Monday, February 15, 2010

Be the best you can be, BUT, first do no harm!

Be the best you can be BUT
First do no harm.

By Terri Rocovich

Hello to all EI readers. First I would like to apologize for my absence of late. Between a heavy work and travel schedule, getting the flu and an unexpected death in the family, life simply got away from me in the last several weeks. I promise to try my best to be more consistent, I really enjoy writing this blog and hearing from all of you.

With that said, I set forth to catch up with everyone by reading through the last several blogs. Welcome, welcome Linda!!!! I was so enraged and appalled by the example of rollkur in Jami’s last blog that I decided I had to carry it over into mine, if for no other reason that I can vent. I have been a competitor, enthusiast and a trainer in Dressage and Eventing since the late 1980s (did barrel racing and reining before that) and what Jami showed in that video clip does not remotely resemble anything correct in Dressage.

Now, like most of the horses coming out of Europe that horse is quite lovely with fairly spectacular movement, but I really hope that that type of bad training and riding is not being rewarded by the judges, although by the less than impartial judging that we all saw in the Dressage competition in the last Olympics, sadly it probably is. In the comments to Jami’s blog, HorseofCourse gave a great quote from Walter Zettl’s book about Dressage in Harmony. I have had the privilege of riding with Mr. Zettl and can tell you he teaches and practices what he preaches. What was on that video clip even goes against the bible of dressage training – the German Training Scale (Pyramid).

The German Training Scale is a hierarchy of skills that horse & rider need to build upon in order to rise up the levels and be able to correctly perform higher level movements. The base of the pyramid is (1)Rhythm/regularity (that horse had neither), next up is (2)Looseness/suppleness (yes there was a degree of it, but it was incorrectly achieved by primarily the rider’s hands and the horse was very tight in his low back), next is (3) Contact and acceptance of the bit (that is not constituted by forcing the horse’s chin to his chest ) then there is (4) Impulsion (that horse was way too much on the forehand to be correctly impulsed – notice he was not even tracking up) and (5) is Straightness (none of that) and (6) is Collection (the horse’s poll should be the highest point with his head on the vertical line, his hind end engaged/free and his back supple for this to be achieved).

The list, in my opinion, of everything wrong with the riding in the clip is almost too long to mention but to point out a few. The horse was completely on the forehand and dramatically over flexed at the poll and obviously way behind the vertical. This over flexion forces the horse to break at the incorrect cervical vertical which is not only incorrect in terms of dressage but can also do physical/neurological damage to the horse. There are tons of quote un quote fancy moving dressage horses that are actually hypertrophic, which is exaggerated movement caused by neurological problems usually in the cervical vertebra. The horse was also too high in the croup and leaning on the rider’s hands. There was little, if any, self carriage evident and the rider was often in a chair seat – a big no, no for dressage riders.

OK, can we say I did not like what I saw!! Now that I have vented my indignation, I really hope that I am not alone. As many of you might have learned from my previous blogs and by my comments to Laura’s blog on trainers a few months back. I am a professional trainer that is guided by a strong moral compass and believes to my core, that we must all first and foremost do no harm!!!!!! Training, riding, competing, breeding – it is all hard and takes an enormous commitment, physically, mentally and financially. There are no substitutes and no shortcuts to consistent, sometimes slow, systematic training and conditioning. The horse must accept and understand what you are asking of them and be physically supple and strong enough before you move them on the next level. The levels of dressage are well designed to be used as building blocks to correctly develop movements. For example, leg yield is used to improve bend, which is essential for smaller circles in First and Second level. Travers, Shoulder-in and Renvers must be confirmed before Half-Pass is perfected, etc. etc, etc.

The same type of progressive training is necessary for any other discipline English or Western and all of it should and always be more about the partnership and harmony than winning and personal accolades. If my horses are not happy and healthy, the rest of it is hollow and worthless. Why is this so hard for so many others to grasp? Someone please explain it to me. Why would you even have a horse if you don’t care about them on a very fundamental level? I love to win and get compliments as much as the next person, we are after all human, but at the sacrifice of an animal’s well-being. Aren’t we supposed to be the “superior species”? Ok so I will stop now that I am getting philosophical, but I would really love to hear you feed back on this.

On a separate note, Laura wrote beautifully about the passing of Dick Francis. What an amazing man and author he was! Anyone who loves equestrian fiction knows that he made an enormous mark on the genre and really brought it more into the mainstream. As a kid who grew up around the race tracks (my Dad was an owner) it was great to finally be able to read books that we interesting and were obviously written by someone who really knew about the industry. Rest in peace Mr. Francis and God Bless.


Jami Davenport said...


So well said. I'm glad you elaborated on my post. The things we do for blue ribbons...

Laura Crum said...

Terri--Thank you-- I honestly can't comment further on dressage training (since I know squat) but I appreciate what you said. We do have to put the horse first, rather than the blue ribbon. I think that's the bottom line. Thanks for a great post.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clear and simple explanation. This is just one example of the abuses against horses in the name of competition and winning. If people would just start thinking of horses as living, breathing creatures with feelings instead of pieces of sports equipment I think a lot of this would stop.

Shanster said...

oh I don't know that I'd ever say us humans are supposed to be the superior... humans can be pretty icky many a time with pride, egos, war and violence etc. You just have to tune into the news...

HorseOfCourse said...

Very well put, Terri.

So now we'll see what happens in reality.
Whether FEI really will make something happen, or if everything continues as before with the only difference that we have another name for rollkur, LDR.

stilllearning said...

Excellent post, Terri.
Especially-- "If my horses are not happy and healthy, the rest of it is hollow and worthless." That says it all.

Terri Rocovich said...

Thank you all for your comments. It warms my heart to know that so many of you are as passionate about horse happiness and well-being as I am. Kate I agree that there to many "horse people" out there that look at horses more as a commodity or vehicle than an equal being. Shanster boy do I agree with you, for as wonderful as we humans can be at times there are many elements to human nature that do not always make us God's best work. I guess the key is to strive to be a little more like other species than our own.