Monday, April 4, 2011

Will western dressage speak the same language? Part 1

I mentioned in my first post that I was giving dressage lessons to a western trainer. I knew going in, and so did he, that one problem we were going to have was language. Dressage has centuries of written and verbal tradition.  Western riding has about 100 years, enough to develop it's own terms, and even more difficult, enough time to borrow words and assign different meanings to them. The biggest problem with both is that they are attempts to describe sensations.

For me at first reading books and articles by many of the western trainers was like reading a foreign language. Ed Connell I found easy to understand. Oddly enough he said his goal was to write so his fellow cowboys would find him easy reading. Listening to today's trainers I find very confusing.

The hardest terms to understand are the one's borrowed from dressage. Let's start with collection.

Dressage - the shifting of the weight of the horse so that more is carried over the rear legs resulting in increased bending of the joints of the hind limbs. The result of this is that energy pushes the body of the horse UP rather than forward and the haunches are lowered. The tempo, (speed of foot fall) remains the same but the horse covers less distance.

Western - 

"Collection is not a shorter stride or a slower stride it is a more compressed stride with the hind quarters reaching deeper under the horse and the back rounds by the horse breaking at the withers and the hips, the shoulders do not actually raise but the hocks drive deeper with a compressed frame, this actually lowers the horses hind quarters thus the shoulders are elevated over the hind quarters." - Rod Miller  [underling mine]

I also frequently hear collection defined as going slower, or as simply taking shorter strides.

What this feels like.

Collection in dressage - the horse feels like it is springing rather than stepping,  It is easy to sit, yet the rider is full conscious of the energy in the horse. It feels like the horse is barely hitting the ground and yet it is pushing off very powerfully.The rear of the horse feels lower than the front, a sensation of riding slightly uphill because the horse raises it's neck and the spine is lifted between the shoulder blades.

What I see when many trainers ask for collection within a gait:

Little or no increased bending of the hocks
Horse goes slower as the horse takes shorter steps.
The spine remains in the same relationship to the shoulders as before.

I've asked western judges what they mean when they say a horse is collected and been given the definition given above by Rod Miller. Since stepping too far under with the foot landing closer to the girth is a fault in a dressage horse, this is very, very confusing. In dressage, a collected horse steps under the haunches. The sit comes from the bend in the joints.

So here's a practical illustration. A very well known and very correct dressage judge recently noted that she grew up with vaquero reining, and that the horses doing reining then collected, ie  had bend in the joints of the hind legs, and that the sliding stops were much longer than what she saw today,  The difference, she said, was that the horses she sees today slide with a straight hind leg and sit by placing the hind feet forward under the body.  The result is propping in the front, which shortens the slide. I would find it very interesting to see some video to back this up. I know the films existed. I saw movies Ed Connell's niece had in the early 70's.  ;

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting an informative post Barbara, thank you and I hope you do not mind but I quoted you in a post on my coaching blog.

    I have addressed this topic a few times on my blog and the more I study the difference in the meanings and how people understanding and describe certain terms the more I think making sure students understand what the coach is saying and meaning is important if they are going to learn what they want to learn.

    Conversations and discussions like this one will hopefully start to develop an understanding of what coaches are saying and demonstrating and knowing when the 2 do not agree. :o)