So, the annual stallion performance testing in Herning is running again these days. Last year my friend was looking for a stallion for her mare, and so we spent a lot of time looking at the stallions. Last year, I snuck off while they were watching a dressage grand prix show, and saw the “foreign rider test” of the 5 year old show jumpers. Last year I was so impressed with this guy, that I had to come see that again.
It wasn’t the same guy that tested the five year old show jumpers this year, but he did it nicely too. The foreign rider test means, that one man rides all of the young horses. He is handed the horse and then the clock is started and he has ten min to figure out how well trained the horse is and how much talent and capacity it has got.
For show jumping that means that he has to jump the horse as high as he finds the horse can handle, usually no higher than 1,30, (meters), and he has got ten min to do it. On a young horse he has never seen before. Now that requires quite a bit of nerve and skill, especially if you are to do it right.
On top of that, he has to wear a headset and comment on the horse, telling the audience what is happening. The guy last year was amazing, he was so good and talking to the audience while he rode, where as the guy this year, was a lot more silent, mostly stating the obvious, like “nice horse, but it gets a bit strong as we touchdown…” You don’t say… I’d say it’s running away from you, but anyway, yes, we noticed that… Still, having a hard time commenting and riding at the same time, is more than fair enough, and add to that, he was at a Danish show and he was from Norway, so the language was a bit of a barrier as well. All in all, I liked the very careful and calm way he handled the young horses and once again, I didn’t fail to be impressed by the test itself and the fact that anyone is going to do it.
I mean, I wouldn’t want to. Some of the horses he had thrown in his face was freaking out over the huge hall, the audience, and the sound of the people being unable to sit still on a steel floor, and he had to jump them. Some of those horses looked like horses I wouldn’t have wanted to ride until I had had them in a round pen or been able to train a lot of horsemanship with them before hand, and he had to jump them. And he did. Without ever becoming unfair to the horse, (not unless you are counting subjecting the horse to the show when it was afraid, as unfair,) which is always nice to see.
After the show jumpers, came the foreign rider test of the dressage horses. I had been hoping to see a few of them and then sneak off because really, professional dressage always leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. Until yesterday, I have never come across ONE professional rider that actually LIVED the spirit of dressage.
Hasse Hoffmann is different. I was blown away. One of the things he said, more than once, is that we all agree, a horse should carry itself correctly, because otherwise you are riding it to the vet and then to the slaughterhouse. In other words, no horse can handle being ridden if it does not use its back correctly. It must engage its hind legs, at all times and never be “held” in position by the reins.
Let’s be honest, in today’s world where almost all dressage horses are trained by some sort of Roll Kur, or force, having the head tied in place when it’s not in public, and every other evil trick in the book, I was thinking when he first said that, “good luck. And nice of him to say it, but let’s see him do it.”
He did. I have NEVER seen a dressage rider ride like that before. In an ideal world, they all should. We all should. I failed to include myself there, because I am not a dressage rider, and I hardly ever care where my horse has its head, as long as it uses its back and hind legs correctly.
Hasse got onto the first horse, a huge red one, who had been shown by its owner first, a girl who had been riding it with a lot of spurs and a lot of pulling on the rein. Hasse let it go. He managed to make the horse lower its neck, carry itself, and relax within his ten min time. I was astounded.
More than one of the horses, he let go of the reins on completely, mostly to demonstrate his point to the audience. A well ridden horse, stays where it is, a horse that carry itself, does not lose that because you are not holding it in place by the reins.
Two horses though, he was hard on. Not on the horse, but on the people owning them. One was a red mare, and the first thing he said when he saw it was “She doesn’t look like she carry herself, the muscles in her neck are not trained properly.”
I love that. It’s THAT easy to spot, really. I have been watching people win dressage shows for years, with horses that had those kinds of neck lines, when any decent judge should have been able to see that there was a huge problem, without even seeing the horse ridden.
Still, Hasse rode the horse and it proved to be a problem, it wouldn’t carry itself, when he loosened the rein it ran off, which you hardly ever see in dressage horses, it fought him in every possible way, desperately looking for the pressure on the rein it was used to relying on.
In the end, Hasse said that it might be a good horse, actually it was a nice ride when it relaxed for a few seconds, but what was letting it down was the way it was trained and ridden. It got quite a low score and the girl that owned it was very sad about it.
Hasse then proceeded, as he rode the next horse, to say that he was sorry, that she took it that hard, but he had to say it, to help her.
It was not his job to pat her back, it was his job to stop those who did wrong and help them before their horse was ruined. I love it that he said that he was sorry, I love it that he realized that this girl had not mistreated her horse on purpose, she was just misguided or simply not experienced enough for riding a young horse.
I must interject here, that there is a huge difference in what you expect from a show jumper and a dressage horse at the same age. The show jumpers are alone when they are being tested, and even if the audience is told once in a while to quiet down and not walk next to the track, they hardly ever listen.
The dressage horses are on the track two at the time, so they won’t have to be alone, and Hasse kept telling the audience to be still. He started out with horse number two, saying “Really, horse-people, the young man who owns this horse and has spent four years preparing it for this show, does he deserve that you mess it up for him, because you can’t behave and be quiet?”
That worked on most of the audience. I don’t think I’ve ever been at a show in Herning where the audience was that well behaved.
The last horse he rode was a huge black one, by Don Schufro. A horse Hasse said he had seen the other days and was quite looking forward to ride. A horse that when he did get to ride it, made all of us sad.
He could easily let go the reins. The horse didn’t run off, or go out of shape. In fact, it didn’t respond at all. Its head was fixed in place. It didn’t move, it didn’t stretch its nose out, looking for the rein and the contact with the rider. Nothing. There was nothing there. No response whatsoever.
Now I don’t know the English word for “barring” but it may be the same. Anyway, in Dansih, when some people want to train their show jumpers to jump higher, to never touch the obstacles, they hit them over the legs as they jump, or place nails in their boots, or simply strap barbwire around the top or the fence. Cruel, and very much forbidden, even by FEI.
As Hasse rode this black horse though, he ended up shaking his head saying, “You know with show jumpers, if they jump too high, you suspect they have been barred and they are disqualified? This horse feels very much like it has been… set up for this… As if someone has been preparing too much…”
On other words, if this has been a show jumper, it would have been disqualified, on grounds of foul play, but since it is a dressage horse and Roll Kur is not illegal, thanks to the cotton balls at FEI, the horse has to pass.
Hasse stopped riding it before the time was up, he handed it back with a high score on the talent and a low score on its training, simply stating that this horse was a big disappointment and that someone had trained it so wrong, there was no point in testing it further. I am sure that the girl with the red mare felt a little better by hearing that. Hasse was angry about this horse, where as he had not been with hers. There was a HUGE difference between the two.
The audience spontaneously applauded him as he sent that black horse off. What do you know, a dressage rider with balls and a back bone, with moral, heart and dignity, who actually dares live by the rules of how to train a horse, even at a show like Herning.
One of a kind, sadly. But oh boy, my faith in humanity has been restored, solely because of this man. He may be the only one I have come across in my 19 years as a horse owner, but just knowing that he is out there, knowing that he dares, that someone, somewhere, still rewards the right way of training your horse and that once in a –very long- while you can come across them, gives me new hope for the future.
He was given a standing ovation as he sent the last horse off and he stopped the audience, saying once again,”remember. We all agree on how dressage should be. We just have to do it too.”
Amazing man. Here is a link to his web site:
I have never, in my 19 years as a horse owner, found anyone I would dare ride with, no trainer I would trust with my horses, young or old, but this guy is different. If I had a lot of money, I would trust him to want what is best for my horse and to help me get there. I have never said that about any trainer before and I don’t think I ever will again.
So let’s be serious here. This is the FIRST post I have ever written about dressage that doesn’t have a negative tone to it, this is the first show I have seen where I have been smiling, nay, laughing as I left, simply unable to not jump for joy, as opposed to my usual fighting back anger and tears. I have to give Hasse full credit for that. His conviction is astounding.
As much as I have felt strangled, stumped on and rejected from the professional world of horses, as much as I have chosen to leave it all behind and walk away, because I could not be part of that and be fair to my horse at the same time, well here is a guy that has proven me wrong. Here is a guy who CAN do both.
Makes me think that maybe I should not give up the fight that easily. Makes me think that maybe, just maybe, there still is a place in the world of horses, for those of us who won’t compromise the well being of our horses.
Isn’t that the best news you have heard in a long time? I feel like I have been thrown a life line, and I didn’t even know I was drowning. I feel like smiling. Like rainbows and unicorns and happy dancing despite the snow outside.
Really, that is how deeply touched I am by this. Just as I was about to leave it all behind and never compete again, along come this guy, as a ray of sunlight in a world that has grown increasingly dark lately.
And I know, one man doesn’t move a mountain. But it’s a start. At least I hope it is.
It has to be. There must be others like him out there. Others who might dare, having seen him yesterday. I know I always dared, but that sure got me stuck in the world of dressage. Maybe someday, in a distant future, I can hope to get a fair evaluation of my horses at competitions, even if I am not hanging on to the rein for dear life. Wouldn’t that be lovely? If there might be a place for a natural horsemanship trainer like me, in the world of horses?