Once again, for the “millionth” time, someone shared the video of Blue Hors Matinee on Facebook. The comments are always the same … “Can’t get enough of this!” … “I could watch this over and over!” etc., etc., etc. Even my coworker, the Western Reining rider, says she can’t get enough of the “gray mare who so obviously loves what she’s doing!” I believe this is the most watched Dressage video out there – and each time someone posts it I just get angrier!
Every time the video emerges, I write a reply in a vain attempt to educate the watchers – but I never post it. What’s the point? The world has convinced itself that this is a happy horse in a stellar performance, and anything I post would only start an argument. So, this post is my release valve! At least here I can take the time to pull it apart and explain myself in full. If it convinces no one, at least I can come back and read it again the next time the horrid thing emerges. Besides, maybe I will get it out of my system and can ignore it in the future!
First, watch the ride and judge for yourself whether it makes you happy. Perhaps you’ve seen it already, but maybe it’s time to revisit. Take the time to watch the horse – not the “showy” movements, but just her. Look at her expression and her body language, and think of what your horse looks like when happily playing in a field.
The old masters are rolling over in their graves … and the few remaining true masters could lecture for days on why this is actually a horribly tense, highly incorrect performance (I’ve heard some of those lectures). But let me point out just a few:
- Wringing tail – first and most obvious is her wringing tail throughout the performance. Any horseman worth their salt will tell you that is a sure sign of tension and agitation. A “moment in time” can happen, if the rider overdoes the spur – but this is no moment in time. This mare is tense and upset throughout. Did you know, that in the height of Matine mania the FEI wrote an open letter to all judges to disregard tail wringing in deciding if a horse was tense? True! So popular was this mare with the audiences that they had to protect those high scores by removing what had previously been a clear sign of lack of submission, and an automatic deduction on submission.
- Tension – aside from the wringing tail, which should be enough, there are numerous other signs of tension in this video.
- Ahlerich, in the hot summer sun of Los Angeles, did not sweat as much as this mare is.
- Watch her lips flapping and twitching – not relaxation.
- Loss of rhythm and misses in critical exercises like tempi-changes (yet, she still won).
- Most of the trot work is actually unlevel between the left and right strides.
- Piaffe and Passage – the most painful moments in this video are during these signature Grand Prix movements. Not only does she shuffle through and appear to struggle badly, but her head and neck get lower and more curled, resulting in bobbing up and down that looks downright painful.
Did you miss these things? Go watch it again and see if you can spot them.
I could pick it apart further, but frankly I can’t watch it again. This is not a proud, supple, happy performer. This is a subjugated horse struggling to do what her body has not been properly prepared to do.
Matine actually broke down due to the stress on her legs from the strain of incorrect use of her body (this was from a vet present at the euthanasia). Too much, too soon and all with extreme physical tension. She was dead before age ten – truly criminal in a sport where good trainers would just be bringing their horses up to that level at that age, and horses have historically been competitive into their twenties.
If you want to know more about why what is shown in this video is NOT correct, and the physical toll it takes on the horse, I would recommend reading Tug of War, by Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, or this very well written website.
Okay, just to cleanse the palette, here is a reminder of what a happy, well trained, supple Dressage partner should look like. This is the victory lap at the 1984 Olympics, and note what I said about Ahlerich not being as wringing wet at the end of his competition as Matine was when she entered the ring.
The rider of Blue Hors Matine was caught in a “blue tongue” scandal last year, when video and stills of a demonstration ride on Akeem Foldager surfaced. This resulted in him being removed from his National team, and being “on watch” for misuse of a double-bridle.
More recently, horrific warmup photos of the same rider on Tørveslettens Stamina have caused a stir on the internet. Inevitably, it has led to questions of how such a “lovely” rider could turn into this, or whether he might have treated Matine the same way. In my mind, there is no doubt that Matine was schooled in much the same way as Stamina and Akeem Foldager. Here is video of Stamina in competition, showing tension, loss of rhythm and general discomfort. Note that at walk she continues to touch her chest with her chin – a clear symptom of what is seen in the warmup photos, like the one to the right.
This rider has a strong fan base who likes to claim that people are out to get him. I am not out to get him – he is just one of many at the top of the sport who have little regard for the horse as a sentient being. You cannot feel that horses are sensitive, willing partners who experience pain – and then treat them this way. My only point in this rant is that a few famous riders are giving my beloved sport a black eye – and their adoring, under educated fans feed the machine. As long as the masses believe that Matine, Foldager and Stamina are “happy athletes”, these poor sensitive animals will be subjected to this horrid treatment!
Okay, rant over … for this time. Just to leave on a positive note, and in the name of showing what it should look like, I leave you with this. Liselott Linsenhof was the winner of the Individual Gold and Team Silver in the 1972 Olympics. This is a demonstration ride in Vienna, that same year. By modern standards it may seem tame, and by classical standards it could be a bit lighter – but the focus and partnership is obvious, and I find it an overall joy to watch.
After watching that, I want to climb into the saddle! But, since that is still several weeks away, I guess I’ll just toddle out and feed a few carrots.
Be good to your horses … and follow those who are good to theirs!