I’m wondering about the trend I’m beginning to see: more and more upper level horses being ridden behind the vertical. I’m not talking about Rollkur. More like 1/2″ to 3″ behind the vertical.
Through sheer dumb luck I’ve been privileged to be around some of the best dressage trainers in the world, one of them the late Melle van Bruggen. Melle was extremely gracious in allowing me to audit his sessions. Over the course of three or four years, I watched approximately 240 hours of his instruction. I could never thank him enough for this gift. I saw FEI riders and Olympic medalists train with him. I began to understand horses can move with freedom and true relaxation while being ridden. I began to understand Dressage.
Recently I visited a friend at a her barn, with a respected dressage trainer in residence. I was excited to meet her. She is a lovely woman, clearly careful and considerate of her horse and her students. She offered to show us her Grand Prix horse under saddle. We jumped at the chance to watch. She warmed him up in side reins on a longe line – at least three inches behind the vertical. I know some trainers do this at the walk, and then the horse warms up, and is in correct position for trot/canter work – no fussing with side rein lengths. I’d prefer to fuss, but I also don’t have 6 horses to ride a day.
Her horse was on the bit, but behind the vertical the entire time. His poll was locking on and off, as were his withers, and he was struggling intermittently to lift his back and tuck his rear beneath him. Certainly he knew what his job was. He kept trying to do it.
Let me be clear here. I can’t ride at this level. It’s WAY over my head. So it feels disingenuous to make any sort of criticism on something I can’t even remotely do myself.
But if lowly little bad dressage rider me can see this, and understand it interferes with the movement of the horse, why are so many really GOOD riders doing this? Do we know? I’ve taken solace in Dr. Thomas Ritter’s recent series of articles “On the Bit” that he’s generously posted on his blog, Artistic Dressage. (This link is to the last article in his series. Click on previous dates to read prior articles on the same subject.)
He meticulously points out how differences in a horse’s confirmation make it necessary for him to carry himself in a different, but still just as correct, outline as a horse with a more classically suited confirmation. They look completely different, yet neither horse is off the bit or behind the vertical.
I highly recommend Dr. Ritter’s detailed and thoughtful series.
I’m serious with my question, does anyone know why this is becoming more common in the dressage ring? Am I missing something?