Dressage System? I don't think so!


Well I am going to play devil's advocate as usual. I was on Facebook the other day and I saw a lady whose name I forget - running a webinar to help people decide what dressage training system they were going to follow. Well as far as I am concerned, there is only one system to all riding - the one that doesn't make the horse lame! I have ridden for over 40 years - all different kinds of horses from Thoroughbreds off the track, to warmbloods, Arabs, QH and draft crosses, and I can tell you the only way to ride a horse regardless of discipline is the way their body was meant to work. I have been an equine body worker for 35 years and I have seen the havoc that incorrect training in any form, has on the horse's body.

My Appendix gelding in this photo came to me from Hunter/Jumper land, on the forehand, bunny hopping and switching leads in canter with absolutely no Clue how to use his hind end. Bandit was stiff as a board and very cranky. Now he is soft, much more supple, happy to work and learning Piaffe, lateral work and flying changes. Oh and by the way, his jumping has also improved dramatically. I ride with the principles of the Old Masters - they knew a thing or two, and their methods are hundreds of years old. Philippe Karl promotes this work, and it has transformed a very ordinary inexpensive horse into an athlete who goes on the weight of the rein, with no devices and pure, clean gaits.

To me it doesn't matter what discipline you are into, Western or English, the reason I say that there is only one system of training - is because the horse's body is only meant to work one way to stay sound. Simple. There is no such thing as "competitive dressage" in my mind because if your horse is light, balanced, supple and happy - you'll have a great test! It's like saying; "I'm going to the gym to decide which system I'm going to use to lift weights". The bottom line is that if you lift weights incorrectly you are going to hurt yourself. The same with the horse - on the forehand, behind the bit, poll lower than the neck is going to make the horse lame over time - no matter what the judges are saying. Many of them don't know what correct movement is, they judge everything off Warmblood movement, but there is correct and incorrect regardless of breed. So sorry to throw the cat amongst the pigeons, but there's got to be a reason my horses stay sound into their 30's. Yes there are different approaches but the system doesn't change, the horse's body works a certain way and that's all there is to it. Basics. We need to get back to Common sense which seems to have become uncommon these days. People getting caught up in fads and trends which ignore the welfare of the horse.

The fundamentals of riding are calm, straight and forward. A horse cannot go forward if they are off balance, so lengthened gaits is the last step. Slowing the horse down almost to a crawl at the walk actually makes them think about each leg, and it's amazing how many horses cannot stay straight unless they are rushing! The slowness builds precision, balance and suppleness, and helps to calm the mind. A hurried horse will be stressed. Once balance and self carriage become more established, the horse then is ready to lengthen stride or pick up the pace. A good walk can be slow with a lot of activity in the joints, or elevation, but a long walk that is rushing is only making the horse stiff and on the forehand. If you look at the photo, the nose is not behind the vertical, the poll is higher than the neck and the angles of both front and hind leg cannon bones is the exact same. This shows that the horse is working in balance, and my hands are high to help the horse stay off the forehand. The higher hand also puts the bit at the corners of the mouth, which is annoying but not painful. It encourages chewing and the release of the jaw. The lower hand so often seen today, drops the bit so that it pinches the tongue, this hurts the horse and makes them pull against your hand, so over time the horse becomes heavier and more resistant to rein aids, instead of becoming lighter and softer. Position is everything, and always precedes action. Incorrect position of either horse or rider will not produce good and correct movement.

It is up to us to educate ourselves and learn the principles of good, balanced riding. Our horses will stay sounder and happier, you will reduce vet bills and your horse will be so much happier. Who doesn't want that? My horse is also barefoot and that too makes a huge difference in movement. So do some research my friends, and go back 50 years or more to a time when we had no technology, seek out the ancient writings available today, and you will discover a world of knowledge! Seek out Podjasky, de la Guerniere, Baucher, Steinbrecht, DeCarpentery and Philippe Karl. Wonderful books and miles ahead in the training. Enjoy the journey!