There is a clear line bisecting the arena. On one side are Four Schools, and hundreds of years of training, which has led to a number of training approaches that all have at the core a share appreciation for the horse as an individual, a desire to foster a harmonious relationship and develop him putting his welfare and emotional, physical and mental well being first.
The connection between horse and rider is considered artful. It enriches the rider AND the horse.
On the other side: Competitive Hyperflexion – one single school also know under the name: Rollkur and more recently LDR. A short history but a controversial one. Believes the good dressage horses have to perform on the Edge. The Edge of what? Insanity? Nervous breakdown? Lives by the maxim:
Dressage is a difficult sport. It is not a matter of IF but WHEN a dressage horse will be lame.
Believes injections, lameness and surgery are part and parcel of the dressage experience. Puts submission, first. Brilliance at the cost of the horse’s nervous central system, first. Puts showing first and enriches the rider but not the horse.
On our side, because there are different schools and sub-schools, egotists fight with each other to establish THEIR ways superiority.
On the other side, there is only one school and they are all busy taking over dressage, rewriting the rules and making fun at our side. They only have one egotist and they all follow him enthusiastically: He wins them gold.
We have to support each other to succeed, we have to look beyond politics and ego and find the common ground and stand on it firmly. We should extend the same curtesy to one another as we do our horses. We should be in and out of the barn, with horses and with humans equally gracious in debate or in agreement.
And we have to judge people on their body of work and actions, their commitment and the choices they make every day, and have for years.
As long as all the little chiefs fight to be bigger than the next chief over, as long as treaties and alliances are just hot air and last the time of a photo opp, Dressage will remain an endangered species.
I ask the representatives of our side of the Line not to call each other friend lightly but build relationships, work together, learn FROM each other and in doing so make our side stronger, make our side the only choice, if you want your horse sound and happy into its old age. If you want your riding to be more meaningful then a pilate session on steroid. If your horse is your friend first, and a vehicle for your ambitions second.
Support the people who are on our side, on your side even if you do not agree with all of their message, if their message is grounded into sound biomechanics and respect for the horse then a bridge can be built on what matters most: the horse.
If your particular little chief engages in battle, refuse to follow and remind them that united we stand, and divided we fall. And fall and fall. Put the horse first.
The Center Line is being squeezed more and more to the side and we are loosing ground. We have lost ground. How long before we are out of the Arena completely? Irrelevant and obsolete. And then what? Will we just wring our hands some more?
I expect more from the horsemen and women I choose to learn from. I expect the intelligence to know that without a coalition and a joining of forces, horses are doomed to be turned in mechanics. If adults do not start behaving as such then between Competitive Hyperflexion and Nouveau Horsemanship du Jour, traditional dressage, traditional horsemanship will keep gasping and eventually die.
Less lip service and more actions and we may make a difference yet. I certainly hope so.