Inspired by this article, this picture and this video, terrified by what I saw and horrified that people are aplauding this kind of riding, I must write this post. The video is below the picture to the right on the screen, I can’t post a direct link to it, because of their violent copyright. One wonders why…
And yes, it’s in Danish, but the picture and the video speaks for itself.
Andreas Helgstrand, one of the most famous Danish dressage riders, showing everyone- unintentionally- how not to do it.
As we all know, dressage should be about building a strong horse, making it place its weight mostly on its hind legs and carry its back correctly, so that it is able to carry the rider without being damaged.
Andreas here, is showing perfectly, how to make the horse sag in the back, causing the spine to touch itself, almost certainly causing damage to the horse at some point. He is showing how to lock the hind legs, preventing them from doing anything at all, other than follow the horse around like a runaway wagon on a train, serving no purpose and carrying no weight.
He is showing the audience how to make the horse raise its front legs ridiculously high and how to hold its head in place by the rein and the bit. Pure and simple, this is a horse, abused and mistreated, held in a forced position, unable to protect itself from its rider or the damage he is causing it.
And we applaud? Because he is one of our best riders? Are you kidding me? If this is the goal for which we are striving, then I am so out. If anyone took a picture of any of my horses like that one, I would cry myself to sleep and never ride again.
Really, it is very simple. Dressage are not a matter of opinion or “religious” believes, as most of the Andreas- like- riders would like to claim. There is right, and there is wrong. Right builds up the horse, wrong breaks down the horse. It’s very easy to spot too.
So, in order for me to not hang out any more people than I absolutely have to, or steal to many copyrighted pictures, I am going to demonstrate with some of my own horses.
Apollon. (You will have to excuse the way I am looking down, and pulling too much on the double bit, it was the first time I tried wearing it on my horse and well, I had a very hard time figuring out how to handle all those reins.) Still, my horse carries itself easily, his head is placed exactly where his hind legs place it, and his back is raised.
The driving force in the picture is the hind legs. All the energy comes from the hind legs. Where as on the picture of Andreas, the driving force is the front legs dragging the horse along. Compare the two, the balance and the posture in the horse are so different, it is easy to spot, even for an untrained eye. Apollon’s hind legs are placed underneath him, not a mile behind him. That is called collection.
Compare with a picture of Apollon and me, a few years earlier, here his back is lowered slightly, and his head is placed too low. Here we are in the process of building a strong horse, and I am failing slightly. Still, his hind legs are the driving force in the movement, and it was very easy to correct. Apollon was the kind of horse that wanted to “duck out under the rein” if he wasn’t strong enough to carry himself, and I never held him in place by the rein. Again, his head is placed where the hind legs directs it to be.
Apollon, balanced and at ease.
It is very important that you can “let your horse go,” and it stays in frame. When you do nothing, the horse must be able to find its own balance, not fall apart like a card house.
Apollon, hanging a bit on the front as well here, but still the driving force in the movement are the hind legs and the back is not compromised. Placing the weight on the hind legs are the hardest thing to do, and the horse can’t carry it all the time, especially not when it is not trained specifically for it, since it was very young. It takes at least 5 years to build up a horse that is strong enough to carry itself correctly most of the time, and Apollon and I never had that kind of time, we were always interrupted by his mysterious fever attacks.
The worst picture ever taken of Apollon and me, at a canter, when he was lame, and drugged up on pain killers last summer. (Vet’s order that I rode him- long story.)
Here the balance has shifted. He is hanging on his front legs, avoiding the bit by going under, and he is even locking his hind legs, instead of placing them underneath him as he should. This is to this date, the worst picture ever taken of me and any of my horses. Let’s keep it so. And note that, his back are not compromised. In spite of everything, he still carries himself better than that horse Andreas is riding. And my horse was dying from a failing immune system… Anyway…
Legacy, my young, beautiful trotter, not in perfect balance, but doing rather good after having been ridden for about 14 days in total. Note his hind legs, his back, and what is driving the horse forward in the picture.
Titan, the beautiful Friesian I rode a few years back, in balance, and busy training to relax his tense neck and use his back. I know his head is not placed where you want to see it in a dressage competition, but that is because he is not strong enough to carry it yet.
If you force the head into position, you lose the back and the hind legs. That simple.
Last but not least, my beautiful Saleem. Back raised and hind legs as the driving force in the movement. Hanging a bit on the front here, but he is very young. Not that it is acceptable, but it’s a puzzle you must build. You have to add the pieces one at the time. Once the hind legs are the driving force and the back is working and carrying like it should, then you can easily begin to move the balance of the horse backwards.
And always do it without hanging on to the rein. Force breeds force, the horse will fight you, and you will lose, unless you use more force and at some point you end up like Andreas, hanging on the rein, sitting backwards in the movement, locking the horses back by the way your weight is placed, as much as by anything else, displaying a very tense and painful horse. But sure, it will win you an Olympic medal, so well, I guess that is worth a few horses… As long as it isn’t any of mine.
I just think it’s sad. Tragic. And I can’t for the life of me imagine why it is allowed.
Now, for all of you reading this, thinking that I am an annoying know it all, well, you are right. How dare I, a simple horsemanship trainer, compare myself to one of Denmark’s finest? Well, it’s simple really. I don’t want to, I never, ever want to sink to his level, but for the purpose of this post, I don’t mind showing my much less expensive horses in comparison.
This is NOT a post designed to pat myself on the back, not at all, this is a post, written to ask the question why? When someone as simple as me, know the difference between right and wrong, know how to train her horses so they do not suffer bone injury, or tendon injury, or muscle injury, WHY do our professionals not?
Is it because they don’t care? Because they win more medals faster, by cheating this way, damaging the horse, but making it look impressive to the untrained eye? What then, is wrong with our judges in the sport?? WHY is this kind of riding rewarded?
PETA just lost a case against the owners of one of the most famous dressage horses, which is a huge blow for the world of horsemanship. We now have it in writing that roll kur is not animal abuse.
This is a sad world. I cannot phantom why it is allowed to treat horses this way. I mean, imagine someone tying a dog’s face down, forcing it to walk around for hours every day, causing damage to its spine and legs, developing arthritis and kissing spine, or ligament injuries, within a year- okay, let’s be fair, two years tops- imagine the public outrage if anyone treated their dog that way?
Why a horse? Because there are so much money involved of course. And because we keep hearing stuff like, “The horse is an athlete.”
Poppycock, of course it’s not. The horse is an animal, used in the sport. The horse has no desire to win medals or to go that extra mile to beat the other competitors. But it is very easy to win over the public by using words like that. We all know that athletes suffer for their sport, so of course the horse should be willing to endure a bit of pain for the sake of winning?
Don’t think that the spin doctors are not working overtime in the world of horses.
So this is me, being sick of it, once more. And no, I am not jealous, I wouldn’t ride my horses that way at gun point. Truth is, I could. It doesn’t require any kind of talent to ride that way, and it doesn’t make you a good rider at all. You can even get saddles with huge knee support these days, making sure that you stay on the horses back, no matter how little the horse is carrying itself correctly. Now, ask any of those riders, ask Andreas, to ride his horse bareback. I bet you anything, he couldn’t…
Now, back to my little world of horses, once again disappointed with how our professionals are, and kind of happy that I have been out of the sport for so long. At least I have four happy and healthy horses on my pasture, and I know that whatever mistakes I will unavoidably make with them, will be unintentional, and that I am my own worst critic. I will always strive to have my horses live a happy and pain free life, because I believe that it is my duty as the owner of another living soul. To not subject it to any kind of abuse.
Of course I am being black listed here, cutting off my chances of ever competing in dressage again, if anyone finds out “who I am,” attacking Andreas like this, but that is a chance I am willing to take- again. I have been black listed before. People forget. 15 years ago, I could go nowhere because of my name, I wasn’t even just punished by getting low scores at shows, I was denied access to quite a lot of stables. This is the world of horses for you. Back then, my mom, reported the stable we bought Pikant and Poseidon from, and they were closed down shortly afterwards. I didn’t even do it, I was a child, but our name got me banned all the same.
No one remembers now. But I guess it’s not in my blood to shut up. It will be a sad day, the day, were no one remains who is willing to speak their mind and hope for a revolution in the world of dressage.
By the way, Andreas father, is the head of DRF, the Danish equestrian federation, and he has just decided to shut down the instructor education we had in Denmark. So, as of now, no new instructors or trainers are being educated. Way to kill the sport even more. Way to leave no one, who knows the difference between right and wrong…