Facebook is killing Dressage!

Have you ever had someone share something on Facebook that you were dying to respond to, but you knew that your response would anger or alienate some of your friends or “friends of friends”?  It’s a fairly regular occurrence for me, whether religion, politics or horse topics.  But never have I been quite as torn as I was this morning, when someone shared the video below as a “good example of rhythm, suspension, bend, impulsion, suppleness.”

First, let me say that my point is not to pick on this particular horse and rider – it is a lovely horse, and the rider’s biggest sin seems to be that she needs her hands to keep her balance.  It’s certainly a pleasant enough video, and had many positive comments on YouTube – but it is NOT a good example to be emulated or extolled.  Sadly, Facebook gets filled with many problematic examples that get touted as “good” or even “great”, with no critical thought put into what is being shown.  The very fact that it gets posted with a glowing endorsement now makes it an example to those who may appreciate but not understand the sport … ignorance thus breeding further ignorance.

The unfortunate aspect of Facebook is that the comments on such a post are a limited arena in which to make the video an actual teaching moment. So, I either make a brief comment that is fairly benign, or I leave it unchallenged and the ignorance continues. It’s a tough choice – contribute to the cycle of ignorance through your silence, or speak up and alienate people such that you lose the opportunity to educate. Dilemma.

Which brings me back to this video. First, the extensions are admittedly spectacular for their expression and for their reach, which has become rather uncommon in these days of goose stepping horses (although notice the slight hovering in the back legs, indicating some loss of thrust/power, likely due to a tight back). But as you watch the video, keep these thing in mind about what the sharer indicated it to be a good example of:

  • Rhythm – most people get this confused with tempo (rhythm is the beat count, tempo the speed of the beats). There should never be a “good example” of rhythm, since rhythm comes naturally to the horse; only bad examples where rhythm is broken, as in the nearly lateral walk of this horse who has lost his clear four beat rhythm. The canter also loses its three best rhythm many times throughout the video.
  •  Suspension – this is another oft misunderstood term. Trot and canter have natural suspension built in. As you develop collected work, you usually get a slight increase in a feeling that some call suspension – that elastic almost pausing quality that eventually culminates in passage. But this horse runs through most of the movements in such a tumbling state that he actually seems at times to lose his own natural suspension. Look for the large amounts of dirt kicked up by his shuffling hind feet in the shoulder-in, a movement that should be increasing carriage and lightness, not decreasing it..
  • Bend – the two movements he performs that most rely upon bend, shoulder-in and half pass, show no bend through the body at all. Instead, his neck is thrown well off center, and his head is tipped at all times in those movements. Even that neck distortion is not consistent, as he frequently waggles his head from side to side.
  • Impulsion – he is fast, but impulsion is about controlled thrust, not speed. In fact, a horse with truly correct impulsion can almost give the impression of slightly slower steps, even as they are more powerful.
  • Suppleness – aside from the same problems I mention in bend, he has virtually no crossover in half pass. Also, watch the lack of stretch in walk, until the rider fiddles with the reins to cue a stretch. If this horse had been truly working his back in the previous work, you would not have to encourage a stretch – he would welcome the chance at the first moment of letting the reins out. The fact that he doesn’t indicates a tightness in his back and a lack of willingness to stretch that together prove lack of any suppleness. Lastly, the regularly ringing tail is a clear indication of a tense back caused by overactive spurs (not cruel, but obviously annoying in their persistence).

If this video had been posted with the comment “Pretty horse!” or even “I wish I could ride that well!” I would have rolled right past it. However, when it’s not only held up as a good example, but for specific qualities that it actually sorely lacks, then I am bothered. So, enjoy the pretty horse … but strive to do better yourself!

Be good to your horses!


2 thoughts on “Facebook is killing Dressage!

  1. Your description is very enlightening! Particularly the speed and tail swishing are obvious once you point them out


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