There has been a lot of feedback in the mailbag this week following my comments about dressage, so thank you for writing in. By way of continuing the conversation therefore, I’d like to mention some of the responses and resources sent in.
Open Letter To The International Olympic Committee
Joni Solis pointed me in the direction of a wonderful public letter written by Bernd Paschel, a retired German University Sports Sciences lecturer to Dr. Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
In a letter packed full of valuable insights, here are some of the excerpts which particularly caught my eye:
“The horse is, after all, no more born to carry riders, than the cow, dogs or other pets. It carries itself best as it grazes, stretched down, its head forward. A horse which is on the bit and in a collected state is in an unnatural state, which is required only in dressage.”
“The actual skill of the rider is not rated at the Olympics. It is only the successful performance of the horse in spectacular dressage and jumping exercises, which is judged. It is achieved under conditions of extreme stress, and made possible only through the pain of the horse.”
“Riding horses bitless is, however, forbidden by the tournament rules of the Equestrian Federation… Insurers for horses have accepted that the risk of accidents is lower, when horses are ridden without a bit and are happy to provide for this in their policies.”
“The abuse of horses in sport is from our knowledge physically and psychologically more serious than doping and these are not an isolated cases, but common practice”
And most concerning of all given our recent discussions on declaring that the emperor indeed has no clothes on:
“Individual leading riders, amazingly, in the demanding discipline of eventing, show sympathy for Heuschmann & Co, but probably fear reprisals, should they demonstrate open solidarity.”
As Herr Paschel points out, it is not only the motivation for profit but also the framework of rules and regulations, which stand in the way of achieving much needed change. Hence his letter to the IOC rather than the FEI.
The letter is outstanding example of the progress being made and the support for this continued public cruelty and I encourage you to read it in full here: http://bit.ly/1rG9o8r
A Horse’s Vision Beyond The Vertical
Sally Leong sent in an excellent document on how a horse perceives the world around him through his five sense, which includes some fascinating images of what and how horses see.
Here are just some of the elements I picked out from the document:
“The price horses pay for having laterally placed eyes is that the muzzle gets in the way of forward vision. Depending on the carriage of the head, the particular breed and the setting of the eyes, there is a blind zone extending almost 2 meters directly in front of the horse.”
“When the head is down the horse’s binocular field is located down the nose in the direction of grass. Therefore horses can see where they eat especially well. This is why, if they do want to see directly in front rather than down the nose, horses have to lift up the nose and point it at the object of interest.”
“Best frontal vision of the ground in front is achieved when the horse flexes slightly at the poll. Horses commonly hold their heads in this position when they are moving in slower gaits. This was thought to improve focus and enhance images of the ground ahead.6 However, when over-flexed so that the nose is behind the vertical, the horse cannot see the space in front of it and so, when being ridden, may occasionally collide with objects, people and other horses if not directed.”
“A functionally important blind spot is created when a horse is ridden ‘on the bit’. The blind spot is formed to the front of the horse, and is believed to be as wide as the body. Thus, when a horse is being ridden in such a fashion it cannot see directly in front of itself.”
So is it any wonder that horses look scared to death when being ridden with their heads beyond the vertical, the poor things can’t see where they are going. This is probably why they to turn their head in order to use their peripheral vision, which of course results in the rider pulling even harder on the reins to correct this and all for ‘correct form’ for the judges.
As the letter to the IOC points out, it is only the performance of the horse that is being judged and not the actual skill of the rider. What lunacy. I was going to say it’s like putting the cart before the horse but I don’t think that helps…
You can read the entire document here: http://bit.ly/1qi3oVY
Cindy Musselwhite wrote in again mentioning Philippe Karl with pictures of his horse High Noon, who by the age of 4 had already been damaged by the riding practices of modern dressage. Under Philippe Karl’s care and tutelage, the horse has been rehabilitated and now carries his head high and dignified.
When I see images such as those of Philippe Karl, it instinctively feels and look right to me, do you know what I mean?
Alison Franks also wrote in to mention Manalo Mendez, who was the first First Chief Rider with the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. She said he is a real proponent of getting horses relaxed yet working correctly with the nose in front of the vertical.
I took a look at one of his videos on YouTube and all I heard from the commentary was that such-and-such a movement was not right and this posture was incorrect etc, etc. I’m no horse expert and certainly no dressage connoisseur but has anyone stopped to ask the horse how he feels about it all of this?
Funnily enough, when I was looking on YouTube for Manalo Mendez, I saw an advertised video of him and Josh Lyons (son of John Lyons) performing together at a big horse expo. Guess who was riding with the looser rein?
See for yourself here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCtAXXsUoKs