Great thread, except for the needless discipline bashing.
There are some points/insights I would like to add.
I must be very lucky, I live in a part of the country where perching is neither taught nor rewarded in the show ring. Supposedly, Virginia is one of the most competitive hunter circuits in the country so that may be why. I see a lot of beautiful, functional riders in the hunter ring with classical form, and also a fair amount of perchers/posers and faux releases.
Here's some things that may contribute to perching/posing -
It's a well known, deliberate technique among professional hunter riders to stand up off the horses' back in an exaggerated fashion while showing to make it appear like the horse has more thrust/bascule than it actually does; sort of a "Look, judge, this horse is throwing me out of the tack." This may be mimiced by other riders who don't understand the purpose.
It's useful to make a distinction between hunter riders and hunter seat eq riders. Hunters must jump round and scopey to pin; equitation horses are usually flat jumpers, using a style called splinter belly or what I call "landing gear up/landing gear down." This style is considered an advantage in an eq horse as it distorts the rider's position less and produces a smoother round. However, eq riders often stand up, perch, pose, whatever you want to call it because they can't allow the horse's thrust to close their hip angle because there is little or no thrust.
Same applies to the vast majority of riders on school horses - school horses usually learn to jump flat or hollow in self defense. It's hard to learn to allow the horse to close your hip angle when there's never any thrust up through the saddle. The transition between a flat jumping school horse and a round, scopey hunter or jumper is a very, very difficult one that sets riders back a level. Some coaches and riders find the solution to be a flat jumping hunter or jumper.
Also consider equitation judging. Eq over fences is first judged on whether or not their was a consistent, flowing pace without obvious aids and adjustments, consistent spots to the fences and lead changes, then on overall design of position, then position over fences. It's entirely possible for someone who's consistently or occassionaly ahead of the pommel in the air to pin over someone with classical, functional form if the latter rider misses a distance, lead change or has an obvious pace adjustment. It's then very easy for onlookers to say accusingly "That position pins!"
In MIE's original photos, the first rider looked like an eq rider on a splinter belly jumper, the second rider looks like a jumper rider - a beautiful one on a round, bascule-y horse, so not exactly an apples to apples comparison.
I don't think the culprit here is jumping early; I produced a lot of solid, functional riders with good lower legs and correct position over fences, and I started them all trotting over poles or crossrails in two point within the first ten lessons.
Jumping courses or competing
early is the culprit. Jumping early is fine, as long as it includes tons of work on form, lots of work through grids and gymnastics with and without reins and with and without stirrups. Jumping courses before you've developed a solid lower leg and a folding hip contributes to a lot of form faults.
Coaches are at fault when they drag kids to shows before they're ready (their is enormous financial pressure to do so; there's more money to be made that way that putting a solid foundation on a rider) and when they teach to the show ring trend rather than good basics.
Finally, role models -
The last great American stylists, IMO, were Joe Fargis and Conrad Holmfeld. They made Grand Prix look like Medal Maclay, and they did it in true American forward seat. Beezie Madden is also a lovely, correct rider as is Anne Kursinski. I keep hoping for the reemergence of that style; what I see too often now is the European style - rider in a full seat, horse in a dressage frame, rider slightly behind the motion and only riding "forward" over the fence itself and full contact in the air. Now that I think of it, another great stylist was Bruce Davidson. Rock solid, tactful, diplomatic and the definition of form following function. Great rebuttal to those that think equitation and eventing will never be closer than they are in the dictionary. Some of you may know him as Buck's father. Back in the day, he used to event a little.
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