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Dressage is not horse abuse, any more than

  • Magical Thyme (2849 posts)
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    Dressage is not horse abuse, any more than

    “obedience training” for dogs is dog abuse.

    Every aspect of life has individuals who, out of ignorance or frustration or whatever, abuse. That does not make that aspect of life inherently abusive. It means there are individuals who, no matter what they are doing, turn to abuse in a failed attempt to accomplish something.

    The same thing is true for dressage. Dressage is very simply a system of education that, correctly done, improves communication and harmony between the horse and rider. At the highest levels, they work together as one. The horse is able to move and happily performs with ease in all directions, at any pace, under the weight and at the request of the rider. It is totally unforced.

    It’s unfortunate that a some people either don’t understand, or forget, the meaning of ‘dressage,’ which is education. They focus on trying to get the end result, which they see as “tricks” rather than exercises with a goal of complete harmony.  “Dressage” is not the end result, it is not the piaffe or the passage or the pirouedtte. Dressage is a method of teaching that does not include force, beating, chains, rigging attached to legs, or whatever to get “results.” Force is the opposite of dressage.

    Jan Boehmann posted a video yesterday that claims that dressage is abuse; it set to dramatic music examples of clear abuse intermixed with some non-abuse. The suggestion is that this is what dressage is. No, it is not.

    Here are videos of good trainers introducing horses to the piaffe. It is a very advanced movement –the pinnacle of training before the “airs above the ground” — and comes after some number of years of preparation so the horse will be strong enough to do it with ease and understand the signals (aids) enough to quickly understand what is asked. There are many, many videos out there of trainers demonstrating how they teach piaffe (as well as other exercises and movements used).

    Note the gentleness and respect with which the horse is touched and stroked with the “whip,” the ease with which he moves in and out of the “half-steps,” the quietness of the scene. And in the first video in particular, notice the ease with which the horse moves in and out of the half-steps. There is no sign of discomfort, stress or fear. And there are many, many videos out there by professional trainers demonstrating dressage techniques.

    Here is a horse being started from the ground, which often trainers to use before under saddle training, depending on the individual horse.

    Here is a horse being started from the ground using a different method of touch. Note the horses are *touched* with the “whip,” not hit. The “whip” is a poor name for the tool, which is used as an extension of the arm. Horses are big animal.  Unlike a dog or cat or bird, we can’t stand at one end and touch them at the other.

    Performance is just setting a sequence of exercises to music in a way that fits. Some horses excel at it, some are helped by it, some don’t “get” it so can’t do it. Some horses also enjoy showing off a lot and love to perform. It shows in their entire demeanor.

    My old gelding, Algiers “got it” in his head, but he always struggled between his inner need to “control” versus his desire to please. As a result, he got increasingly frustrated with it so I gave it up with him. OTOH, I had a very un-athletic mare with poor balance who “got it” mentally, and it actually helped her find her rhythm and balance.  Dahli doesn’t “get it” at all, but it also doesn’t bother her; I have low hopes around her ever getting it, but I still will sometimes ride with music going that I’ve chosen to match her natural tempo jic she has a sudden epiphany.


    7wo7rees, Haikugal, PennLawyer and 3 othersIdaBriggs, eomer, Downwinder like this

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12 replies
  • Downwinder (1736 posts)
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    1. You only have to look at your Arab Girl video

    to see that her mount thoroughly enjoyed what he was doing.


  • d3lic (1157 posts)
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    2. Horse can't speak, but maybe would prefer the open range,

    if born to it and knew it naturally?

    Can’t really compare that with such sublime enslavement.

    I think domesticated horses are fine and happy, on a ranch with good people.

    But it can get a bit … kinky, can’t it?

    • Magical Thyme (2849 posts)
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      3. don't be too sure of that

      My direct experience over decades is that they prefer the safety of their home turf to “freedom.” And I haven’t read about massive (or any) outbreaks by BLM horses that were trapped and sold to private owners.

      My asshole neighbor across the street tried to run my horses out into the road years ago, in a fit of rage. I found the pasture gate pushed wide open and my horses trembling in the furthest (and in their minds, most dangerous) corner of their pasture, as far from the neighbor and gate as they could get.

      My old gelding got loose his last autumn. He trotted and cantered up and down the road several times, got a good look around, then turned around and trotted right back down into his pasture.

      My rescued morgan was born and raised in a large pasture with her family “herd.” She had never been stalled; they lived pretty much like wild horses exposed to predators, but with special benefits (basic vet care, 24x7x365 access to food, water and a free access shelter to escape bad weather).

      When she came here she wouldn’t let me touch her. She entered my barn only to eat or drink; if I approached the open door, she’d leave at a gallop. The only way I finally was able to get her inside and safe from predators at night was a hoof abscess that blew, leaving her down and barely able to hobble.

      2 years later, she’s started brings herself in for the night. I find her in late afternoon in the barn waiting for me to close the door. She has manners, freely comes up to me in the pasture to be scritched, lunges and has been lightly ridden. She’s not thrilled (yet) about being ridden. Once I get us moved to a place with trail riding and companions, based on my experience of many, many horses, she’ll discover the joy.

      Late last summer, she ran through the electric fence tape that was protecting a section of pasture so it recover from overgrazing during the drought. The streams of (no longer hot) tape frightened her and she took off galloping and jumped out of the pasture and ran up the pasture driveway. Once she was free of the tape (about 50-75 feet up the road) she turned around, came back down the driveway and jumped the fence back into her pasture.

      I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed horses return home on their own after a brief “adventure” in the wild. They aren’t stupid. An hour or two of “work”/day tops, with 24x7x365 safety, companionship, food, water & access to shelter is a damn good deal.

      • Haikugal (6111 posts)
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        7. They love to be ridden when their rider is considerate and very proud of

        their abilities. Like any domesticated animal they developed mental abilities and communication skills with their humans.

        There are cruel, stupid people in all walks of life but dressage is elegant and beautiful. An over trained horse will go insane…I’ve seen some horses brought back but most aren’t recovered.

        I haven’t watched the videos yet but I look forward to it.

          Be the bird.....       Hey DNC! Up Yours! It's ON!! Kick against the pricks!!!
      • d3lic (1157 posts)
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        9. As I said, "if born to it and knew it naturally".

        You’re talking about horses that were born subject to humans.

        As I also said, I’m sure horses are fine and happy on a ranch with good people.

        But there can also be a lot of money made in human dealings with animals.  Not just chickens.  Not just turning cows into hamburger.  And when money is involved, when profit becomes the object, animals have very little protection from absolutely hideous abuse.  We all know that, even as we buy our chicken dinner.

        So there’s good and bad.  That’s all I’m saying.  And it can get kinky.

    • Abakan (2843 posts)
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      12. Are you serious?

      These horses are not enslaved and I can’t even begin to

      think what you mean by kinky. Whatever it is, is not and

      should not be part of this post. Please don’t hijack posts

      just because you can.

      There are only two things in life, but I forget what they are. John Hiatt
  • PennLawyer (2407 posts)
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    4. Great videos. I have a dressage "grandhorse" my dtr. rescued.

    One of those thousands of thoroughbreds born every year who are not fast enough to win at the track and are auctioned off for dog food.  This guy was lucky enough to be picked up at auction by a stables which used him for many years as a school horse in  a riding program for handicapped kids.

    But then the owners of the stables retired and sold it to a pair of spoiled bitch “trophy wives” of very wealthy men – it is a hobby business for them.  Neither of them had ever taken a course in stable management or had any experience other than owning expensive horses which others had responsibility for.  They were not to be bothered with those handicapped kids, so threw that program out, and focused on stabling horses belonging to similarly wealthy folks.  They are doing a crap job – the fields are overgrazed and muddy; they go on the cheap when buying hay and have gotten 2 bad batches which have sickened the horses; and the folks who work there are clearly stressed.  That stress transmits itself to the horses of course.  Plus they keep raising the boarding fees substantially every year.

    My daughter, who’s ridden dressage for decades now,  bought Mocha and has moved him to a really great, family owned/operated boarding stables with gorgeous lush fields & a terrific barn.   He’s now 23 and shares a barn with four very roomy box stalls with 3 other “senior” geldings.  (There’s another barn for ponies.) Each stall has a dutch door to large, lush outside pasture and during the day, the horses can come and go as they please from their respective stalls.  The 4 horses are great buddies, and whenever my daughter shows up, if they are scattered around the field, they all come galloping up to her, because she is the source of  not only carrots, but also ginger snap cookies and starlight peppermints – the latter 2 items being delights with which they were unacquainted until she came on the scene.   I think of this place as Horse Heaven.

    When my dtr. found this better place and moved her horse out, it was amazing to see the change in his personality, absent the stressful environment of the place he’d lived for many years.   For example, before, he was extremely head shy. Within TWO DAYS at the new place, you could not only scratch his forehead, but he liked it. And he completely stopped near constant pawing at the ground when he was cross-tied for grooming. And he loved the good quality hay. Funny to watch him when he took his first desultory bite of good  hay at the new place. Chewed a few times. Stopped. Thought. And then absolutely tore into the rest of it.

    Being that he’s bred for speed, even though not fast enough to win at the tracks, I asked her how fast he was at a full gallop.  I’ve ridden Arabians and quarter horses – so know how fast they can be, but never a Thoroughbred.  She said he really wasn’t  interested in running; the only time she’d seen him at full speed was when he spotted her across the field and she had a bag of carrots in hand.

    I enjoy visiting him and the other horses.  Like they say, there’s something about the outside of a horse which is good for the inside of a man (or woman).

    • Magical Thyme (2849 posts)
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      5. I just realized it is Artur Kottas Heldenberg in the 1st video

      When I was 14, my parents took their “dream trip” to Europe. I agreed to go if we stopped in Vienna to see the Spanish Riding School. My mother agreed, mainly because then she’d get to see a Viennese opera.

      At the time, Kottas was a bereiter (trainer) there. Watching the training session, with a dozen or more stallions of various levels working in the arena at once, he became my favorite (not least because he was young and handsome, lol). I still have postcards, booklets and other memorabilia from that visit.

      Fast forward a couple decades; Reagan was President and the SPS toured the US (and gave Reagan a fully trained stallion as a gift). One performance was in Worcester, Mass…I lived just 45 minutes or so away so of course attended. Kottas was now oberbereiter (chief trainer) of the SPS and he and his horse just shined so bright….so quiet, so zen, an absolute joy to watch. I cried.

      Anyway, realizing that it is him, suddenly it all makes sense.

      • PennLawyer (2407 posts)
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        6. I still have postcard my Mom sent me when she visited the Spanish Riding School.

        What a wonderful family vacation and memories for you.  I’d love to see the Lipizzaners perform.  My dtr. took a riding holiday to Germany – a combination of dressage classes and trail rides in the Black Forrest.  All of the horses were the warm blood Hanoverians.  Really beautiful horses – I often see them being ridden or pulling carriages in period films/tv series set in Europe – like Poldark.

        Here’s a link I found you may enjoy  – the report of the Lipizzaners performance on the White House lawn and the gift of one to Reagan.  It refers briefly to General George Patton and how he smuggled the horses out of Vienna in WWII and saved them from the Nazis.


        and another link about Patton’s rescue/protection of the horses.

        Lt. Gen. Walton H. Walker’s XX Corps had captured the renowned Spanish Riding School of Vienna several days earlier at its temporary quarters in St. Martin im Innkreis, a small town in Upper Austria, and Walker, a protégé of Patton’s, requested a performance of its white Lipizzaner stallions especially for him. As Patton watched, the horses and riders went through the precise, balletlike maneuvers they were famous for: a demonstration of controlled power and ritualized elegance, set to music, that was beautiful to watch and incredibly difficult to execute.

        When it was over, Podhajsky halted his horse before Patton and removed his hat in a traditional salute. “In a little Austrian village in a decisive hour two men faced each other,” he wrote in his memoir, My Dancing White Horses, the basis for the 1963 Disney film Miracle of the White Stallions, “the one as triumphant conqueror in a war waged with such bitterness, the other as a member of a defeated nation.” He asked Patton for protection for the centuries-old school during the uncertain postwar period and for help in retrieving its breeding herd from Czechoslovakia, where the Germans had sent the horses to a Wehrmacht-controlled stud farm.

        Patton, an expert horseman himself, described the exhibition in his diary that day, calling it “extremely interesting and magnificently performed.” Ever the soldier, he added, “It struck me as rather strange that, in the midst of a world at war, some twenty young and middle-aged men in great physical condition…had spent their entire time teaching a group of horses to wiggle their butts and raise their feet in consonance with certain signals from the heels and reins.” More telling for Podhajsky, though, was what Patton noted next: “On the other hand, it is probably wrong to permit any highly developed art, no matter how fatuous, to perish from the earth—and which arts are fatuous depends on the point of view. To me the high-schooling of horses is certainly more interesting than either painting or music.”

        Standing to address the man on horseback before him, Patton replied that he was putting the Spanish Riding School under the special protection of the U.S. Army; he later told Podhajsky he would do what he could about the horses in Czechoslovakia.  http://www.historynet.com/patton-rescues-the-lipizzaner-stallions.htm

        Nice to take a break from the horrors of the day  to research/discuss something pleasant!

        • Magical Thyme (2849 posts)
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          11. Disney's movie "Miracle of the White Stallions" came out when I was 11 years old

          that was when I knew what I wanted to do with my life. Circumstances prevented me from ever doing it to the degree and level I dreamed of, but somehow the dream just refuses to die…

          I came across a video of the movie a few years back. Incredibly hokey, but very impressive to a generation of kids.

  • 7wo7rees (338 posts)
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    8. You are amazing and thank you for sharing. Truly!!

    I always enjoy so much your every post. You take me home and you make my heart be glad.

    Thank you.