I was watching some of the video from last week’s Dressage at Aachen, and I was struck by the almost manic nature of the top rides. It’s hard to imagine that there is any actual collection going on in these rides, with the speed at which they almost crash through all of the movements!
Before I start on him, let me say this – there were probably more “not bad” moments in this test than in any other test I’ve seen this horse do. The extended trot, although still out of synch, actually covered some ground instead of just being about a front-end goose step. Call it “damned with faint praise”, but I was a little surprised that I wasn’t horrified throughout.
That said, collection is supposed to involve thrust upward with the hind leg, not backward. Even in his “passage” his hind legs are thrusting well behind the vertical. His canter, even when collected, just blasts around the arena … and he is so far from collection that the pirouettes are just spins seemingly executed in a fashion just to “get through it”.
One last comment before we move on – really, a halt that crooked in the winning ride? My Pony Club instructors would have vilified me for such a halt!
I truly like this horse, but I do think this pair is highly overrated. I just want so badly to tell Charlotte to let her reins out two inches, and stop leaning on his mouth all the time! Again, we see the “passage” with the hind legs pushing backward, not upward – and also with that characteristic hover seen in the modern competition arena. His hind leg also spends more time thrusting backward than swinging forward, or even carrying. The canter is less rushed than Totilas, but the half-passes at both gaits are just scary! Half-pass is a collection exercise, where the horse’s body stays in balance over the weight bearing legs – theirs are all over the place, legs flying in all directions! When she comes to the change of direction, it’s as if they hit a wall and bounce off!
I am not saying any of these things to be mean – but when was the last time you saw a manic ballet? Art is not created by flinging yourself about in an uncontrolled manner, it is in the quiet and controlled strength. Both rides left me with the impression that time was somehow part of the score now.
For Some Contrast
Gunther Seidel and Aragon, Athens 2004 – This is, by no means, a perfect ride. I actually wanted to show a different ride for this duo, but couldn’t find it. I picked this piece for several reasons. First, notice how well the horse tracks under in his trot work, and even in his extended work his hind legs barely get behind vertical before they’re thrusting him forward. The half-pass is rather correct, with the horse’s body staying well balanced over his legs. The piaffe, particularly the first one, is just lovely – and notice how the “slowness” of the passage steps is coming from the depth of his steps, and not from hovering.
I love how light and loose the reins stay, with the curb rein in a slight loop – find that in today’s competitions! Lastly, I love the comment from the announcer that this is a “young” horse at age 13! It’s amazing the difference that ten years have made in competitive Dressage! Sadly, I saw a more recent clip of Gunther warming up, and he seems to have fallen into the hyperflexion trap like everyone else. But, with this horse, for all the flaws in this ride, there is a controlled power in the partnership that made them a joy to watch – more like a dance than the manic tug of war we see in most rides today.
Be good to your horses.