Sunday, April 24, 2011

Preconceptions Make Translation Even More Difficult.

This week has been one in which I've had to step back and acknowledge that my own preconceptions are part of the problem in the dialog between dressage and western terminology.  I've had a hard time translating the focus of both the reining trainer and the "foundation" trainer on the shoulders of the horse, and as a result have had some preconceived ideas about what they were doing that were just  - well, wrong.

In all work we do with horses there are two factors involved in any signal we send to a horse - how strong, and how long.  This can vary widely depending on the horse and the desired result.  Demonstrations in the hundreds of training videos often exaggerate actions to make a point to the viewer without ever showing the "real" thing because it might be invisible or completely unnecessary at the moment the demonstrator wants to show it. So that is what I was seeing when I was told the horse had to lower the neck and get an arc in it's back or allow the rider to bring it's head around to perform a one rein stop. Exaggerations multiplied by hundreds of examples of poor copies. 
So here's a picture of Trent on Gambler.  Yes he did occasionally ask for more bend than this - but it was momentary.

Then there was Rod's description of lowering the neck  to move the balance point forward. I have a hard time with that description, but when we got on the phone and watched NRBC reining he and I were in total agreement about what we were seeing. I still reference the rear end, but I now know what he is talking about when he says "softness in the shoulders."  In dressage we have to steal a German term - losgelassenheit. The relaxation of the back muscles and strength of the abdominals that allows energy to flow through the horse instead of being blocked by bracing whether it be neck, shoulders or haunches. Losgelassenheit is a combination of the ability to collect, suppleness, relaxation and submissiveness. It's a quality a tense, resistant or stiff horse can't have. I can't really show you a picture, because it isn't about the position of the horse's neck. It's a dynamic quality that is expressed when the horse is in motion. I might find videos that give a hint, especially in the reining where lack of it results in visibly poor stops and spins.

Does this mean that everything different is really just a question of language or ultimate use? No. There's still going to be a lot of discussion about different ways to get to a similar place. For the western rider coming into WDAA and dressage judges being asked to judge it there are very real, very wide gaps in expectation.


  1. Barb, I enjoyed and learned a lot watching the show with you, :o) I just want to make one distinction that I think may help you explain moving the balance point forward. it does not come because of a lower head or neck the result of moving the balance point forward is a lowering of the head and neck, how low depends on the horses confirmation. We also got to watch a couple that only lowered the head and neck and didn't move the balance point forward and neither of us liked the resulting movement or ability to work laterally with the shoulders.

    Great discussion, thank you and good luck with your mustang.

  2. Great post and a lot to think about. During the moment/s of the lowering of the neck, how were the hindquarters of the horse ideally? Same as before or more engaged? Was the horse behind the vertical?
    Would it make sense to translate Losgelassenheit verbatim into "letting-looseness"? Or "having let go"?