Nov 10, 2009

On Blue Tongues and Other Controversies

Ah, yes.  It is positively viral; the roar heard around the world directed at Patrik Kittel, with the full ire and venom of an audience who feigned absolute innocence of such a phenomenon heretofore.  Okay, most of you probably already know I'm speaking of the infamous "blue tongue" event at the World Cup Qualifier in Denmark.

Firstly, I just want to say that the absolute hatred being directed towards Patrik Kittel is shameful.  He is being scapegoated by just about everyone in the equestrian industry and it's a very unfortunate position to have to be in.  I don't condone what he did and I think his riding was reprehensible.  BUT.  As I have discussed before, Patrik is certainly not the only rider training in this manner.  He is one of many, in fact.  He is doing nothing that hasn't been seen before.  Only now spectators have suddenly awoken from their dressage reverie and just about declared, "OFF WITH HIS HEAD!"  I admit I find that a bit unfair.  Frankly, he is just another symptom of a broken system.  This is a system that seems to find no fault to the rollkur system of training even though it basically goes against every basic tenet of classical dressage training.  A system that turns a blind eye to such an incident in the warm-up of a major international event, even though a complaint was allegedly lodged against what was occuring.  A system that rewards such training methods simply by giving high scores in the show ring.  (Is not dressage the art of training?  So, awarding any score to a horse trained in the hyperflexion manner is rewarding that style of training.)

The problem is not Patrik Kittel.  He deserves to be punished, of course, but we all share responsibility for the "blue tongue" incident.  We share it when every time we revel in Anky's wins.  We share it every time we don't speak up about any trainer or rider whose horses are always behind the vertical (and that goes doubly for all those collective cries of "When you ride at his/her level, then you can critique him/her.  Otherwise keep your mouth shut!" every time the average layperson dares to critique a professional rider)  We share it every time we assume that dressage implicity equals beauty and oneness and lightness.  Dressage is the same as every other discipline; there is the good and the bad and we must not think we cannot criticize a person simply because dressage is an exalted art. 

And might I point out that with the exception of a couple of riders walking out on a long rein, there is NOT ONE rider riding in the "blue tongue" video whose horse is at or in front of the vertical.  How did we get to this place in this sport?  Rollkur is just the natural extension of our collective amnesia as to how dressage is supposed to be ridden.  Hypeflexion is despicable, but there is a larger problem in our sport and it has been left unchecked for far too long.  Why did it take a blue tongue for us to realize that?!  Patrik is not the problem.  Dressage is the problem.  Even rollkur (in and of itself) is not the problem.  A governing body that does not take action against all riders riding even behind the vertical is the problem.  A scoring system that can overlook terrible training techniques is the problem.  It's lovely that suddenly everyone stood up and took notice of our ailing sport, but scapegoating one man is not how we will solve this.  And frankly, banning rollkur is going to be nigh to impossible as well as just a symptomatic fix.  I'll post tomorrow about what I think we could do specifically to change dressage, but then again, I covered it before here and here.  It's not rocket science.  It's requires a complete overhaul of our sport and specifically our scoring system.

If you would like to watch the video, it is here.  And the filmakers FAQ is located here.  (Also, you best believe that as a spectator -- unlike the filmakers -- I would have so been in an uproar about what I saw to anyone who would listen.  I find their explanation -- the incident had already been reported and journalists aren't supposed to interfere -- is an insufficient response.  Believe you me, I would have caused a major scene, lodging more complaints, filming, as well as verbally shaming him every time he passed.)

No comments: