Essays of an Equestrian

I have been very outspoken about rolkur, a type of dressage riding that I find inappropriate and believe it to be the antithesis of proper dressage training. I do not patronize instructors who embrace that system and am uninterested in any product they might waggle.

But why is that? Because I have decided to choose my religion.

You would think there would be one proper way to ride in any sport. Let’s use dressage as our example. We have the old masters and we have their books. Yet all the time new books, videos, dvd’s and the like are coming out, with different words and varying techniques.

Trainer after trainer tries to sell to you their reinventing of the wheel. Each trainer with their nuances, tactics and techniques. Each one advertising that they’re better than the others. Some do it and win Olympic medals doing it.

Many in the dressage world respect these trainers. Others do not. Same riding discipline but with deep divisions in methodology.

Compare it with religion using Christianity as an example. Within Christianity everyone holds a belief in Jesus but yet you still have divisions of Christians on exactly HOW one should go about believing in Him. Catholics, Protestants, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Orthodoxy, Methodists, Baptists all agree on one hand, yet strongly and passionately disagree on the other. Each applies their religion differently from the others. And each one believes that THEY are the ones who got it right. And in religion, believers of one methodology often become most passionate defending it and most critical of other ways.

Now imagine you are wanting to learn a new sport, like dressage. First, you wouldn’t know that training, a thing that has been handed down through the ages, could have opposing points of view. Without knowing you would go to one trainer, then another, and quickly become very confused. Worst yet, your horse will be very confused. So what do you do?

You have to choose your religion. In every aspect of your learning you must be mindful that there exists different ways of thinking and training. You must be aware.

Then you must make your choice. An educated choice. Apply yourself then to what instructors teach in the manner you want to be taught. Decide which books to buy or dvd’s to watch.

So when it comes to the training, it seems we need to choose our religion. Find a methodology and stick with it.

And so I have embraced mine. A religion which no longer includes purely competitive dressage and Olympic riders no longer seem like higher celestial beings.

My religion embraces a way of riding dressage which presents my horse as truly a happy athlete. My religion honors the edicts of dressage and is a slow, methodical process and often seems too slow. It progresses step by step and it takes into full account my horses fitness, conformation and level of training. And although every moment of training will not be as smooth as kisses to a baby’s butt, I choose to use technique instead of force. My religion recognizes that sometimes to go forward you have to reinforce your aids by timing, finesse and a light tap of the whip. My religion says “Ride to the limit, but not over it”.

As best I can I will adhere to these codes and ethics, a Ten Commandments of Riding. (Then I can get all jihad on rolkur!)

And like any religious egghead I’m obliged to share the word of my religion. Unfortunately I am also destined to sin.







My Ten Commandments

Thou shall ride the horse as he would like to be ridden were he the horse

Thou shall not rush any exercise, nor train in anger, nor use force

Thou shall allow for ample warm up, including a loose rein, moving forward to best prepare the horse

Thou shall hold the Training Scale as sacred, and adhere to its ways

Thou shall ride up and forward into heaven, and not down into hell.

Thou shall reward with kindness and breaks of rest

Thou shall remember the mouth is the softest part of the horse
and as such any conversation with it need only be a whisper

Thou shall use figures and exercises to advance the training of the horse

Thou shall embrace the horses soul as a kindred one, and treat it accordingly

Thou shall honor the horse as one of God’s most beautiful creations, and among the noblest as well

(for you Atheists the last line would be:

Thou shall honor the horse as one of natures most beautiful creations, and among the noblest as well)

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The good will of the horse is like the scent of a rose. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.