This has been an interesting year for me for several reasons. I tried to ride again and was hit with the reality that my body just wasn’t going to accept the pressure. I was told to have surgery to fuse my pubic bone back together, and I decided to ignore that and try the long way round.
I had to not just gain physical strength but regain confidence, and relearn how to engage muscles, and relax others, and this takes time. They say that you have to do something 1000 times before it becomes habit.
I had to try to do exercises again in a different way, and every time I pushed a bit much come back and try again. I realised why people just have the surgery. It takes a lot of mental and physical patience and determination to continually put your muscles into positions they don’t like, and then mental strength to breathe through it and learn to relax within it.
This for me brought to mind a very distinct point in our sport of dressage today…Special gadgets, short reins, tight legs, and pulling/pushing bodies at 45 degree angles back towards the horses bottom, has become the ‘surgery’ of today’s dressage.
It’s the quick fix, the put everything together, the squeeze and haul approach, that sees horses at Grand Prix at 7 years old, only to disappear after two months of competition…
Why does this happen?
Because of course the time, patience, money, technique and tact required to actually start a young horse, and take it up to Grand Prix, via all the necessary steps of balance, contact, engagement, suppleness, and finally collection, takes well… ‘too much’ time.
People want horses at 6 who can do passage, and horses at 5 who can do flying changes. There might be some horses at 5 and 6 ready for that. The problem is the horse is not a manufactured product, but an animal, and each one is different. One that matures early may have the balance to do a flying change at 4, while another who hasn’t yet learnt how to canter on both reins without falling onto the shoulder might need two more years, or (god forbid) might not be ready to start flying changes until they are 8 years old!!! (gasp!)
When we look at a 6-year-old we should ask, is he in balance? is he into the contact? is he supple, forward and engaged? Is he with the weight out of the shoulders?
If he is all of those things, call me, because these days, I am afraid to say, that 99% of 6 year olds are not! But they continue to Grand Prix without these essentials, and then they are lame at 10 and their career is over.
Why are the horses pushed into collection, hauled around the arena, and rushed into Grand Prix? Why do we rarely see lightness, engagement, and relaxation in competition?
I can’t answer that…But I will ask..If these horses finished with low marks time after time, and judges commented that the horse was not working over the back, was tense, and being held in the mouth and pushed with a driving seat… would riders have to stop and do it properly? If an average horse that had the correct basics was marked above a flash horse that was doing “boxage” with the rider, would this change how much time was invested in the horses proper basic training?
The joy of dressage for me is watching someone train their horse without pressure and expectation. The rider who is harshly critical of themselves, but who does everything in their power for the good of their horse. The rider who might have pottered around for two years without much visual advancements, and yet to those that are close with said rider the horse is everyday more confident, and rider also, the horse is everyday more balanced and happy and relaxed. May we all strive to be that rider.
Finally, I will start again slowly riding, and it might take a long time, but everything in life worth doing, is worth doing properly, and worth putting everything into 🙂