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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
First of all, I like dressage. I am very bad at it but it’s my favorite discipline.

One thing I’ve noticed is that I don’t like the way it looks at the top. To me, those horses look too bouncy and tense, most of the riders look very tense and like they have a very hard time sitting that huge trot and I don’t understand the point of that high knee action. Also, they look like they are holding those reins with all their might, not soft at all.

So, my question is: what exactly are we aiming for in dressage? I sort of gathered that the purpose of dressage is to make the horse light, comfortable and responsive (maybe I am misunderstanding something). The top horses look responsive, but not light and comfortable at all. Even their responsiveness is questionable with that much pressure on the mouth. What am I missing here?

Basically, is top dressage different to your everyday, all purpose riding dressage? Are they two different things?
 

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I have had the honour to ride a couple of top dressage horses. The first was an Olympic horse for Germany, a dark bay mare. She was as soft as butter, yes there was a good contact but it was with a soft hand.

Top dressage riders have exceedingly good balance with the horse, Thor core muscles must be like iron! Many cues are from the seat alone. Bends from the slightest movement of a finger.

When a horse is really collected and performing a collected trot or a piaffe or passage, the movement is very collected and slower so the knees will be lifted higher, then see them do an extended trot and there is very little high knee action.

Look at how low the quarters drop and how far under the body the hind legs are, that energy will create a higher knee action.

Personally I think you are misreading what you see in a top dressage horse. What makes you think they are tense?
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I have had the honour to ride a couple of top dressage horses. The first was an Olympic horse for Germany, a dark bay mare. She was as soft as butter, yes there was a good contact but it was with a soft hand.

Top dressage riders have exceedingly good balance with the horse, Thor core muscles must be like iron! Many cues are from the seat alone. Bends from the slightest movement of a finger.

When a horse is really collected and performing a collected trot or a piaffe or passage, the movement is very collected and slower so the knees will be lifted higher, then see them do an extended trot and there is very little high knee action.

Look at how low the quarters drop and how far under the body the hind legs are, that energy will create a higher knee action.

Personally I think you are misreading what you see in a top dressage horse. What makes you think they are tense?
Mainly what to me looks like extremely tight contact. Also, like you said, they look like they have core muscles of iron - it appears that the trot is very active and the rider has to work very hard to keep up with it. That’s what I meant when I said “everyday” dressage - what would be the benefit of getting the horse to bounce so much that you have to have an iron core to follow it? I don’t really get it.

Here are some examples of how they look to me most of the time: very tight rein - look at her muscles bulging.

The second photo shows that bit is pulled so hard that the horse’s lips are pulled back. That cannot be a soft hand.

I am most probably mistaken, but very few of top riders make it look relaxed. It always looks like hard work and that’s maybe what I misunderstood - is it supposed to be hard work once both the horse and the rider know what they are doing?
 

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Dressage is Very Hard Work! Anything worthwhile is hard.

These horse are Fit and Focused, as are the riders. All the movements are bigger, and yes can be hard to sit, but moving big is desired.

To show an example of how the concentration of the horse can be misunderstood as "forced" please view the following video and notice the horse's expression...especially at 18:00 ears are pinned to head, mouth is clamped but lips are moving, rhythmically...

Riding part starts at about 7:50

 

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To me it always seems like dressage riders are doing a lot of kicking. Which is kind of ironic, because I thought the aids were to be as subtle as possible.

I don't have an off-hand example because I haven't been watching dressage lately, but I could probably find some. What's up with the kicking? Maybe it just looks like they are kicking with every stride because the trot is so big?

I am a lowly trail rider but I almost never have to do a noticeable "kick" to go. I can gently close my legs against my horse and she goes. So I'm thinking the rhythmic kicking has to do with extending the trot.......maybe? Or maybe that's just how it looks to me and it is just the movement of the horse that makes it look like they kick with every stride. (I have never ridden a horse with that huge a trot.....I converted to gaited!)

I should probably look up some examples so you can tell me what I am looking at.
 

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Just wanted to say..........this horse is amazing!!!!

I was looking for examples of what I don't like about dressage, but found this horse and he blew me away. I guess I must prefer the Spanish horses to the Warmbloods. This guy's piaffe is like butter! And his lateral movements are like butter! I am in love with this horse.

It's seems like I've heard that the Spanish horses aren't as good at the top end of dressage...........well, if that's the case, who cares, this is what I think is beautiful! Does anyone else prefer this type of movement over the warmbloods? This is what I think of, when I think of "collected."


 

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@trailhorserider someone here linked a vid (can't remember who or find the vid!) of a top rider on a horse with such huge movement he had to actively kick his legs down to help disperse some of the energy. After watching that I tried it with my mare also huge movement and boy... it worked! It helped quite a bit in keeping my butt down as there is only so much my poor body could absorb haha. IDK it's just something I've begun to see more. There is so much we don't understand...

... like I always thought a foamy mouth was ALWAYS a bad thing 100% of the time and the horse must be in pain so therefore dressage was cruel. That my mare can often look heavy but these days she just enjoys a light but reassuring contact... kinda cool IMO!
 

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@trailhorserider the video you posted was very fun to watch, and the music was superbly choreographed. The rider and horse are very in sync and a pleasure to watch.

But the pair just does not have the precision and the ride was not as technically difficult as this ride by Charlotte Dujardin & Valegro

(will have to go to YouTube to watch)

 

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I think of a dressage horse as a high level dancer. And very high level dancers doing their...whatever you call it moves will have lots of muscles and such and be very athletic. It's not that their muscles are tense but that they're using them. If that makes any sense.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
@trailhorserider the video you posted was very fun to watch, and the music was superbly choreographed. The rider and horse are very in sync and a pleasure to watch.

But the pair just does not have the precision and the ride was not as technically difficult as this ride by Charlotte Dujardin & Valegro

(will have to go to YouTube to watch)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3uXXW8_NMOs&t=220s
Well, to me, Charlotte and Valegro ARE an exception and amazing. They look relaxed and completely in synch. It looks like all of those movements are done by Charlotte just suggesting them and Valegro doing them willingly. What I think dressage is about. I love those two.

I avoided mentioning any names because I don’t know enough about dressage to be able to publicly make such statements. “Charlotte and Valegro are amazing and everyone else sucks” - not a nice thing to say and makes me seem arrogant and clueless. But I love watching those two.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Dressage is Very Hard Work! Anything worthwhile is hard.

These horse are Fit and Focused, as are the riders. All the movements are bigger, and yes can be hard to sit, but moving big is desired.

To show an example of how the concentration of the horse can be misunderstood as "forced" please view the following video and notice the horse's expression...especially at 18:00 ears are pinned to head, mouth is clamped but lips are moving, rhythmically...

Riding part starts at about 7:50

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEAT_8Kz4yY&t=2s
This is what I understand dressage to be: relaxed and comfortable - “everyday” dressage. To my eye it looks very different to top dressage and I don’t understand why “moving big” is desired. That’s why I asked if those two “types” of dressage are different.

(This horse is so cute!)
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I guess my question should be rephrased: why do dressage judges like that kidney-stone removal trot?
I am quite sure that top riders know how to get a horse not to bounce all over the place and throw his knees around it’s ears.

Here is some lovely Olympic-level dressage from the 80s (not a kidney stone in sight):

 

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@Horsef,

I ride GranPrix-trained Spanish Dressage horses here in Spain, although I am not a competitive Dressage rider. I changed to Dressage after an accident as Dressage saddles and rounded Dressage horses are the only thing I can ride anymore.

As for the first photo you have posted, it seems to me that there are one of two things happening in that photo: either the horse's canter has got too big and she is collecting him more, or (and this is my preferred scenario) she is preparing him for a flying lead change (impulsión, head high, fores high, looks like he could jump out with either fore). As for her muscle development in her forearms, my arms look exactly the same. With the double bridle, we use different bits for different things, and different fingers are involved, thus the forearm development.

Of course, from the photo, we cannot tell what sort of bit is being used, but most of our horses are on soft triple-jointed snaffles. Some horses even put their head/neck weight onto the bit, looking for the rider to help them balance in certain movements. This is more typical of older horses who are a bit lazy, but, as you can imagine, if the bit pressure caused them pain they would not look for more contact themselves.

As for Spanish horses versus central European warmbloods, well you can imagine that I also prefer the movements of Spanish PRE and Lusitanos. As you say, Spanish horses do not so as well as the warmbloods at the upper levels. To my mind's eye, it is like the difference between the athletic and technical Olympic-level figure skating, with the impossibly high jumps, and ice dancing, with its beautiful flow and expression. Spanish horses are known for their swing and expression, and that's the type of movement I personally prefer.
 

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This is what I understand dressage to be: relaxed and comfortable - “everyday” dressage. To my eye it looks very different to top dressage and I don’t understand why “moving big” is desired. That’s why I asked if those two “types” of dressage are different.

(This horse is so cute!)
I posted that video so one could see that the horse, when trained, can perform self collection, which is one of the ultimate goals. Also of note, is the intense concentration in the horse, which can be seen in the pinned ears, tense mouth, and flapping lips...even when bridle-less!

He is not an upper level horse, but is forward and a big mover for a little round Haffle! He is balanced and moving off the hindquarters well. If she did take him to a show, he would receive very good marks (and rider marks should be 10!) but he would never get as high of marks as any of the Olympic horses posted, as he is not capable of the movement desired.

Even Klimke ride, although very technically correct, was not as good athletically as is seen now. The horse he is riding just was not bred for the huge upper level movements. Watch in particular his shoulder, and notice it is more coming from the legs, the extensions, than the shoulder.


The Spanish PRE horses, are super gorgeous movers, and absolutely a pleasure to watch and ride. They are being seen more and more in this country too. The last Dressage horse I was looking for was a Lusitano (as my instructor recommended) but unfortunately out of my budget, then I injured my knee so that part of my life ended...

IMO, the desired movements are returning to a lighter, more expressive leg like seen in the PRE horses. I also looked at some Saddlebreds and even a few Morgan Horses, as they are much cheaper yet can be quite expressive movers and competitive (with the right breeding and training) at the lower levels.

What is not always so clear to people that do not understand the sport, is that for every horse, no matter their innate ability, the goal is always the perfection of movement as displayed by Valegro. The precision is what we strive for; the evenness of gait, the fluid and effortless seeming movements, the exact number of changes, the height of the back leg as relates to the height of the front leg, the self collection (held more by the development of muscle mass and correct training), the energetic yet precise transitions, just to name a few.

Trying to understand Dressage, without ever experiencing the years of training involved, is like trying to understand a different language and culture without ever hearing or visiting.
 

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I guess my question should be rephrased: why do dressage judges like that kidney-stone removal trot?
I am quite sure that top riders know how to get a horse not to bounce all over the place and throw his knees around it’s ears.

Here is some lovely Olympic-level dressage from the 80s (not a kidney stone in sight):
The bounce is all part of the collection. Each foot fall is like a coiled spring, ready to go into a different movement.

It would be kidney jarring to majority of riders but we aren't talking about the majority but the select few who have learned how to absorb that movement.

If you jump a few inches with your legs straight and keep them straight then you get jarred, bend you knees as you land and you have no after shock, so it is with these riders, they absorb the shock through their bodies.

As for the horses knees going up to their ears this isn't so. In the passage they are being asked too move forward but that forward is contained so the energy goes to them taking shorter steps. The energy is still there so they raise their knee higher giving that (for want of a better word) a stilted action.

It isn't easy to understand and I realise that you are trying to!

What I do know is that when riding a highly trained horse and you get it right there is such a feeling of unity and appreciation of the power.
 

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What I really like about the Klimke ride is the TRANSITIONS! that horse transitions on a dime, and completely in balance, without a twitch of an ear, no expression of resistance, . . . just a seamless change.


Dressage is , or should be, about a unity, a harmony , between the rider and horse. That ride shows a great deal of harmony. Mr. Klimke appears as quiet as a statue, and yet the horse changes from walk to trot, to halt, to canter is if he is given signals via bluetooth!
 

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High knees, big trots, even "uphill" balance--- mostly a result of breeding.
That's what high-level dressage is about, to me, these days. Of COURSE there's tons of training, and the riders are athletes, but high-level dressage is primarily about winning.

What really broke me from the sport (as a sport) was when they re-designated "relaxation" on the training scale, and made it a function of "suppleness."

Maybe it works with highly-bred warmbloods, but for a QH, say, it's ridiculous.

"Everyday dressage" needs relaxation like "High level" does not. Everyday riding needs to be happy, and high level actually does not. High level needs to be beautiful, which everyday riding does not.

Those are the main differences I see.
 

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My friend used to breed warmbloods when I was a teenager. She had a big black warmblood named Max. He was easily 17 hands. Feet the size of dinner plates. In exchange for working her horses, I would get free riding lessons. Max had a brother. She named him Biscuit after Seabiscuit.

She sold Biscuit as a yearling for $10,000. As a 3 yr old he was up for sale for $30,000. She called me and we went to go see him. I got on him and he was incredible. He collected up on a light contact, and was already beginning to learn piaffe and passage.

Some horses are naturally talented for collection. I did not find his gaits particularly difficult to sit. I've ridden many horses that aren't nearly as comfortable as he was.

I'm not sure I agree with what I see in the show ring. I really think they should make double bridles optional. Some horses just don't have room for 2 bits in their mouth. My own horse hates a french link snaffle. She's actually happier in a Pelham then a snaffle.

I've often wondered why we don't start breeding smaller warmbloods- what is wrong with a 15 hand horse? Why are we breeding for bigger and bigger horses?
 

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What I really like about the Klimke ride is the TRANSITIONS! that horse transitions on a dime, and completely in balance, without a twitch of an ear, no expression of resistance, . . . just a seamless change.


Dressage is , or should be, about a unity, a harmony , between the rider and horse. That ride shows a great deal of harmony. Mr. Klimke appears as quiet as a statue, and yet the horse changes from walk to trot, to halt, to canter is if he is given signals via bluetooth!
The horse was very forward moving and willing. Always a good combination!

But again, I caution observers to not read resistance in a tense face alone; one must assess the entire horse to determine if the horse is resistant (not too likely at upper levels!) or just fiercely concentrating.

If a horse can pin their ears and clench their jaw, while flipping their lips WITHOUT a bridle or restraint of any sort, then certainly they can do the same in a bridle.

Upper level horses are generally so hot and forward moving, relaxation can be a struggle. What folks on here are calling "everyday dressage" the stuff one sees when riding QH and such, relaxation is not so much a struggle! Getting motivated and thinking Forward all the time can be much more challenging for the easy going type horses. So the training is different, at the beginning at least.

I want a "normal" horse to be so quick to react that they jump into the transitions similar to a race horse at the starting gate. I teach the horse how to do this, while retaining a thinking attitude. In other words, the horse can not be quick to react out of nerves and fear, but out of a strong willingness to please and enjoyment of the work. That type of mindset is seen clearly in the video of the Haffie and is desirable at every level of competition. Which is why she would get very high rider marks in any show.

Any horse (or pony) ridden Dressage, the goal is the same. How close we can get to the ultimate perfection is what separates the average horse from the champions.
 

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My friend used to breed warmbloods when I was a teenager. She had a big black warmblood named Max. He was easily 17 hands. Feet the size of dinner plates. In exchange for working her horses, I would get free riding lessons. Max had a brother. She named him Biscuit after Seabiscuit.

She sold Biscuit as a yearling for $10,000. As a 3 yr old he was up for sale for $30,000. She called me and we went to go see him. I got on him and he was incredible. He collected up on a light contact, and was already beginning to learn piaffe and passage.

Some horses are naturally talented for collection. I did not find his gaits particularly difficult to sit. I've ridden many horses that aren't nearly as comfortable as he was.

I'm not sure I agree with what I see in the show ring. I really think they should make double bridles optional. Some horses just don't have room for 2 bits in their mouth. My own horse hates a french link snaffle. She's actually happier in a Pelham then a snaffle.

I've often wondered why we don't start breeding smaller warmbloods- what is wrong with a 15 hand horse? Why are we breeding for bigger and bigger horses?
There are quite a few pony breeds that are quite competitive. German riding ponies and Connemara to name some. Remember Lendon Grey riding her Connemara/TB cross Seldom Seen? He competed at the highest levels and was only 14.2H!
 
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