Archive for December, 2011

The Training Scale: Cultivating Contact

As a discerning reader may perceive, my blogging is as much an effort to crystallize my own thoughts on various aspects of Dressage, as to facilitate the learning of others who share this fascination, or, are even curious about it. More often than not, my concern is the Training Scale. So I was jogged to again attend CONTACT when I received this morning, from a thoughtful student, this missive:

111114124 sent you a video: “Uta Gräf // Graf & Le Noir – bitless riding May 2011”

Thank you for the news, I read it today.

Do you like bitless riding? Watch this video.

Uta Gräf // Graf & Le Noir – bitless riding May 2011

Le Noir born 2000 black Holstein stallion by Leandro x Caletto I and his rider Uta Gräf at home training some Grand Prix movements with bitless bridle.

To which I responded:

The video you sent provides an excellent example of how a rider may sit on a trained horse.

Thank you.

I have been thinking a lot about CONTACT recently, and about bitless riding. And reading Dr. Hilary Clayton’s research on both bitless bridles and ‘simple’ snaffles. You may read some of her findings in the link to Conference Proceedings from the article 2011 Autumn Digest: International Society for Equitation Science in the pages of DressageUnderground.

Bitless bridles facilitate the lesson of making horse and rider more conscious of the rider’s seat than hands. So they are valuable as a teaching aid. Although I do not, personally, wish to see bitless bridles in competition, I do wish that our National Federation would permit snaffles (bridoons without bits) in competition through Grand Prix Level, as is permitted in Britain, because I believe it would facilitate development of competitive riders seats as riders work up through the national levels.

Christopher Hyams, Saint Louis, Missouri, USA Http://

Thinking further about this, I am reminded of how my own horsemanship was elevated by riding bitless, for months on end, some 35 years ago, when, came into my life an otherwise beautifully conformed, but ‘parrot mouthed,’ four year old gelding. He was the first foal of both sire and dam, whom his breeder could not bear to cull. Not knowing where the gene came from, she gelded the sire, and vowed never to breed the mare again. She raised the foal healthfully, and had backed him. My first impression of Teddy  was that his potential as an athlete, and his personality, were undeniable. He wanted to play with me. The breeder offered to give him to me, with a bill of sale and no registration papers. I had looked the gift horse in the mouth, and could not turn him away.

I then spent nine months schooling him.  When, early on, I would ordinarily have hung a bit in the lunge cavesson, I didn’t.  I just continued on by transferring from voice commands  to leg and hand influences through the cavesson.  Soon I assembled, from odd bridle parts, a bitless bridle. Having then learned the exactly correct dimensions for Teddy, I had a hippy leather worker make a bridle to my specifications, and continued to school Teddy in his custom-made headstall.

About a year after my first meeting Teddy, it was time for a riding student to be introduced to foxhunting on her own, previously seasoned, field hunter. Having not fitted up a hunting horse for myself, but thinking Teddy ready, I vanned him to the fixture with the client’s horse. At the meet, the Hunt Secretary graciously welcomed my rider entry, but voiced her annoyance at Teddy’s head-gear. It was early in cubbing season, and we were all properly attired, but you would have thought I had shown up at The Blessing unbraided, in dungarees.  “That’s NOT a bridle” said my long-time, friend, who let me hunt back with my client, nonetheless.

Coincidentally, the Hunt Secretary did, herself , that day, have guests – a couple visiting from another Midwestern hunt.  The wife of the couple, ogled Teddy from the moment of hearing her hostess’s annoyed voice, looked over her shoulder every chance she got from near front of the small field, and liked what she saw. And bought him for her son, who hunted him with their pack, and hunt raced him, for a few seasons before going off to school, at which point Teddy became both a Whipper-in AND Guest horse, ever going in his bitless bridle.

But back to Dressage craft, and CONTACT. Here’s another video of Uta Graf testing to qualify for a Medien Cup Final in Holland, the same horse. Studying this video, I see only the most minor of outside rein contact problems in corners. And wonder whether the horse’s preparatory time might have been better spent in a loose ring snaffle than bitless bridle.


2011 Autumn Digest: Kyra Kyrklund, Global Dressage Forum

12/3/11 I’ve never met Kyra Kyrklund. I’ve seen her ride only once…real time… in Stockholm Stadium, during her Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special tests at the 1990 World Equestrian Games. And I’ve read, and will read again, her book. I unabashedly admire her, and am forever grateful for having enlightened and stimulated me to pursue this craft. (My gushing reminiscence in post-script, following, will explain.)

So when I read of her presentation at the 2011 Global Dressage, I hung on her every word, as reported by Eurodressage’s Astrid Appel.

I’ve read, since, that Kyra spent her sixtieth birthday, not sunning herself on a beach, but questing onward, attending the Morning Training of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

As would I, if I could take the schoolmasters with me.

Gone surfing, I found this video of Kyra and then PSG accomplished Master 850, giving the impression of dancing around sparklers on a birthday beach. Happy Birthday to me!

Now, to reminisce:

I had ridden and studied dressage for already 30 years, seen US National Dressage tests, and World Championship dressage tests of Three Day Events here in the States and in England, and even ridden a confirmed GP horse as part of my ’87 Kentucky job. I was still not convinced of elite Dressage’s contribution to the preservation, much less enhancement, of the essential nature and nobility of The Horse. I was, and am, afterall, a Littauerite, ever aware of Littauer’s admonishment to beware of “charlatans” coming from abroad. But I had also read much of Podhajsky – who was utterly revered by my family and riding mentors – including his analysis of Olympic Dressage judging. And enlightened, spiritually elevated, enthused, by two mid 80’s performances of the Spanish Riding School in the St. Louis Arena.

So there I was in Stockholm for the first ever World Equestrian Games. To absorb all I could learn from the best of the best of all disciplines of the time. For Dressage, I was seated just to the right of, but many meters behind C.  I trained my binoculars on each Dressage contestant’s ride, and made copious notes in the margins of the WEG program between tests.

And learned a lot.

I remember coming away from the GP rides thinking “that black horse and Finnish rider could have captained a winning team.” (had Finland fielded a team)  And during the GP Special rides for individual medals, being impatient for Matador II and Kyra Kyrklund’s entry, elated by their performance, and disappointed that it was ever over. Resorting to coffee, I was satisfied and confident that the Jury’s scoring should have preferred the qualities of Matador’s motion, his exuberant expression, including evident delight in his own accomplishment, over the impressions of automation imposed by other riders’ determined accuracy of their horses’ tests.

Since my own awareness of youtube, I’ve been searching for a video of Matador at the 1990 WEG.  I haven’t found one.

Close as I can get is this record of Kyra Kyrklund and Matador breaking the barrier at the 1991 World Cup Final Kur:

So now

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