Last night's posting reminded me that I hadn't yet discussed the "clinic" on October 28th at the Syracuse Invitational. The topic was "Riding the Top-level Performance Horse in Every Discipline" and was demonstrated by Anne Kursinski, Ian Millar and Courtney King-Dye. And I could go through the entire event, moment by moment, but that's precisely the reason why I've been holding off on writing this post -- that seems kinda boring to do. So, let me just give you my impressions of it and why my post on the blue tongue controversy reminded me of that night.
See, the basic conceit of the evening was to demonstrate how riders in Hunter, Jumpers and Dressage all use the same foundation to training their horses. The idea was for the audience to watch the warm-up portion of the session to observe the similarities in training and riding. Straightness, throughness, lateral softness, good transitions, true bends and so forth and so on. And I don't knock it. It's all true. However, I just want to point out that Ian Millar was simply outstanding and completely outshadowed his fellow ringmates. His reins were droopy, his horse forward and super responsive, and he sat there extremely quietly as if doing nothing. And yet, the whenever John Madden (the announcer) would direct our attention to the beauty and art of riding, he immediately directed our attention to Courtney King-Dye.
Dressage, in theory, is supposed to equal harmony. But when reflected into reality, this is not the case. When will we feel confident enough to acknowledge that? Ian Millar epitomized all of the tenets of what good high-level dressage should be, and here I was being instructed to worship Courtney. She was fine, end of story. The horse looked a tad tense and she looked like she was very active in a workmanlike way. Not my idea of beauty in motion, but not terrible. Just not my dressage ideal. Particularly (and this brings me to the point of the blue tongue controversy) when you realize that her horse was ever so slightly behind the vertical during the entire ride that night. That's really what gets my goat. We have gotten to a point in dressage where our we don't even seem to remember what a proper frame looks like anymore. And the problem is exacerbated by riders showing and giving public demonstrations with their horses behind the vertical slightly.
Sometimes a rider does long and low, stretchy frames. Sometimes you might ask for a slightly deeper frame than you would compete in. Everyone does this; it's called training. The problem I have is when a training frame replaces the competition frame. When you are a top rider it is your responsibility to educate your audience and ensure they are viewing a correct representation of your sport. Mistakes happen, no doubt. But 45 minutes of a horse never coming in front of the vertical should NEVER happen. On the vertical at the very least, but BTV for 35 min of the entire ride is amateurish. If you can ride at Grand Prix, surely your horse is strong enough to carry himself properly. If not, you have no business doing demonstrations or showing. You need to stay at home and put some more work into the horse.
Ian Millar's horse, by comparison, was lovely to watch because his frame was up, nose poked out more often than not. Sure, he wasn't as collected as Courtney's horse, but his movement was free and joyous to watch. Dressage is present in a variety of riding styles; it is the harmonious elevation of a natural way of going. And if you ask me Ian Millar's jumper embodied that expression in a way that Courtney King-Dye's horse did not.
This though, is the deeper problem within dressage itself and is what leads to people riding deeper and deeper and eventually trying rollkur. It is the absolute fear (for lack of a better word) that the horse should ever approach the vertical, let alone come above the vertical. We are so busy softening and suppling that we seem to forget to ride up and out. And if the general public only sees riding like this, then not many people can distinguish between what's right and wrong.