Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: southern Arizona
I actually think a lot of this debate comes from what I'm calling 'easy dressage'. Real dressage, to the extent I can understand it as a total outsider, is a detailed training program, with a high degree of collection at the end.
The problem with many dressage books and clinics is that they skip all that, and offer in its place a mixed bag of training techniques and present THAT as 'dressage'. But real dressage isn't about a clinic or a technique. Someone who is serious about dressage can attend a clinic and understand what is being taught as a small part of an integrated whole. But an outsider like myself walks away thinking, "Dressage is doing XYZ to get this".
As an example, I believe dressage works toward collected GAITS. Not the momentary collection that allows one to turn around a barrel or to change directions to follow a calf, but sustained time doing a collected canter. And you cannot start there, because an untrained horse isn't strong enough in the right places to perform a collected gait.
My mare has given me some hideously unbalanced canters, to the point of scaring us both. She has also, for about 10 seconds, given me what felt like a collected canter. It was wonderful while it lasted, but she isn't capable of giving me a collected canter for more than a few strides, nor do I have the technique to teach her to give it to me longer.
That is why it sounds strange to me to hear of someone saying their 3 year old gelding collects, or that western pleasure is ridden on collected horses. When I look at a world level WP performance, I'm not seeing anything that I recognize as collection - and I'm NOT a huge dressage aficionado. Same with reining. I just watched a half-dozen videos of top reiners winning, and I didn't see collected GAITS.
I'm not belittling ANY competitive riding, because I couldn't stay on good horses in competitive riding - not WP, nor reining, not dressage, not jumping - I'm just not a very good rider. Nor could I train a horse to do any of that. But I can see what I see, and that is why I get upset at the idea that someone is going to teach their horse 'some dressage'. Or that their 3 year old collects. Or that dressage is the basis for all riding.
It is like asking a black belt to give a newbie a clinic in martial arts. He can give a demo, but true martial arts is a lifetime pursuit and philosophy, not a way of kicking someone. It is like learning how a pawn & bishop move, and then claiming you've studied chess. It misses the point. And when it is done in modern western riding, it seems to me it often ends up screwing the horse - the whole "How do I collect his head" syndrome. I have no desire to teach my horse dressage, but I have even less desire to teach her 'easy dressage'. And what I've overheard from some local western trainers this last year was pretty much all easy dressage.
"People can teach us the rules, but only horses can teach us the art of riding."