JOE & DRESSAGE
Well in any private livery yard, there are going to be at least two active camps - the Jumping Jodfers and the Dressage Dainties. Then of course there are the Happy Hackers. Joe was made a member of the HH as soon as he arrived at Ceciliaes place - he being a: eGo Where No Horse Has Gone Before Chape. Whatfs more he would hack with gusto. Until he started to develop deviations, there was absolutely no thought that he would trip the light fantastic in dressage style However when the Lady Christine was allowed to play with our boy a new theme developed. Joe was to be taught to tango. The Lady C was quite explicit, Joe had got the capability to dance and, lo and behold, he quickly showed signs of being able to do the Military Twostep. Well, be that as it may, I, as his best mate and guardian, had my doubts. Let us compare Joe with any potential dressage horse.
Of course I could not deny that Joe had a full mane and tail. He flicked his tail, which almost reached the ground, constantly to keep the flies off. It was not exactly fine and silky but it would whisk a fly yards away. The mane was dual purpose - it would fall down on both sides of his neck and keep him warm and dry in the cold weather. But I defied anyone to plait it up neatly - it was the wrong sort of hair perhaps of the grade best reserved for mattresses. He had got a big rump and even novice riders could sit on him and feel secure. He had a broad back - one could almost walk on it. Come to think of it, hefd make a good circus horse for all of those ballerinas to stand on. He had four legs, two at the front and two at the back, just like any other horse, except his were a bit heavier, almost as if he had been taking steroids. Joefs legs were very hairy so he did not need stockings to keep him warm. You did not have to oil his hooves as his feet were completely covered by black and white feathers and were thereby fully protected. He had a foot at the end of every leg but Joefs were shod with size 20 steel shoes, each shod foot weighing about 3 cwts, so it was advisable keep your distance. Then there was his neck which had muscles both topside and underneath, just in case he needed to barge against something heavy. In truth he could be referred to as a small cart horse.
Finally, there was his head. No, it was not finely chiselled and was a bit common but it exhibited a cheeky smile, so the critic might say. His chin whiskers made him appear a touch distinguished, like any unshaven lothario. The whiskers on his cheeks gave him the appearance of one of those early XXth century Hamish men with side burns. His ears were his crowning glory and were forever twitching this way and that. Last but not least was the brush of hair between his ears, the strands of which almost reached down to his nose. Joe could easily be renamed Basil Brush and without detriment. So compared against nice silky shiney warmbloods, Our Boy Joe could indeed be a different species but of course looks were not everything.
Let us talk about paces. Joe was a six cylinder diesel engine but as with all diesels on occasions he could be difficult to fire up. Once he was motoring all was fine. Thud, thud, thud. All very regular, rhythmic and steady. But the rider would not be thrust up into the air. Although there was no upward bounce there was plenty of power but in a forward direction. There was a trot which you might confuse with a jog and a fast trot which I was told was almost a run. Both trots were very rhythmic. The canter usually took off fast but then slowed down quite quickly. The rider entered into the gallop from a standing start, especially if there were other horses about.
However then there were Joefs special paces: First there was the whirl ie a sharp instantaneous circle to the left on the hind quarters followed immediately by a quick bolt back down the path. Or there was the half whirl. Thatfs when the rider had asked him to go right and he resisted and slowly went left, despite the fact that his neck was bent, through the action of the reins, to the right. There was the barge retreat - thatfs when he had seen a goat in his path and he would go backwards in a straight line using his ample bum as a battering ram. The rider might, if clever, experience a whirl and a barge retreat all in one combined move.
There was the hop which could be made to the left or to the right. The move was entered into usually at the walk and was provoked by any flapping plastic bag. A positive hop could move horse and rider over sideways my as much as a meter. All four legs came off the ground in unison and with equal force.
There is the false levade - namely two back legs thrust out at hock height off the forehand and mostly aimed at a barking dog.
There was the puddle shuffle: that was walking into dirty water moving each front foot 4 inches forward at a time.
There was the barge: that was a straightforward canter into a line of horses which could be made either in line astern or line abreast.
Therefs the muzzle lunge, usually down towards a weed. It was a move leaving the shoulder in position -in effect just a stretch movement of the neck.
There was the two legged walk, when both back legs slid away from under him when going down a steep slippery hill.
There was the harvest walk, when he would eat his way across a field of long meadow grass.
There was the trail walk where he would leave a regular pile of dung every twenty yards for half a mile.
Then of course there were, what was commonly known, as Joefs evasions.
The balk was most effective. He would stop dead, standing four square, all feet firmly plonked on the ground and refuse to go forwards for at least 5 minutes.
He did a good half balk - that was when he stopped for a dump.
There was the nose up to the right to rip the reins from the riderfs hands,
There was the nose down to the left which would pull the rider, still holding onto the reins, out of the saddle.
Joe did a good head shake which normally included a quick jerk of the bit: the objective was to unbalance the rider, especially if Joe was gon the bit.h
Unfortunately none of these moves were part of a typical dressage programme. So I was never sure he
would get very good marks from the judge, even if I did arrange for Lady Christine or another of her ilk, to give him tuition. However he would get very good marks from a Happy Hacking Judge.
WHAT ACTUALLY IS CLASSICAL RIDING?
WHAT ACTUALLY IS CLASSICAL RIDING?
The modern home of the Spanish Riding School is in Vienna, although historically it has been based in other parts of the long lost Austro Hungarian empire. Lippica, the ancestral home of the Lippizaner horse is to be found near Trieste and the breed is the revered iconic symbol of independent modern Slovenia. It is accepted that, like so many of the well known horse breeds of Europe, the invariably white/grey Lippizaner has Andalucian genes, as indeed reputedly do the Cleveland Bay and Welsh Cob breeds of Britain. The Austrian school of Classical Riding is seen as an art form of equestrian dressage arising directly out of the principles established by a seventeen century French horse master - de La Gueriniere. So, in effect the world renowned riding centre in Vienna in Austria, based on a Frenchmanfs schooling methods, is neither in Spain, nor are the horses Spanish nor are the riders Spaniards.
Elsewhere in Jerez, Andalucia in Southern Spain, there is a Spanish School of Equestrian Art where Spaniards perform on pure blooded Spanish Andalucian stallions, using riding techniques developed in Spain. Both riding schools provide a elegant display of dressage to a very high standard perhaps arguably better described as Equestrian Art. The uniforms, and especially the hats, are different but the displays bear a remarkable similarity. A highlight of the display at both centres is for the horses to perform above ground movements such as the Levade, the Capriole and other High School/Haute Ecole specialities. It has been suggested that these movements were developed so as to be useful when the horse was being used as a warhorse in battle. More realistically nowadays, these moves are to be seen as an acrobatic display, which indeed it is, by highly trained pedigree stallions for paying customers. But the movements are magic to watch. A similar equine display but mostly in time to music is offered by Le Cadre Noir of the French Cavalry at Saumur, perhaps underlining the point that such a display is more ballet than horse riding. Each of these centres is nowadays regarded as being a tourist attraction as well as a national depositary of the skilled traditions of equestrian excellence. Interestingly the British Military School of Equitation at Weedon was closed in 1938 as being irrelevant to modern warfare. Perhaps in the XIXth century Capt Nolan, of Charge of the Light Brigade fame, was arguably one of Britainfs more famous horse masters until he was killed at Balaclava but he was mostly concerned with breaking remounts for use by cavalry troopers within six weeks and nothing stylish. Nolan was also convinced that geldings could perform as well as stallions. Much earlier in time, the Duke of Newcastle published a book in 1657 on training horses but he failed to create a durable basis for the art of horsemanship partly because of his cruel methods. Mr Hartley Edwards remains perhaps the most famous British guru of modern times but his books are mostly concerned with basic training. Sylvia Loch, whose dead husband Lord Loch was an instructor at Weedon, in effect preaches the use of de la Guerinierefs and certain other classical instructors methods. Little that she preaches is new but she applies the techniques to everyday horses of all breeds.
gDressageh incidentally is the French word for gtrainingg or more exactly gto develop through standardized training methods a horsefs natural ability and willingness to perform, thereby maximising its potential as a riding horseg. However to reach the ultimate standards of haute ecole display, the horse must be taken by highly skilled horsemen through a long process of education and training which traditionally has been divided into three phases - the young novice horse, the campaign horse and finally the haute ecole horse. In truth for everyday riding, even for success in modern dressage competitions, this high school riding is of little use to amateur riders, however the fundamental principles utilized throughout the training phases of haute ecole are applicable to all horse training.
The past director of the Spanish School in Vienna, Alois Podhajsky, has stated clearly that the prime purpose of Classical Training is to produce by natural methods and without restraints a well mannered, quiet, supple, obedient & responsive horse which by its smooth movements is a pleasure to ride. An objective which must be close to the heart of all horse owners. The teachings of equine experts such as the American, Pat Parelli and others, must be also be considered by the horse owner trainer when trying to get the best out of a horse whilst at the same time retaining a harmonious relationship with the animal. The British for some reason, perhaps associated with concepts of efficiency, always want to hurry a process when it naturally must take time. Nolan may have been able to train horses for war in six weeks, however it must be said in mitigation that cavalry horses did not last long on the battle field.
During the era when the horse reigned supreme in transportation and war, Britain was, and indeed still geographically remains, an island. All those years ago, ideas of best practice did not readily cross The Channel. Nowadays Britain is connected to the rest of Europe by various methods of communication and ideas can now readily flow backwards and forwards. Perhaps for reasons of relative isolation, on several scores the British attitude towards horses is different in several respects. British riders and thousands of furry foxes enjoy a green and pleasant grassland, criss-crossed by bridle paths and split into fields divided by metre high fences or two metre high hedges. Breeders have developed from Arabs and Turkomens a breed of horse - the Thoroughbred - which has a broad range of aptitudes. In the green, green countryside live yet more ancient breeds of horses, cobs and ponies each fit for a special purpose. The military, the police, the farmers and the fox hunters all have played their part in the creation of Britainfs national equine herd. Similarly the British passion for crossbreeds has influenced the quality of the horse population. The Brits believe that too much interbreeding can be counter productive as is to be found in the dogs. Even in modern times it is remarkable that the true breeding of many horses can only be guessed at. Only recently after much resistance has the equine passport scheme been introduced much to the distain of the breeders, who point out that the British donft eat horseflesh. The passport scheme in theory passes on a profile of a horsefs history and should inevitably in the future influence breeding practices. But first the scheme has to be better policed as a recent scandal about horse meat reaching the human food chain showed.
Few breeders seem to consider temperament as an important inherited characteristic in a horse, yet when training a horse, temperament and intelligence are of utmost importance. But maybe that is the problem - it is rare for the breeder to attempt to sell a horse gready to rideh that is perceived to be the dealerfs area of expertise or the job of the British Horse Society. Also in Britain, the female is the dominant influence, not only in that mares are invariably used for riding as well as breeding but mostly that the rider is a woman. Horses in Britain are not always put down when they have reached the end of their useful lives and many live on for years as pets eating the abundant and cheap grass. Of course, stallions, which can be temperamental, are mostly kept entire for breeding purposes only and are not to be ridden as common practice as is found in Iberia.
The influence of the Irish horse fraternity must also be allowed for: where else but Britain could they find an outlet for all of those cross bred horses, many of which have no pedigree whatsoever? Perhaps it is not without just cause that many continental horse masters have said in the past that British horses are not for schooling to a high standard. As competitive dressage comes more into vogue, then perhaps the Brits must start to look at the quality of the national herd of horses. Neither is it good that most aspirant riders are taught to ride by rote - up on the horsefs back. Unfortunately the theory of how horse and rider should come together is rarely discussed in depth even in the riding centre, often because the principles of riding are not better understood by the instructor. A piece of paper does not necessarily signify a good instructor. It is time that the British got their act together and read what the continentals have been reading for 400 years. There is little to know about horse behaviour that our forbears did not learn long ago. However there is technology which enables humans to understand horses better.
Not to be forgotten in this article is the example of myself, who nurtures a heavy, hairy, stoical, cob of indeterminate breeding, largely because the horse is a traffic proof and sure footed mount which will allow himself to be tied up amidst the community for half an hour or so. However maybe this stubborn powerful creature could be taught by a classically trained instructor to use himself better. Joe was not bred for haute ecole and that is for sure but there again neither was his master.
To summarize, Classical Riding Art is for the professionals, but the basic Classical Training methods used to train at the lower levels the haute ecole horse is for anyone who wants to learn how to get the best from not only their horse but also from themselves as a rider.
Of course there is one other system of riding to be found in Spain that of gDoma Vaquerah - literally gthe style of the cowboyh. The Vaquero is/was the cowboy of Mexico and the border lands of Southern USA. The saddle used is different by design; the horse is often less refined but the style of riding was that still used by working men to herd up cattle and sheep. Seemingly this well proven country system has not as yet been subjected to the same detailed analysis and inspection as have the gHaute Ecoleh systems but there again neither have the riding systems which have been utilised for centuries in Asia by Mongols, Tartars and other ethnic groupings. But it must be remembered that the cowboy spends his life with his horse and he rides in a day for longer than a modern day rider rides in a week or even a month. If one lives with a horse and if the horse lives with you, then an altogether different relationship will develop between horse and rider. There is nothing like mutual dependency to bring a horse and rider together and forming a bond between equine and human is the key to good performance.
There is no single or best way to ride a horse. Confine a human biped with an equine quadruped for long enough and a recognisable system of riding will undoubtedly evolve. There are relatively few ways by which the modern bit, bridle set and reins can be changed significantly and although the shape of saddles may differ, the need for a tree not only to bear the riderfs weight but also to allow the suspension of stirrups will not go away. Perhaps what has yet to be developed is a more refined method of communication between the two animal species.
to be continued