My beef with dressage
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.
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.
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.
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.
I agree, that yes, lots of dressage riders are leaving traditional, "classical" methods behind for "quicker fixes." There are so many modern methods that leave so much to be desired. Yes, the horse can do a fancy piaffe, but is he working out of fear? I love dressage, and really admire the classical way of doing things. Its very proper and takes lots of long work and effort, but results in a beautiful partnership between horse and rider, which I think is what dressage should be. But I think that dressage isn't the only type of sport that has gotten too competitive. Showjumping is the same way, as well as many other disciplines. It is sad.
What about showjumpers who deliberatly approach a fence in a way that the horse cant help but hit it, or put subtances on the cannons to make them much more sensitive?
Or showies who think its fashionable to yank their horses head "onto the bit", and judges who reward them for doing this?
And how about quarter horse/ paint people who think its nice to breed horses with genetic abnormalities.
There are other examples.
There are these type of people in all disciplines, and it is unfair of you to single out one discipline as being wrong when it is happening all around.
I don't think ponyboy meant to single out dressage explicitly, as the ONLY discipline which does this. He said, "ALL disciplines have the potential to be inhumane." Dressage is just the issue he chose to talk about. :wink:
You bring up some really good points. I completely agree that money/winning/etc can get in the way of good solid training and riding methods and lots of people have lost sight of what's important. My first thought is, what discipline DOESN'T have this? But really, what hobby/sport/whatever in the world doesn't do it?! How many professional baseball players got caught (or didn't get caught) using steriods to enhance performance? How many people out there get screwed because a charity decided to run itself like a business and care more about how much money they were going to make? Unfortunately it's a part of life. NOT saying it's right. But is baseball bad because people cheat? Are charities a bad idea because people are greedY? No, you try to fix the problems with it and enchance the good.
You're right, a horse doesn't automatically know how to be completely balanced on its own. But... it isn't "natural" for us to ride it at all. Every riding horse out there is spending a lot of energy doing things they don't normally do and probably can't understand the purpose of. But my opinion is that, it's ok. A lot of riding horses out there don't hate life. It's not natural for a horse to go jump a course, but I see jumpers who absolutely love what they do. Sure, there are days when my horse would rather sit in his stall and eat rather then work in the ring. But I spend a lot of time and energy and money making sure he's healthy, and fed, and taken care of. I do my part. He does his. And we're both pretty happy with our deal. For an upper level competition horse, they have to love their job. Dressage is all about being supple, submissive, and moving freely, etc etc. I don't see a dressage horse that hates his job being able to do it well. If being ridden is such a negative experience, horses will show it. (and some of them do)
1. When you pick a horse that has the conformation and personality that is most suitable for your discipline, it CAN be easier to train it because it is easier for the horse to do it's job. But there are grand prix jumpers that are extremely difficult to ride and train but are superb at what they do. Sometimes that boldness and bit of fight in them that make them so successful is also what makes them difficult. And I'm pretty sure they don't use the most gentle of tack. Perhaps it's off topic since you're talking dressage, but I think the same idea applies.
2. Heck no. Conformation and personality on an individual basis. I could care less about breeds, as long as they can do the job I need them to. My old welsh/QH pony that I bought in a pasture for next to nothing has won almost every single dressage class he's ever entered. Sure, there are certain breeds and certain lines that excel in certain disciplines. But I know a very fancy absolutely beautiful 17.2 Oldenburg with nothing but stellar dressage breeding, tons of full siblings that show and win, etc etc.... with no work ethic. I think he'd be happiest being a trail horse.
just my few thoughts. :-)
I disagree totally.
As Dressagerider myself, hot wire for training Piaffe?
I thought jumping was bad (Spikes on fences etc.).
And about Rollkur, if used the right way the horse will, no harm will be done.
If pulled when a rider is totally losing it, then something will happen.
My horses like dressage, how do you see it? They work with me. Otherwise I would be doing something else along time ago. It is a search to find the RIGHT horse.
Dressage can be competitive. I can tell that myself. But, you need competition to get to the top, how else should you get their? Riding competitions alone?
You've got the totally wrong idea of Dressage!
If you read some ridiculous book about his, then amen to you.
When taught the right way:
Dressage is seeing the harmony between rider and horse.
Not everyone is perfect in Dressage. We have all once pulled in a horses mouth. We know not to do it again. Dressage can't be as gracefull as it should be. Every horse has a different character, the world goes on.
Ooh, I think I should write a rant now. Interesting point of view. I'm not a dressage person so I don't take offense. I do think forcing a horse into a frame isn't natural, and when you bring in equipment and harsh mechanisms to do so, such as extreme bits, Rollkur, etc, it's going beyond what horse and rider are meant to do.
OK, first of all just because SOME riders abuse their horses does not mean ALL riders in the discipline do. This does not make it a "bad discipline" because some riders choose to train improperly.
Also, I feel the same way you do about top riders using these "quick-fix" training methods. BUT instead of sitting on an internet forum complaining about it I'm actually trying to fix it by supporting the dressage community around me that uses non-abusive training methods and belonging to dressage groups internationally and regularly voting on issues.
(This will be edited to add when I get back from classes)
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