Coercive Trainin Equipment - Jim Wofford
This is from the March 09 Practicle Horseman.
I really wanted to share this becuase I feel it is important for us all to learn from great riders, such as Jim Wofford.
This is an article he wrote:
Is It Art? Or Violence?
Tips from the FEI rule book on why coercive training equipment doesn't work.
My therapist tells me that if I share my issues with you, I will feel better. So - here goes:
Can anybody around here ride in anything other than a flash noseband that has ben pulled so tight it leaves a depression in the horse's nosewhen the noseband is released?
Do you have ANY idea how much I hate tight nosebands? Doesn't thatmake you doubt yourself and your trianing methods just a little?
I learned a long time ago that art ends where violence begins. I do not see how we can be proud of our art as riders when the way our nosebands are adjusted amounts to daily mini-torture sessions for our horses who we purport to love and care for so much.
When your horse opens his mouth or croses his jaw, do you think, "Uh-oh, I'm going to lose dressage points this weekend, I'd better clamp his mouth shut"? OR do you recognize that your horse is exhibiting a sign of tesntion?
This means his training must continue to emphasize basic, calming work. If he is obviously nervous at the bottom levels of the training scale, you are not going to have much luck with his collected trot.
For those of you who have not been taking notes after your dressage clnics, the Training Scale goes - Rhythm, Looseness, Contact, Impulsion, Straightness, Collection.
Bcause I was born in a different century, I was raised on Gen. Decarpentry's advice - "Calm, Forward. Strait." I still prefer it because it emphasizes calmness before anything else. It is difficult to teach a horse anything when he is tense, and if you do teach him anything, cahnces are it will be the wrong thing.
Whichever way you think of it, you have to realize that your horse is not yet calm when he shows resistance in his mouth. If he is not yet calm, then any further demands on him will result in more tension and flawed results.
It is as simple as that. If you want flawed results, go ahead and ask for colection before your horse is relaxed. This is a pretty certain way to produce a horse who needs hismouth strapped shut.
A tight noseband is a vain attempt to disguise the fact that your horse is not ready for the things you are asking him to do.
Where was I berfore I started this rant? Oh yeah, classical equitation. I reread the "Object and General Princibles of Dressage" in the INternational Equestrain Federation dressage rule book the other day, and was pleased with how meaningful it is, and how clear.
For example, Article 401 of the rule book says, "By virtue of a lively impulsion and suplenes ofthe joints, free from the paralyzing effects of resistance, the horse obeys willingly and without hesitation and responds to the various aids calmly and with precision, displaying a natural and harmonious balance both physically and mentally."
Think about that for a second: When horses stiffen and resist, their musculature becomes paralyzed for the duration of that resistance. If your horse is tense in his topline while jumping, he wil be slow with his knees and hang his legs. If you are an eventer, or want to become one, then you have to realize that dressage permeates everything we do with horses.
Article 401 aditionally states, "The object of dressage is the development of the horse into a happy athlete through harmonious education. As a result, it makes the horse calm, suple, loose, and flexible, but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with his rider."
I give the FEI a lot of unsolicited constructive criticism in this column, most of it well deserved and desperately neeed. However, I would be the first to admit that this is a lovely description of what we are supposed to be looking for in the training of our horses.
Finally, the rule book states that a hors should be allowed to "quietly chew the bit." You often find this expression in the source documents of dressage, and it is always spoken of approvingly as a trait to be developed and encouraged.
There is a very good reson for encouraging this trait in your horse: When he chews quietly on the bit, his mouth is soft and mobile. When his mouth is soft and mobile, it is a good bet that his jaw is relaxed. When his jaw is relaxed, his topline is through and his haunches are active. When your horse exhibits these traits, you are wel on your way to producing the "happy athlete" mentioned in the rule book.
If all this is true, then tel me how in the world your horse is going ot chew softly on anything when your flash is so tight that he can't move his jaw at all?
I laugh to myself when I walk past a competator getting ready to go into the dressage arena at an event and see her groom frantically stuffing sugar cubes into the side of the horse's mouth. At some tim einthe psat that rider has been told that a trained horse should show signs of foam on the sides of his mouth, so she is going to produce that foam by whatever means.
She doesn't evennotice that her poor creature has his mouth so firmly clamped shut that he cannot chew anything. If US Dressage Team coach Bengt Ljungquist were alive, he would be spinning in his grave.
If that is your training practice, why not just go ahead and Super Glue your horses's teeth together.....that'll keep him from gaping his mouth, and it will fix that nasty teeth grinding at the same time. Just kidding.....really. Blame it on my therapist - she told me I need to rant more.
Anyway, the best way to get a good score in your dressage test is to give the judge what she wants. Judges are trained to judge according to the rule book, and the rule book says your horse should be free from the paralyzing effect of resistance.
Maybe if you concentrate more on correct training, your scores will go up. It will take a little while longer, but you will get a thrll out of your horse's improved performance. That thrill when you realize your horse is starting to understand is what is what sperarates competitors from horseman.
When we get the feeling that our horse is improving, the color of the ribbon pales in significance.
Competitions are atest of our progress as horsemen, they are not an end in themselves.
However, I don't want you to think that I live and train only in a world of theory. Riding and training horses in the real world is a complicated business, and things can get confusing sometimes. Was it Emerson who said that a sign of maturity is the ability to believe two mutually exclusive things at the same time?
If that is so, then we need to let our thinking about horses mature. What do I mean? Let me give you an example : I firmly believe that we must train our horses according to classical principles. This means long-term systematic, progressive training that never disturbs the tranquility of the horse. At the same time, I also believ that you can't have good hands if you don't have enough bit. See what I mean about opposed ideas? Yet both are true, and we need to apply both of them.
The process of training horses in the real world finds us suspended between these two oposed concepts, and we have to continually balance them. If I emphasize classical principles to th exclusion of all else, I may get into a situation wher I endanger my horse and my student, because if your horse is lacking in training, you will need some kind of gadget bit, which wil then be, short-term, enough bit.
At the same time, every time I use a gadget bit or overtighten a noseband, training comes to a stop. My horse will not truly improve until I do away with gadgets and domination and return to quiet, consistent, patient training.
It can be an enormous help to your training once you understand and accept that your horse is an incredibly sensitive creature.
I often wonder why people think they have to kick and pull a horse who can fel a fly land on his neck. Intsead of worrying about your dressage score, I want you to concentrate on teaching your horse to calmly respond to invisible aids.
Reiner Klimke, the legendary multiple gold medal winer said "My horses are not my slaves, they are my friends." Teach your horse to respond calmly and correctly, and he will be your friend forever.
Well said/written. The greatest riders , famous and non-famous, believe the horse is a true partner, and must be treated accordingly.
Thanks for this article. Makes my heart smile. :-)
I LOVE that article and agree whole heartedly!!!!!!!! Even my super high strung jumper that is in a mullen pelahm (yes it's relatively mild....sorry i get tired of explaining that he FREAKS in a snaffle...) and a fig 8 will do a 2nd level test in a cyprium french link and reg bridle w/o a problem, because I made him show dressage before jumpers.
And it's made a HUGE difference in his way of going. If you have to clamp your horse's mouth shut, how is that helping the horse to learn to accept the bit?!
I can ride all of my horses, even my high strung jumper, bareback, with no bridle, and can jump him like that, because he's properly trained. If only everyone else had the same focus and attention to a foundation in freedom of movement and correct way of going and acceptance and ENJOYMENT of the horse being ridden....*sigh*
Oh and I LOVE Jim Wofford.....esp about letting XC horses jump at speed and learn to judge their own distances. Rung SO true as my show jumper I'm so much more specific and technical with on a showjumping course, but my eventer over small to mid-size stuff, I frequently drop the reins and ask him to balance himself and jump himself without any instruction from me. I loved that article too.
Jim Wofford - is to us Eventers as what George Morris is to Hunters. Jim Wofford is at the same calibur as George and are companions.
Both of these men, know what they are talking about, they are who they are for a reason.
Jim Wofford, he is a phenominal and educated man, I love how he walks with people like us at Rolex over the course, explaining things to better educate those who are willing to hear him.
I completely agree!! It's about time someone said it like that! lol. I know when I start showing my warmblood in dressage I will not use a flash or anything like it. There is no need for that kind of thing. It makes me sad whenever I see a horse's mouth tied shut. If my horse is TRULY my partner and is relaxed mentally, emotionally and physically, there is no need for nosebands (flash, crank, figure 8, etc). There should be no need for it anytime really. Thanks for posting this article!
There is a proper use for all equipment, and then there is abuse of equipment. Just because someone uses a flash incorrectly does not mean that it does not have a good purpose.
I have also seen abusive riding styles in properly adjusted and well fitted tack.
It is not the tack that is the problem, it is the people that are riding the horses, training the horses, judging the horses and governing the sport.
Since the firing of the FEI dressage committee, I personally have still seen no changes, either in the rules or in the placings to lead me to believe that any action has been taken.
Why do you think Brentina qualified for the Olympics with a ridiculously high score in the 80s when the mare was barely sound? Why do you think Isabel still won silver with major disobediences in her tests? Why do you think Anky, with the most tense horse in the whole competiton won gold, when others put in "better", or at least more fluid and relaxed tests?
Politics, Money, Fame and Power. "Fixing" dressage is no longer a matter of making tack illegal, regulating this that and the next thing, it is about a complete revamp and possibly the removal of some very prominent people in the FEI judging ranks, and removal of the sport from the international scene for a few years until the new FEI Dressage committee can finally make a ruling about "abusive training methods" versus constructive and healthy ones.
Long story short, we need people who aren't idiots and who aren't afraid to make enemies with some of the dressage community.
10 years ago, it was common practice to starve a "hot" horse to make him calmer, to tie a horse up in his stall in order to build muscle, to train a horse by shear force and will power, etc.
Since these times, dressage has advanced, but there are always going to be new ways to get the next degree of performance out of these animals. Rolkur and the general mis-use of equipment and training aids has been the most prominent and talked about issue in dressage as I've read about. The best thing to do about it as local show people is to report any "abusive" activity at shows to a ring steward with the number of the horse, and refuse to support trainers who use these methods by not showing or clinicing at their barns, and not training with them. INternationally, things should eventually sort themselves out. And with the increase of public outcry against these training methods, I think Miss Anky and Rolkur in general are headed out the back door.
What Jim Wofford is trying to stress is that many lead this belief that these types of gadgets are good training tools - when in reality they are not.
They are no more, than quick fixes for a particular moment in time. Nothing more, nothing less.
Do not be fooled to believe a flash or figure 8 teaches a horse to accept the bit, do not be fooled into believing that a running martingale or standing teaches a horse a head set.
Yes, a flash can be used for a certain ride - to keep the rider safe, but it is not teaching the horse anything. I use a flash when I Fox Hunt because my horse turns into a 2 year old on those. Very forward, piaffing, side passing, tempi changes, very strong. I have to use what I need to keep him under par, so that we don't interfear with all those othe riders around us, the hounds and to keep us safe together. But - there is no training what-so-ever that is going on during the use.
Just as Jim Wofford states - the moment the gadget is used, training comes to a halt.
It is all about the Training Scale - nothing more, nothing less.
Yes, we see Olympic Level Riders use gadgets - but don't forget that is for that 1 particular ride and moment in time. So that they can get their jobs done. Those horses that we see them on, are exceptionally well trained horses, with no gadgets on at home.
Just because we see Olympic Level Riders in pieces of equiment, does not mean we have to run out and use it either. Too many use gadgets because they copy pictures and see others using them, without the knowledge of why and how. Also, just because we see top level riders in gadgets, doesn't mean we have to run out and copy them either.
Even David O'Connor tells his clinitians and students - Train at home in a snaffle and use what you need to get the job done at a comp.
But don't be mislead into believing those gadgets are teaching your horse anything, because they are not.
MI- that is a great article. Thanks for sharing!
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