I used to be really into dressage as a kid. It was what I wanted to do when I grew up. But then I grew up, and realized things had changed.
Yes, dressage is the hardest thing to do on a horse. Yes, dressage horses are the most balanced in the way they move. The problem is, the horse doesn't know either of those things. All they know is that they are being made to spend a lot of energy doing things they don't normally do and probably can't understand the purpose of.
Now I don't think any of that means we shouldn't do dressage. But it does mean we have to be very careful and patient with the training - and that used to be exactly what dressage was about. But now because of competitive pressures, that ethic is eroding. If dressage riders (as a whole) still really had their horses' best interests at heart, could Rollkur have gotten as far as it has? Would we be hearing about trainers using hot wire to teach piaffe?
Now those of you who are dressage riders might be saying "well I don't use either of those methods," and that's fair enough. I am just pointing out that competitive pressures have a way of pushing back the boundaries of what is considered good training or even humane. When you're asking as much of your horse as you do in dressage, that's a real concern.
I agree with the above. Dressage originated as a way to show off horses that were trained for combat. It was done by military personnel and their cavalry horses. Over the past two centuries, Dressage has devolved into just another equestrian "sport" that many do whatever it takes to win. Very sad indeed.
I cringe every time I see Anky or Werth just about get bounced out of their saddles at an extended trot, or their hands bouncing 2-3" or more out of place during a sitting trot. It's disgusting.
The horses that have been doing dressage the longest, and thus the ones that do it the most naturally, are andalusians and their close relatives (of which the lipizzanner is one). Warmbloods only became popular for dressage because competitive dressage started in Germany where warmbloods are common. The most popular choice isn't always the best. Not that I hate warmbloods, but this is important for two reasons: 1) When you pick the horse with the most natural talent, you can use gentler training methods and equipment and 2) the longer a horse has been bred to do a certain thing, the happier they will be doing it.
Warmbloods became popular because of their "flashy" front end movement. That foot flicking at the extended trot is actually a sign of tension in the neck and/or shoulders! It really should be PENALIZED, but unfortunately judges seem to like it...
Same for the dragging hind feet but high stepping front at Passage and Piaffe. Again, that should be penalized as the rull book says the front AND hinds should maintain the SAME elevation, but the judges don't seem to notice...
There seems to be an attitude among riders (and it can be a problem in all disciplines) that tackling hard cases - horses that don't do what we want them to do very easily, either because of talent or temperament - makes one a better rider and is something to be proud of. But our horses would be much happier if we took the path of least resistance and did with them what they do most naturally.
EXACTLY! There are so few horses out there that are REALLY good at Dressage past 1st level... Yet we see many pros and amateurs alike forcing horses to do medium and upper levels tests. You can see it in the horse that he/she is having a very hard time, yet the horse still gets high enough scores to continue.
And the scores are another thing... WHEN did someone decide that a 70% was a winning upper level score??? 70% is barely above average. 60-65% is a winning score in lower level, and IMO, that is retched. Did your mom ever give you a cookie for a D on an exam??
The bottom line really is that dressage was not meant to be a competitive sport, and it's being ruined because of it. ALL disciplines have the potential to be inhumane if the people doing them get caught up in competition. I fear that dressage riders are losing sight of what the discipline is really supposed to be about, yet because of the noble reputation dressage has many of them don't think twice about whether what they're doing is really good for their horses.
The problem is the judges. If we could get judges in the sport that were NOT ALLOWED to show, train, or breed Dressage horses while they are judging or 3-5 years previous to judging, then we would have more objective scoring. As it is, there are no restrictions on who can be a judge, besides taking a test. I am not even sure there are written restrictions on judging your own students! (I could be wrong on that of course, but I don't remember reading anything like that when reviewing USDF and FEI judging regulations a couple years back).
So, you get this "club" of judges, trainers, and riders who decide what "trends" will win this year at the upper levels. It's just ridiculous. Even the president of the FEI sees the corruption in the Dressage community. Read what she has to say: http://www.kouluratsastus.net/FEInkirje.pdf