Monday, February 2, 2009

Simplicity in Visual Aids

Volker's simple yet effective visual aids included my legal pad and ball point pen:
He "autographed" his notes with a hoofprint (must mean he's part horse).

Volker Brommann's lecture Saturday evening January 31 was basic, easy to follow, yet full of important pearls valuable to the training level youngster through to the grand prix campaigner.
Among other things, Volker covered the training scale:
Rhythm and Regularity (Takt)
Looseness/Relaxation (Losgelassenheit)
Contact (Anlehnung)
Impulsion (Schwung)
Straightness (Geraderichtung)
Collection (Versammlung)
Volker spent the most time covering the first three elements: rhythm, looseness/relaxation, and contact. These three together are considered the Familiarization Phase, and remain important throughout the horse's career. When the horse moves with rhythm and regularity, this metronome-like quality of the muscluature causes the looseness or relaxation of the horse, thus dis-allowing tension that could build from jerky or non-regular muscle movements. Only then can the horse reach toward the contact of the allowing hand of the rider.
Concerning "behind the vertical" Volker had this to say: according to the rule book it is never okay to ride the horse behind the vertical; however Volker stressed how important it is to never ride the horse behind the bridle. There are moments when the horse does come behind the vertical but it is still correct as long as the horse is reaching forward into the contact from a swinging back in self-carriage.
In working toward collection the horse must be asked to sit. However the horse should never be pushed beyond what its muscluature can endure. The horse should be developed in such a way as to allow the muscles of the horse to comfortably carry the horse on sitting quarters, with elavation of the entire horse rather than the false absolute elevation of the head and neck only, where the back drops and hollows and the quarters trail out behind (much as a dog does when scratching the dirt). Even within all three gaits, the horse should be allowed to stretch down and forward often to relieve muscle fatigue while gaining the necessary muscle that allows the horse to sit in true collection.
Concerning extended gaits, Volker answered that balance, harmony, and (again) regularity is more important than the oft seen "flicking" of the front feet but with the horse's hindlegs trailing behind (like the above dirt-scratching dog). Regularity with balance is even more important than overstride in the extended gaits.
Volker emphasized the responsibility judges have in rewarding and reinforcing the classical art of dressage (which is a many-years-long process that should progress slowly over time) versus rewarding and reinforcing the forced training of too young horses whose musculoskeletal system is not yet able to perform the demanding upper levels. As Volker pointed out, the rule book states that irregularity within a gait should at best be given a 5. Yet too often we've seen judges give 9's for gaits that, while impressive and impulsive in young horses, are still irregular. It is a major and ongoing debate (as is riding deep) that points to the responsibility of brave judges to reward correct and traditional training.
If we can manage to ride in such a way that we refrain from ruining or hurting our horses, and thereby allow us as riders to restore to them the balance, freedom and beauty that nature has already gifted them with in their riderless form, we will have done well by our horses.

(This article also published in the HDS newsletter "Collective Remarks" page 24.)