Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tug Of War: Classical Versus " Modern " Dressage

I have just finished reading the book, Tug of War: Classical Versus “Modern” Dressage, by Dr.Gerd Heuschmann. This book is a “must read” for anyone who owns or rides a horse, and will serve as a wakeup call to any rider or trainer who believes that: if it wins, it must be right. Many readers will be shocked to discover that the methods used and promoted by some of riding’s top trainers and competitors are doing untold harm to horses.

The author, Dr.Gerd Heuschmann, is an equine veterinarian who also trained as a Bereiter (master rider) in Germany. He is an internationally recognized authority on issues of equine health in dressage competition. Along with Klaus Balkenhol and other prominent figures in the dressage community, Dr. Heuschmann is a founding member of “Xenophon,” an organization dedicated to “fighting hard against serious mistakes in equestrian sport” (

In the book, the author outlines his beliefs that training should mirror the mental and physical development of the horses to allow them time to achieve optimal performance without physical or psychological stress. More importantly, perhaps, he has the hard scientific evidence to back this up. As a veterinarian specializing in equine sports medicine, he has seen firsthand the positive effects of correct training and the detrimental effects of incorrect training, which he illustrates through a series of clear and instructive photographs and illustrations.

Armed with a doctor’s understanding of functional anatomy and a master horseman’s understanding of equine training, he is a unique and important resource for riders and trainers trying to better understand the training methods we see and use, and make informed judgments about their value and effectiveness. To his credit, he is not intimidated in the least by the powers that be in the upper echelon of the horse world. Because he is not concerned about the politics of competition or with offending those who are endangering the health of their horses, he is able to be very outspoken about what is wrong in the sport, and willing to lay the blame firmly on those responsible. More importantly, he makes clear that there is an alternative to these harmful methods, and conclusively spells out what the correct method is and why it works.

From the back cover of the book, this is his appeal to:

v Riders – to only use gentle, progressive training methods in accordance with the time-tested principles of classical riding.

v Judges – to sharpen their eyes and recognize unnatural postures or forced movements and evaluate them accordingly in competition, while rewarding classically trained, correctly gymnasticized horses.

v Governing organizations – to review their regulations and uphold stipulated “ideals” on both national and international levels.

v Spectators – to reject sensational performances and flashy tests when the methods used to obtain them have not had the health and welfare of the horse in mind.

For those of you who don’t like to read much, it is a very short book with many informative pictures and, as I have said before, this is a necessary book if you own or ride a horse. If you are not a Dressage rider, don’t let the title put you off the book; it contains much information that applies not only to dressage, but also hunters, jumpers, eventing, western pleasure, etc...

Whatever your chosen discipline may be, this book will be very helpful in demonstrating incorrect or harmful riding and training methods and how to avoid them, as well helping you to develop a critical eye, so that you can recognize when incorrect training methods are being used.

Give it a try! You might be surprised at what you thought you knew about riding and training horses. And you might be even more surprised to discover that even those at the top of their sport aren’t perfect. We’ve all got a lot to learn when it comes to doing our best for our horses.

Until next time

Quote for Today

Riders who force their horses by the use of the whip only increase their fear for they then associate the pain with the thing that frightens them. - Xenophon

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It's so nice of you to take the time to visit. I appreciate your stopping by and commenting on what I've written. Even though I sometimes don't have the time to reply to each comment, I do enjoy reading them.