No, I don't agree. You're certainly entitled to your opinion, though.
What level a horse can reach, really depends a lot - on temperament, soundness, conformation, gaits, health, many things.
I don't feel it's even just a matter of competing or not.
Most people, they will compete, at most, at first level. They may school, at most, at second level. All their life. Most horses, if reasonably sound, can do that. So for most people that ride dressage, the question is a moot point.
Most people, also, aren't so ambitious that they get carried away and start pushing a horse just for their own vanity or so they can show off and impress people. Most folks are good about that.
How about the upper levels? Then it gets tougher, I think.
A horse can't just do piaffe and passage like party tricks. They require fitness - a very high level of fitness, or they strain the animal. They can't come out and just 'do tricks' once in a while, and not be doing all the background fitness work too. Not fair, too much strain and wear on their joints. Being ridden occasionally and not in top condition and being asked to do advanced work - no, not fair.
For example, depending on the horse, it might 'park' at what amounts to second or fourth, or PSG, or I1, or I2, or doing GP at 'half power' instead of 'full power'. A better trainer may be able to surmount the training problems, but as Reiner Klimke said, you can't get out what God doesn't put in.
Imagine how angry people get when told their darling should not be pushed on to Grand Prix. Seen that, that's ugly. But in all honesty a good trainer just has to come out and be truthful or they are not serving the horse. And basically, the trainer is there to benefit the horse, not the owner. That's his job, to keep things on an even and fair keel.
The horse may be fine to do lighter work, with less impulsion. So a horse can even be a good horse at local shows, but not be able to produce the kind of energy and activity required for a tougher competition.
If it's not in the horse's best interests to do the work, I wouldn't do it.
One gets to a certain level with some horses, and can see the horse trying his heart out but really physically struggling - even with the best trainer in the world - that might be at second level, but it's usually would be higher.
Horses can have many different problems - poorly balanced body, some arthritis coming on, weak hocks, a weak back, all sorts of things. An animal with poor natural balance that is going against nature to do hard upper level dressage stuff just to please his rider and give him something to show off at the stable OR the horse show - not good.
I've seen people do this. Often because they lack the money to go out and get a new horse, so one with poor conformation/gaits gets pushed into the role. I've seen some horrible things - trying to force a horse along, screaming at the horse, the ambitious rider beating the horse...no.
There is a limit. And not just frank unsoundness. A four foot tall basketball player is going to be putting a strain on himself every single time he goes out on the court. Some kinds of conformation really are like a four foot tall guy trying to play in the NBA.
Not just to affect showing, but to how much collection the horse should do, and what movements, figures.
I used to hear some of the more traditional trainers say, 'nice second level horse' or 'nice fourth level horse'. What they meant was, you go beyond that, you're risking making that horse's retirement come a whole lot sooner and be a whole lot more painful. We have to leave the horse at a 'sustainable level'. Something he can do comfortably, naturally, without risk.
Last edited by slc; 02-20-2011 at 08:26 PM.