Yesterday, my Facebook feed was filled with a special promo run by Dressage Today. The various posts were following a day with a very famous US Olympic dressage rider and quite frankly, it was disturbing. Don't get me wrong, this rider has won at the highest levels, has gorgeous horses, is a beautiful rider, is very knowledgeable, and well respected. But. The tension in the horses. The working behind the vertical. And the kicker, a stallion that had to have a human "walker" to start out every ride. The other stuff I don't like, but this one is a deal breaker for me. Dressage=training and if you can't get on an eight year old horse and ride off, something is not complete in your system. Period.
It was interesting to look at the FB comments, which were mostly favorable, and in the line of 'you do what you have to do'. A few people disagreed, thinking like me that this shows some pretty disturbing things about the rider's methods. I don't mean this as a witch hunt of this particular person though. Instead I think it shows a totally different underlying philosophy and objective of the dressage training. For me, first the horse must be rideable in relaxation and then all the exercises can gymnastically improve the horse leading into competition. But without the base of relaxation and trust, nothing else matters, even show ring success but with obvious tension.
Don't take this as some kind of diatribe against competitive dressage. Off the top of my head I can think of several very successful dressage riders at the highest level of competition that train with a starting and ending point of relaxation. Carl Hester, Utta Graf, Charlotte Dujarden, Ingrid Klimke, and even the US rider Laura Graves. When I look around though, a lot of what I see as "elite" dressage training methods don't have a lot to do with relaxation or quite frankly, correct biomechanics.
What do you think?