30 August 2015

Someone who rides worse than me

   I’ve learned that the reason warmbloods are usually scored higher in dressage tests is NOT because the judges prefer them over ‘home growns’ like Quarter Horses and Arabians. 

    It’s because, as I heard a highly ranked judge tell a complaining woman, ‘Warmbloods are not easy to ride.” My god, is that true. Raven is very difficult to ride. He’s not stubborn, but he makes you earn every correct step. Every single time. Whereas your typical mellow Quarter Horse is like a Labrador retriever, always happy to make you happy. Thus, a higher scoring rider of a warmblood EARNED it.

     I’m not going to pretend I know how to ride dressage. I am learning to ride dressage. It’s frustrating, time consuming and at times, so aggravating I sometimes wonder if I should just give up even trying.

    I don’t blame dressage in and of itself for that. I know without a doubt, it’s ME.
Having grown up poor, I didn’t own my own horse until I was grown, although I’d taken every chance I could to get aboard a horse as a kid. Those horses were always wearing a western saddle. It was de rigueur. Only sissies rode "English". Only the bluebloods rode “English”. Only the English rode "English". Thus I came to riding often late in life, long after my body had settled into its muscular routine.

My training in riding a western saddled horse was simple:

1. Get on.
2. Kick the horse’s sides to get him to go.
3. Hang onto the horn.
4. Yank on the reins to stop.

    I don’t say that all Western riders are as poor a rider as I was. Although I must say that Western Equitation (to differentiate it from plain ol’ cowboy Western) appears to be designed to give novice riders a ribbon no matter how they ride.

   I’ve seen western riders; reiners, range riders, barrel racers, ropers, cutters-ride as if they were glued to the saddle. These riders (whom I have much respect for) let their horse travel at a good canter with its head up.  Indeed, my 1965 copy of “Breaking and Training the Stock Horse”, despite its title, could be retitled “Breaking and Training the Dressage Horse in Western Drag.” Charles O. Williamson, a cowboy from the early 1900’s, wrote “when there is work to do or action wanted, it is necessary that (the horse) be collected.”1
     The Western Equitation folks have gone so far from Williamson’s training advice that it may as well be called “Arena Riding.”

    I got back into horses in my forties. By then I’d realized I had no desire to ride western, especially western equitation. The barn I boarded my horses was strictly a hunter/jumper barn. My horses were anachronisms and I was sneered at, but…board money is money. I tried riding in a jumping saddle. No way. I just couldn’t get it, and I don’t jump, something my horses were in full in agreement with. I tried an English saddle and sadly, didn’t care for that, either. Thus I found myself riding bareback…and loved it.  
  I still ride bareback more often than not. Riding bareback has taught me all the basics of balance, rhythm, soft hands, etc., that are so important to riding in general.

     I didn’t like English because the lack of a horn unnerved me. Deep inside I knew one wasn’t supposed to hang on to the horn, but I had no concept of collection, contact, or most importantly, balance. The horn was a crutch, both psychological as well as physical.  

     Western riders didn’t talk of doing the work of carrying oneself. You got on the horse and rode. The more miles you had in the saddle, the more adept you became at staying aboard-but the horse was doing all the work.
One steered the horse by neck reining.
The latter has changed.  Indeed, these days, there seems to be a mindset, at least in the show ring (which again, seems to have been usurped by the Western Equitation folks) that the reins aren’t used at all.

     It wasn’t until much later in life that I first rode a friend’s 4th level dressage horse in a dressage saddle. To say that I was completely unprepared for the exquisite sensitivity and instantaneous response a well-trained 4th level horse provides is putting it mildly. Only because the mare loved me did she even tolerate me aboard her.
    But the saddle-the saddle! gave me the physiological equivalent of an ‘aha’ moment. It felt RIGHT to me. I immediately went out and purchased a used dressage saddle for my horse.

   As for western riders: it appears that the Western Equitation fad is dying out. Thank god. Too many truly Western loving riders were sickened and disgusted by the artificial and (let’s say it out loud) cruel way of forcing a horse to go “western Equitation style”. Horses are meant to move out in a fairly rapid speed with their heads UP, not dragging in the dirt at the pace of a slow turtle.

   But the cadre of people who learned to ride western via western equitation is legion. Like a pig through a python, it’s going to take a generation of riders to get past the WE style.

   This style, I learned, involved not using the reins whatsoever. Indeed, I wonder why they even had a bridle on the horse, as the rider would stick her hands way out in front of her, the reins drooping like wet rope from her extended fists.
Here are a few pictures of a high ranking WE rider. 

She’s not as bad as some I’ve seen, although she looks as if the reins are hot. I’m a bit pissed at the heavy mascara on the horses. When I was into Arabians, I was under the impression that makeup on horses was illegal. Apparently the show folks worked their way around that. Jesus, look at that grey. He looks like a clown.

   I feel sorry, honestly, for those folks. (although in the above pictures, the horses seem to be happy).  The only thing they can do is ride a slow horse in an arena. It’s like they’re a cult, and can find acceptance and validation only within that cult. The rest of the riding world, to include Western riders, thinks of them as vapid and silly. But it brings in money. And that’s what drives the horse business. 
   I've used this picture in the past, and will add it here, to truly give the sense one gets of the horse in Western Equitation:

    THIS is what disturbs the 'old fashioned' Western rider, and me. THIS is what Western Equitation wants a riding horse to look like.

   In the past two or three years, a new concept has arisen in the Western riding world, and in my opinion, it's way overdue and very welcome.

  It’s called “Western Dressage’. I cannot say for sure, but it seems to involve age old concepts of: collection, contact, and balance. (Concepts used daily by dressage and English riders). They’re learning that making a horse use both sides of his body enables the horse to go further, keeps him supple, and keeps him in better shape. Riding using dressage principles teaches the rider to carry herself in order to lessen the burden on the horse. Dressage is a team effort.

   It’s an admirable concept, a daring departure from the western equitation fad,and I think it’s going to do a world of good for western riders.

  But it's probably come too late for some. At our last dressage test, where a ‘western dressage’ test had been added, I saw a rider who I can (in my own mind..I'm not a boaster)(although a case could be made that is exactly what I'm doing here on my blog.) see someone who rides dressage worse than me. At last, I can look better than someone who probably is a better rider than I’ll ever be, but was, unfortunately, trained to ride Western Equitation. Which means, she’s got a handicap that she’ll be laboring under for a very long time. Old habits are hard to break.Just ask me.

    Look at this. 


I was embarrassed for her. I have no idea what the judges scored her. The judges in my region have proven to me (at least) that a training show is strictly that, so they aren’t savage with their pens. But the judge HAD to have seen this girl riding like this. She did TWO tests like this. She obviously has miles and miles of Western Equitation under her belt. Her horse was very willing, but didn't seem as if he was out of control or going too fast. I don’t know the rules for Western Dressage. There were four other people in her class and they all rode in Western saddles. Maybe one can ride western dressage in a dressage saddle? It’s weird.The thought hit me, maybe she's a dressage rider who wants the score but not the reputation, so she entered a western dressage class? I have no idea.
    I don’t know who, if anyone, is training her, but if so, that trainer should be hammered. Any trainer, who allows a person to do a dressage test like this, who thinks that one’s arms are supposed to be stuck out like that, should be ashamed of herself.
   But then again, perhaps the trainer (again, if there is one) was trained WE as well.

  Whatever, I am very glad that it isn’t me riding like that in front of god and everybody.

Just when I thought I'd found the worst WE image on google, I found even more egregious ones. This is a screamer.  The rider is showing him both english and western, and oh my gosh. It's bad, folks. Really bad, when she gets ribbons for riding like this:
 If that is 'collection', I'll eat my boots. But I will give her this: her arms and hands are down.

1 Breaking and Training the Stock Horse” (5th Ed.), pg. 52.  1965  Williamson, Charles O. , Caxton Printers, Ltd, Caldwell, ID Lib. of Congress number 62-22012
Due to such early printing, no ISBN has been assigned to this edition.

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