Monday, November 3, 2008

2008 International Dressage Symposium

This was held the weekend of 18-19 October at Jen and Tommy Vanover's lovely Maplewood Warmbloods in Middletown, NY. Despite cold and wind, some 200 auditors, a number of hardy demo riders and their horses, and our wonderful presenters - Klaus Balkenhol, Col Christian Carde and Dr Gerd Heuschmann, braved the elements to learn, share and discuss the differences between classical and competition dressage.

Through extensive use of power point displays, round table discussions, a painted horse, ridden demos of green to advanced horses, and, most importantly, free flowing ideas from these three masters, they clearly conveyed to us the benefits of developing the horse correctly, allowing it to carry the rider, through gradual physiological and mental conditioning, up through the levels, the ultimate goal being a horse in self carriage and happily expressing itself with minium interference from the rider. All three gentlemen showed themselves to be compassionate, totally committed to the horse and its well-being. They were humble, self-effacing and accessible to all.

Perhaps what struck us the most occurred on our drive home. Our thoughts centered around the concept of beauty, a quality which has been diminished in recent years and decades, and how this related to the growing problems in upper level dressage and judging of the same. Balkenhol, Carde and Heuschmann have taken on the task of returning the practice to its classical, horse- centered roots where riding has the potential to be an art form.

We thought that 'art' today is often far from beautiful, instead focusing on what is ugly, demeaning or political in nature. Yes, it does express emotion, but appeals to the lowest common denominator. It squashes rather than elevates.

So many have remarked on the rewarding of poorly executed movements in the Olympics, and other competitions. Some competitors rode mechanically, performing a form of the exercise, but without brilliance and allowing their horses to show expression. Indeed, these horses are perhaps unable to do so, as they haven't been trained and conditioned to do so. An exaggerated extended trot would be rewarded - for the front leg movement alone, as the horse would be lacking in correct, balanced rhythm from the hind legs.

Balkenhol, Carde and Heuschmann are courageously calling for horsepeople to return the beauty to the horse we humans so often take away from it in the name of national, presonal and financial recognition.

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At November 23, 2008 at 3:18 PM , Blogger squirrelmama said...

What a truly nice image! I actually lived and worked in Middletown, N.Y., (also once known as "the place every drives THROUGH but nobody stops at") and there was nothing like this in the 1970s, to my recollection. The city (if you want to call it that) was a mix of gas stations and bars, places for people, or their vehicles, to fill up on liquids, and then move along.
Ah, Middletown is apparently on the map now, and respectfully so! What great news to know it is on the dressage map in particular!
- Caryn


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