Three Days Of Dressage

If anyone missed the post I wrote after this year’s stallion performance testing in Herning, where we saw Hasse Hoffmann ride the young horses, I will leave a link to it.

So, this is the guy we are talking about here as well, for the most part. Because we were so impressed with his skillful handling and fair evaluation of the young horses at Herning, my friend and I decided to look into this guy some more. It does not happen often that you come across a dressage rider that preach heart and soul, and horsemanship. For me, it’s a first.

So, Hasse was set to teach at Broholm this weekend, meaning that he came by where we live, or close enough for us to drive there. Of course, watching him teach others might not be too awe inspiring, and no it wasn’t as educational as it was seeing him ride at Herning, but we still went both Saturday and Sunday.

So, first of all, Hasse and I differ a little bit after all. Boy, leave it to me to always find something to disagree with. I still like the guy though, and if I was ever going to have someone teach me, it would be him, simply because I still trust that he won’t damage my horse.

Watching him teach this weekend, watching him improve on a lot of the huge, expensive dressage horses that came to this event, rather easily, hearing him stick to his believes and tell people over and over and over again, that dressage are not about winning ribbons, but about building a strong horse that will last and that will be able to be ridden without sustaining damage from carrying the rider, well that is inspiring.

I might be sounding like a brat now, but I’ve been sticking to that for years, with my show jumpers as well; dressage is important. REAL dressage, that builds the horse up. It is so easy to cheat. At least half of the horses that showed up this weekend had been cheat- trained one way or another, some worse than others.

Cheating, by holding the horses head in a forced position by the reins, for instance, will get you good marks and it will win you lots of ribbons, but it will kill your horse eventually, because its legs and spine will give up at some point. I love hearing him say that. I love it that I have come across one professional who actually dares say what the world of horses really, desperately needs to hear.

I will talk a bit about two special horses. One, a huge brown one, that struck a chord with me, for displaying the same violent headshaking behavior as my own Saleem. With Saleem I have ignored the problem, and just kept asking him for the things I wanted until he responded, and it sure has taken time, but here we are a year later and the problem is as good as gone, without me ever fighting him on it. I never pushed the matter, I never addressed it, I just rode around it and waited for it to go away.

Hasse didn’t want to do that, mostly I believe, because he want’s the horse “in the frame” as quickly as possible. I can understand that. Saleem and I have been very much “out of the frame” for a long time, and we are only just now reaching a place where we can start to collect him and make him carry himself correctly. Hasse does not want to spend that kind of time before the horse carries itself correctly, for the fear of damaging its front legs.

I agree, I understand where he is coming from, I really do. It has been a main concern of mine, with Saleem, to make sure he didn’t damage his front legs, by being out of frame for so long. Which is why we have been going for a lot of walks, we have ridden in the forest, down the roads at a walk, across the open fields, up and down hills, forcing him to place his weight better, without me ambushing him on the training grounds at home.

I am quite skilled at cheating as well, don’t think for a second that I haven’t seen most tricks before. But I usually try and use my powers of evil, for good. If that makes sense.

Anyway, back to the big brown horse. Hasse saw the owner ride it for a while and then asked to ride it himself. I like that. I like it that he saw that this horse had a problem that the owner could not solve on her own, or with his guidance. I like it that he dares ride a horse that flicks its head like that. Most professional dressage riders would have said “hell no,” if they had been asked to do what Hasse did.

Hasse simply rode the horse, very much like I have trained Saleem, by ignoring the problem, but with one huge difference. Hasse kept pressure on the rein at all times, when the horse was “bad” and let go instantly when the horse was “good,” meaning that when it flicked its head, he held on to it, and when it didn’t, he released the pressure.

The horse tried rearing up, it jumped around, and kicked up a bit of a fuss, and Hasse quietly, and easily kept up doing what he was doing, keeping the pressure on the rein, until it relaxed. I must say, it was nice to see a professional dressage trainer, who didn’t get scared and who didn’t feel the need to kick and scream and beat the horse for its violent behavior.

This kind of training, the keep the pressure, and release at the right moment, have been a method I have used in a lot of situations myself, and it was kind of amazing to see how well, and how fast, it worked on the huge brown horse and it’s head flicking issue.

Still, I am not doing it with Saleem. We have got this far, without me fighting fire with fire. I am not going to start now, even if it gets the horse in frame a little faster. Saleem is so much more than just a dressage horse and he has got such a frail mind, if I used that pressure technique on him, he would feel absolutely ambushed and he would never forgive me.

Okay, horse whisperer, shut up now. I am sorry, I will try. No wait, because now we come to the next horse I have to mention. A little red one. Beautiful horse, huge gaits, and completely unable to be ridden by the use of the riders legs, meaning that it just ignored the rider most of the time and hung on the bit at all times. The rider carried it around by the reins and so they were locked in a kind of uncomfortable, and damaging combat, at all times, which would win them a lot of ribbons, because for the untrained eye, (yeah, that includes most dressage judges I have met….) it looked pretty much like dressage.

Hasse asked to ride it as well. Here is where I am a bit at a loss for how to respond. He rode this red horse, and Hasse has three simple rules. The horse must move forward when you “kick” it with your legs, it must stop when you “pull” the reins and it must be able to be moved sideways by the rider’s legs. This red horse didn’t respond at all, when he asked it to move sideways.

Yes, that is a huge problem. Yes, it is close to impossible to ride a horse that can’t, or won’t, move away from your leg. No, you can never get the horse in frame, if it doesn’t respond to the sideways signals. Simple. So how to make a horse respond to your legs in 15 min?

I wondered at first, what would I have done? Would I have done what he did?

Hasse spent most of the time he had with the horse, using the whip when it did not respond to his legs, to the point where the horse jumped sideways into the barrier more than once, to escape him.

Honestly, I wondered. What would I have done? I mean, when I train my young horses, I train them like that, sort of. I use a whip, to enlarge my signals. If my horse responds too slowly to my legs, I tickle it with the whip, to make it aware that it needs to give me a quicker response. It’s an easy way to teach a young, or untrained horse, to pay attention, and as we all know, it is much harder to change something that has been taught wrong, than it is to install something from scratch in a young horse. This red horse had clearly been installed wrong and something needed to be done to change it. But this?

I must say, I hope I would not have done what Hasse did, if I had been handed that horse, but I honestly can’t say that I wouldn’t. I would like to say that I would never ambush a horse like that, freak it out and scare it, just to get a quick, efficient response. I hope to God, I would never do that.

Hasse even stopped the horse in the end, and addressed the audience, telling us to never do this at home, it required a professional, otherwise it would be very dangerous, and by the way, no horse should be trained like that, so we really didn’t see him do it.

That is kind of pissing me off. Well, I saw it. The horse sure as hell felt it. And no, I am not going to forget it. That is going straight to my “never trusting that guy with my horse” category, counting against me ever riding with him. If you need to do something like that, stand by it, don’t take it back afterwards, because then we all know, you simply shouldn’t have done it in the first place.

I must say, that is the only incident so far, I have come across with this man, that is in my “never ever” category. I still find him rather sympathetic, and he is still, hands down the BEST teacher I have ever come across. A little scary, isn’t it?

That feeling was intensified big time, when I went to see another instructor teach this Monday. Thomas, is his name, let’s refrain from mentioning his last name here. Once again I am impressed by how incompetent you can be and still get paid 700kr for 45 min. Watching this guy, I was biting my lip, and my tongue so hard I was tasting blood, knowing that one of my friends, who rode with him, would never forgive me if I caused a scene.

But wow, it was hard not to. Really hard. I mean, at one point I didn’t know if I should scream or just leave, or stop the whole thing and ask him if he knew anything about horses, or just start laughing uncontrollably.

Before my friend rode, he was teaching another girl. A girl who was asked to dismount her horse, because he wanted to teach her not to hang on to the horse for dear life, with her thighs. With him so far. You should never use your thighs to hang on to the horse, you should use your balance. The more you tighten your legs, the more tense you become and the more tense your horse becomes. He explained that to her.

He then turned her around so she was facing away from him and poked her in the back, asking her if she knew what to do now, imagining that she was the horse and he was the rider. She said “Walk.” He said yes and pulled her ponytail, asking her if she knew what to do now. She said “Stop.” He said yes and placed his hands on her shoulders, squishing her, asking her if she knew what to do now, and she said no. He then explained to her that the horse didn’t either, so it would just become confused when she used her thighs to hang on, because a horse has a tiny brain and it could not translate the signal.

I was laughing to myself by then, wondering if she was buying that. Then he turned around and pointed to her saddle, saying “look how much leather there is between you and the horse, it can’t feel it any way when you use your thighs like that.”

Here is where I was trying very hard not to roll on the floor laughing. Way to just overrule everything you just tried to teach her with a simple statement like that.

Okay, first things first. A horse is a flight animal. If you poke it, or kick it, it will move forward by instinct. Away from the pain, the discomfort, the threat. If you pull its tail, or the bit, it will move forward, away from the pain, by instinct. Any trainer should know that. Pulling the rein, making the horse stop by that signal, are not something a horse understands easily, it goes against everything it is. No flight animal, attacked in any way, stops and waits for the lion to eat it, no matter if you apply pressure to its mouth or to its flanks. So that whole lesson was not just pointless, because he overruled himself instantly, by saying that the horse wouldn’t feel it anyway, it was dead wrong as well, displaying his clear lack of understanding for how a horse – mind works. When a horse stops because you pull the rein, it is because it has been taught to do so. It’s a trick. Much like a circus animal. It is taught to respond in a certain way, but it sure ain’t natural for it to do so.

My friend, who rode with him, has a huge black dressage horse. It is lacking muscle everywhere, back, neck, you name it, you can see a long while away that this horse does not carry itself correctly when ridden. Lots of reasons for that, no blame to my friend, she is trying her very best and the horse has improved a lot since she got it, but… a professional  trainer, like Thomas, should be able to recognize a horse that simply can’t.

This horse has the “problem” that it raises its head when asked to canter. Not all the time, only the one step where it changes from trot to canter. That is a rather common problem, with horses that have no muscle to carry themselves with. This huge horse simply can’t make that transition “in frame” because someone has failed to build its body strong enough to do just that.

I had kind of expected Thomas to tell her to be patient, to train muscle and once the horse was strong enough, the problem would go away on its own. Because it will. Really. It will. It is that simple.

But no, instead he told her that horses are stupid, and because it has been allowed to raise the head it now believes that it is good enough when it does that, so she had to teach the horse not to do that, by hanging on to the inside rein by all her might, forcing the horses head to stay on place during the transition.

My head is imploding to hear that. Never, ever, ever, for f*** sake, ever touch the inside rein when you ask the horse to canter. You stop the inside hind leg and the canter becomes crippled right from the get go. Small wonder you see so many horses these days that simply can’t canter anymore, but jump around on stiff hind legs in a four beat movement (it’s supposed to be three,) if this is how they are taught to stay in frame.

My friend did as she was told, the horse displayed some of the worst canter I have ever seen it do, and the problem didn’t solve itself by her hanging on to the inside rein for dear life. Thomas then assured her that in time, it would, simply because – yep he got that right, must be by accident- it takes a lot longer to reinstall something that has been taught wrong than it does to install it from scratch. So naturally, if the horse has done this a thousand times wrong, it has to be done a thousand times right, before it understands it. Ahm. Well. Yes and no and can I please leave now before I slap in him the face?

So long post, sorry about that, but this is what I have been doing for the last three days and I had to review it. It is just not in me to keep quiet about something I am as passionate about as this. Horsemanship.

Saleem and I had a good time yesterday, going for a long walk down the road and back again, stretching his back, lowering his neck line and enjoying the cold spring sun. I really should move far, far away and never interact with other humans ever again. They always piss me off.

In fairness, my other friend LHK and her old horse Knut went with Saleem and me. It’s nice to have an old horse to help steady the young one, but Saleem is doing very good on his own as well. And LHK and I had a good time discussing the three day dressage training we had just witnessed, using the phrase “Hasse says,” so many times, even we realized how annoying we must sound to strangers.

So once again, here I am, being annoying, but let’s be fair. Most of this is what I say. I just happen to agree with Hasse- most of the time. And that really is, rare.

And for those who know nothing about what I am talking about, a quick “in frame” picture.

in frame


About Starstone

-Owned by horses. Writer, Photographer, Director, Musician.
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6 Responses to Three Days Of Dressage

  1. LHK says:

    It was a really nice ride we had, I do love our trips out with our horses…! (Hasse say’s..:!) 😀

    I agree with you totally on everthing.
    It was a bit ground shaking to see Hasse work with the red horse, I do respect him though for saying, that this wasn’t something you should do on your own, it is only for professionals.
    And I would like to think that his last coment, about us not seeing it, was ment sacastic, ’cause I do really think he wouldn’t care that we had.
    I understand why he had to do it, It was not one of his own horses, he couldn’t work with it forever, he had to make a difference here and now, the ever-present curse of horse trainers, and I do think that maybe he was a bit thrown by how bad it really was with that horse…
    I don’t belive it is easy beeing a famous horse trainer, with his point of view in a world like ours, it must seem pointless for him sometimes, when he time and time again, have to “fix” horses like that for people who do not really care… :’-(

    But in the end that is what happens when people stop beeing riders who does dressage, and instead becomes dressageriders…!

    • Starstone says:

      uhu someone is quoting his book 😛

      Yeah, I guess he thought he could fix it easier, and once he got started he kind of had to go all the way, which is why I really can’t say that I wouldn’t have done the same in that situation…

      I still had to mention it though, to be fair, since I am picking the other guy appart…

      But no, its so not easy training horses in this day and age… but problem solved, now that DRF has closed the education of our trainers altogether… way to kill off the sport… another bright idea from DRF, just when you thought they couldn’t surprise you anymore 😛

      Hasse says that its a bad idea too 😛


      • LHK says:

        Yes, I don’t think I will ever grow tired of quoting him…

        Yeah I read that about the trainers education, way to go there… Idiots, that way, you have absolutely now way of controling the way the sports go, rollkur or not… Bloody idiots..!

      • Starstone says:

        well, not to mention anyone by name, we are not that suprised, simply because we know who is in charge of DRF… 😛
        If your son can sell a horse for someone else and try and keep nearly half the money to himself, its a small wonder that the father is a bit of a moron too…
        And I am so being black listed here, if anyone ever reads my blog 😛 LOL

  2. LHK says:

    Well yes, but that a good thing right…? 😉 😛

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