Sunday, August 30, 2009

classical versus competitive dressage

While I'm not an advanced dressage rider nor am I an international judge, I think all students of dressage should make it a point to look at the high-scoring rides as a means of furthering our education and developing our eye.

I'm curious what you think of this horse's movement. My comments follow the video.

Edward Gal on Totilas earned a score of 90.75% with this performance and created a new world record in the process. One article I read this evening called him the world's greatest dressage horse.

I love the way he looks out of tack, but I am not fond of the way he moves under saddle.

The first thing I noticed in this video is that he was heavily sweating when he entered the arena. He had white foam all over his chest and down his front legs. What kind of warm-up did he have?

Immediately, he looks overly bent to me, with his poll lower than the top of his bulging neck, and his face behind the vertical. I kept reminding myself that he's a stallion, so presumably his neck is very thick as a result, but still... the bulge at the top looked to me like it has developed from being ridden in that overly bent frame, which imo is not correct. (or kind, but that's another post)

His movement seems mechanical, rather than fluid, and after the opening sequence with the collection and then the extended trot, when he comes down to a walk, the right front leg seems to be punching the ground. (and he is not really tracking up behind during that extravagant extended trot, though you have to watch for that b/c the front end is so "busy" it's easy to miss what's going on behind)

The intense swimming quality of the front legs in the extended trot also seems like wasted motion and not a natural movement at all.

During the latter part of the video I tried to focus some on his mouth, which was covered with foam and open at least some of the time. It almost looked like he couldn't close it, but all I could see was a lack of relaxation.

Even in the parts of the ride where he was allowed to (and supposed to) stretch that neck and head out some, he looked tight to me.

He is of course, a handsome horse, and majestic, but if this is movement that earns 90%... I'm really glad I'm not involved in competitive dressage.

It's scary that this ride will influence so many people's vision of what top-level dressage is supposed to look like, or achieve in terms of relaxation and schwung.


Grey Horse Matters said...

Ditto on your thoughts about this ride, I couldn't help but notice the same things. I'm no expert either but in my opinion the horse looks tense and unhappy. I get the feeling that this horse was 'drilled' in his training until he got it mechanically right. There seems to be no relaxation and flowing movement throughout and he was sweating horribly (more than likely due to nerves). I've always thought that for a performance to be worth as high a score as this team got the horse should look forward to his movements, enjoying his job immensely and having fun, which in this case I feel is lacking both emotions.

Unfortunately, now that this score has broken records I'm afraid we're all in for more Rollkur and drilled flashy performances in the future. Heaven help the poor horses.

billie said...

Arlene, interesting about the sweating due to nerves. I've read a number of comments this morning about the sweating being due to the "extreme physical exertion" of such "stellar movement," which I think is a bunch of hogwash.

I am in no way comparing myself and Keil Bay to this team, but when we ride lightly and well (we do have those moments, though admittedly not all in a row) there is no exertion at all. The movement is almost as though it is weightless and defies gravity.

I'm not saying this level of dressage in the video doesn't require strength - of course it does. But I don't think it should require exertion nor should it require that level of tension and what others are calling "extreme concentration."

It should float and seem effortless. Totilas looks like he is a freight train carrying heavy weight up a hill to me. :/

jme said...

i'm probably going to ramble a lot - sorry! i agree that there was something disturbing about this ride. i've been trying to put my finger on exactly what things were bothering me about it, and it may be an ongoing process after i see if a few more times. i've only watched it once now, and i think i'd like to see it with the sound off...

but i think you've touched upon most of the same issues i was having.

the first thing i noticed was the sweating too. whether from exertion or tension, i don't know - probably both. the horse did look both tense and over-exerted. and i was annoyed by the commentators who said that the free walk was not as good as it could have been, but that could be excused because he's only 9. what? free walk is the one thing EVERY horse should be able to do naturally, regardless of age - that is, of course, if the horse is relaxed... this horse clearly was not. what ever happened to good dressage coming out of a place of relaxation? here, it's treated like an inconvenient detail that we can get to later after all the 'important' stuff...

i could go on and on about what i think is unnatural movement, and how competitive dressage is getting further and further from it's roots in classical dressage. but i don't even think this performance (and the score given it) has anything to do with dressage. 'dressage' means 'training,' not 'breeding.' and this performance is about breeding - there has been an intensive effort at creating a performance horse with more extravagant movement than the rest, as if that was the basis of dressage. this horse is the result. and while i'm sure he's a lovely horse, i fail to see what this emphasis on extreme elevation and suspension really has to do with dressage? it seems more appropriate for a parade or circus...

and of course our new olympic coach has been known to use kicking chains on her horses to get that kind of activity and elevation out of her horses, so rewarding the extreme end of the spectrum will only encourage more riders of normal horses to resort to extreme measures in pursuit of the impossible.

it would be nice to live in a world where judges were not so blinded by form and put a little more thought into function. i'd personally like to see more ordinary horses doing dressage at the higher levels, and see them judged on training, not genetics. to do that i think tests would need to incorporate a lot more free work at all gaits to get a baseline of what is natural for the individual horse and then let the collected/extended work be scored relative to that.

but then, if that were the case, judges would have to actually understand horses and know what they were looking at, which is hard. looking for the horse that flails his legs the most is easy.... which is why i'm not involved in competitive dressage either. it's starting to look like a lost cause.

billie said...

Thanks for your rambling - which is always cohesive and informed, and I enjoy reading it!

Funny you hone in on the breeding issue - someone someplace called him a "bionic" horse and I thought - exactly - he's man-made, and it's almost as though the grace and beauty of the natural equine has been left out, so all that's left is this mechanically rendered extravagance of gait and the smoothness and flow of joints and muscles working naturally from a place of balance and strength has been lost.

I think what disturbs me most is the lack of expression in his face/eyes. I see his tail swishing, and I see the tension, but I don't see much in the way of personality. I can't tell if it's being controlled or if it simply isn't there.

Dougie Donk said...

Oh my, I SOO did not enjoy watching this!

Putting it as concisely as I can, I thought he was vastly overbent, his "extravagent" knee raising looked hugely disproportionate to the work from his hindquarters (jme - is this what "kicking chains" produces?), and his apparently desirable "uphill" movement made him look like the sort've funnily angled horses on a carousel.

I've always viewed dressage in the same way as obedience training for my dogs - a way of getting enough manners & mutual trust to be able to go anywhere together. I want my horses to be responsive enough to manage tight turns in a jump off to get me out of bother on a x.c.course; not to look like a marionette.

Not nice & I don't approve on any level. Wish I could take this horse down to the beach for a good gallop & a roll in the sand... but that would probably undo his training.

billie said...

I wish you could take him for a gallop and a roll too - I feel sure he would love that!

I kept thinking as I watched the video that I wanted him to just stretch out and run.