drawreins) to the extent that he becomes no more than a slave in bondage.
Whilst there are many veterinarians and other experts out there who warn against the effect of Overbending and Rollkur there is as yet no real will for change. We lack at top level, the recognition of the harm that these methods do from those who govern equestrian sport. As long as the horse performs, most authorities seem unwilling to acknowledge the horse could be working in real pain. Yet surely, common sense and observation of how the horse moves naturally, should tell us to abandon these practices? If in any doubt as to the chain effect of forced posture - try this.
Try jogging, dancing or jumping (as in dressage and showjumping) with your chin pulled in towards your chest. You may still be able to jog, dance and jump, but the pain over your neck and back will be excruciating. The longer you do it, the worse it will get. If you are still in doubt, now try carrying a weight on your back at the same time. The difference is you can scream. The horse cannot!
BHS Release Further Statement.
"As the debate over the use of hyperflexion as a training technique continues, The British Horse Society's policy may be stated as follows:
The British Horse Society strongly recommends that all riders training horses on the flat and over fences should adhere to the official instruction handbook of the German National Equestrian Federation. Whilst we appreciate that horses are as individual as humans, and that some may require corrective schooling, the BHS's stand on hyperflexion (by which we mean the extreme flexion of the horse's head and neck beyond normal limits) remains clear: it is an unacceptable method of training horses by any rider for any length of time.
We recognise that the scientific evidence is conflicting, and likely to remain so as each party seeks determinedly to prove its case. For this reason we doubt that science will ever provide a single, clear, unambiguous and unarguable answer. It therefore falls to humans to do what the horses cannot, namely to follow the precautionary principle: as nature provides no evidence of horses choosing to move in hyperflexion for an extended period of time; and as hyperflexion can create tension in the horse's neck and back which has no justifying necessity; and as the horse in hyperflexion is, by definition, unable fully to use its neck; and as the psychological consequences of such treatment remain latent (perhaps in an analogous position with horses which are whipped aggressively but which can still pass a five star vetting), we should take all appropriate steps to discourage the use of this training technique, for the horse's sake."
Letter to Horse and Hound
The following letter from Sylvia was published in Horse and Hound, Thursday 18th February 2010.
It was heartening to read the FEI Statement concerning the discreditation of Rollkur as a so-called 'training technique' this week. Gerd Heuschmann, the German vet has consistently put across the harsh reality for horses of this punishing way of schooling, as have organisations like The Classical Riding Club who were the first in this country to petition against extreme over-bending back in the early 1990s. The point is a good horseman or woman has no need for these artificial methods. Breaking down the horse's neck muscles in the more extreme cases, may give the rider more control but when the horse cannot see further than his front feet, it most certainly becomes a welfare issue. No wonder Gerd was able to draw on over 41,000 signatures to say 'enough is enough!'
The stance of the British Horse Society on the subject was admirable. As reported under your News column, the psychological consequences of rollkur are undeniable and it is very much hoped that British Dressage will now encourage our judges to mark in favour of horses who are not 'tied in' in any form of test. At prelim and novice levels, it would be good to see young horses allowed to adopt a more natural position of the head and neck without being marked down, and at more advanced levels, the FEI rule of poll the highest point and lightness of the forehand, must be more strictly adhered to. Flashy, incorrect paces may wow the crowds, but surely the horse's wellbeing and state of mind comes first?
Sylvia Loch, Eden Hall, KELSO, Roxburghshire, TD5 7QD
As a result of the "Blue Tongue" Epona clip we have sent the following letter to the FEI
The Classical Riding Club is aware of the enormous outpouring of public outrage prompted by the Epona (You Tube) film clip of a top competition dressage horse being worked in Rollkur before a competition event. Scenes like these and the suffering of dressage horses could so easily be avoided for the future with the right checks and controls in place.
I would refer the FEI to my courteous Letter to the Princess Haya, President of the FEI sent in August 2009.
Enclosed with this letter was a copy of 'Making a Difference' - Dressage Rules and Guidelines' (published by The Classical Riding Club in l998) in which ideas are offered which could revolutionise the present system of judge training and marking. Ideas borrowed and implemented from this publication would go a long way to assist in upholding the FEI Object and General Principles of Dressage, which have been too easily ignored or overlooked in the past few years.
It was further suggested that dialogue with the Classical Riding Club and other interested international parties might lead to a state...
where as quoted from my letter '...we would swiftly remove those practices which have led to stressful training, robotlike performance and of course the need for methods like the rollkur, etc' which are bringing the sport into disrepute.
In view of the present crisis of training, the Epona clip being just one example of some of the training travesties that exist at this time, we now ask for a response to our friendly and peaceful endeavours to assist in these matters.
The future integrity of the discipline depends upon openess and dialogue with all concerned. Please may we expect a reply?
Sylvia Loch Director of The Classical Riding Club
Reply received from FEI:
Dear Ms Loch,
Thank you very much for your email.
The FEI is aware of the video filmed by Epona.tv at the FEI World Cup TM Dressage qualifier at Odense (DEN) and posted on YouTube. FEI’s main concern has always been and will always be the welfare of the horse. We are taking the issues raised in the video and in the comments made by members of the public on social media very seriously and have opened a full investigation. The conclusions of this investigation will be made public in due course.
Fédération Equestre Internationale
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