A happy horse is more fun to ride
Initially, when I started to venture into the English equine world I was surprised by the difference in attitude of horsemen and women in the various branches of the sport. It may have changed by now in Holland as well, but some 30 to 40 years ago everybody was through riding club jumping and doing dressage affiliated on the same day at the same outdoor premise. Only indoors was split up but you would still meet with your same chums.
In England everything was separate and also jumping riders seemed to be a very different kettle of fish from dressage riders and event riders seemed to be a different species all together. There was of course the occasional all-rounder, good or no-good at everything, but that was only sporadic.
What did strike me though, that particularly in dressage the word discipline was taken so very literal. It was nearly as if the horse had to feel it was made to do it rather than getting some enjoyment out of itself.
This was completely averse my own training philosophy. Having worked with many difficult horses, some having given up on trying to be helpful at all, I had to learn early on that you have to make the horse believe that it wants to do it because it likes what it is doing. Only then can it turn into a discipline. And even then we can maintain the fun-bit.
So, here is a message to those who aspire dressage: vary the work with sufficient hacking and pole-work and certainly do not brainwash.
Also a message to the show-jump riders: flatwork is an important and necessary part of your training in order for your horse to enjoy its jumping so much more.
And last but not least, the event riders; do not treat your dressage as a necessary evil in order to get a decent score for your test. Your horse does not 'hate' dressage and neither do you, you just don't know it, yet!
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Goodbye Paul Martin, hello Mike Douglas
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One hundred years of eleven-eleven-eleven
Ever since the First World War reached a ceasefire on November the eleventh at eleven o'clock it has been the moment for the countries involved to commemorate this. As today it is the centenary of the beginning of First World War, I, as a horse lover, would like to pause for a moment in order to remember the thousands of horses which were lost under the most atrocious circumstances. With that many of the men who were caring for them had to suffer the loss of their four-footed comrade at a time when they needed every bit of emotional comfort they could lay their hands on. Sadly, when the war was over many horses, having gone through hell and back, were now paid by being slaughtered for their meat.
It does not hurt my feelings that the cavalry is a changed phenomena and horses no longer go to war. Through the beautiful and enormously popular theatre production 'War Horse' (and also the movie) the tragedy was brought a lot closer to us. Horse lovers and non horse lovers found it an equally emotional experience. Personally, I could not keep my eyes dry for a minute through the whole play, not so much because of the story line but knowing that this one romantic tale represented also an endless amount of tragedies.
My first pony was a Haflinger. Somewhere I read that this small compact horse was much loved by the cavalry in Austria as it was able to pull cannons very well in difficult terrain. Last night on the English program 'Countryfile', which was dedicated to the Great War, it was mentioned that the mule was so popular for its stamina. One does not need a whole lot of imagination in order to realize how sad that actually is.
Dressage is going through an enormously popular phase. Dressage to music has added to this greatly. I think that occasionally we should remember that the cavalry is (partly) responsible for all the knowledge we have about what makes our horses respond to us. For me, for example, a book written by Gregor de Romaszkan was an important source of information. He was an Austrian cavalry officer in the Great War and also was involved in the Second World War, in Poland and in France.
Part of the cavalry is the uniform. In the dictionary another word for 'uniform' is 'identical'. This is what I sincerely hope we will never loose in the dressage world. The uniformity of what we wear when competing. We owe that to our horses. So that, when dressage is being watched by enthusiasts, the horse is not overshadowed by its rider. Also, it is a way to honour those who gave us the foundation for what is now our sport, but once was such a vital part of protecting one's country.
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Perseverance and more perseverance
A couple of weeks ago I was translating an article about a Dutch dressage rider who, after a brake because of an injury, had started to compete again at Advanced level and did rather well. It said he had competed Prix St.Georges in the past and was now hoping to prepare in order to compete Grand Prix.
Small detail: the rider Maarten van Stek has only one arm. As soon as I read that I raced back in time and was sitting again on the side of an indoor arena somewhere in the east of my home country Holland, crutches lying next to me, after a car accident which nearly caused for me to loose my left leg and disabled me for quite a while.
Maarten was teaching and had just got on a horse of a client. I must say, I was completely starstruck. Watching him ride made me also so unbelievably envious. Here was a young guy who did everything I had wanted to do and not only did he have this wonderful quality of being able to explain in a very uncomplicated and humble way very complicated things, he transformed a quite unbalanced and confused horse in a relatively short time into a well-balanced horse which started to show itself of and in the process growing happier by the minute. It didn't even occur to me any more that this man had only the one arm.
I came away confused, angry but also with that itch of wanting to not give up and stick the pain and the frustration in order to get back on a horse again.
So, thirty five years later,still going strong as a dressage trainer, I am sitting behind my little laptop in my Cornish cottage and in the meantime learning about the fact Maarten had lost his arm in a car accident when he was only six and started riding as a therapy. A lesson in perseverance to say the least. I wish him all the best and will follow his achievements, hopefully in the Grand Prix not too long from now.
Oh, and by the way, thank you Maarten, that time in the indoor school in Haaksbergen was a life-changing experience.
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About Liz Barclay
Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.
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