Germany used to win all the dressage titles the last century. But then came the Dutch.
Anky van Grunsven was our lead women. With her partner Sjef Janssen she worked out her own system of riding, which very soon was referred to as ‘modern dressage’ or the Dutch system. She doesn’t want to refer to is as ‘her’ method, but it contains moments in which she makes the neck of the horse go really round and deep, so much it’s chin almost touches it’s breast. It’s not new. It was done by some of the old masters. But now it is seen as something Dutch. This round and deep riding kicked up a big storm. Some people accused Anky and other Dutch riders of mistreating horses this way. And it still hasn’t died down.
I won’t go into it in detail and I don’t want to be part of this discussion. Point is I have spoken to Anky a dozen times. She’s a lovely person that really adores her horses. Her Olympic rides grew very old in good health, so she must have done something right. And there is a lot more to her method then just the round and deep neck stuff. I don’t do the round and deep thing myself in training. But I adapted a few other things that work really well. And it is always nice to discuss training with Anky, because she has such a clear view.
Controlling the speed
One of the things we spoke about was the scala. She says it’s way too complicated and too rigid. To her the natural rhythm is not the first she focusses on with a young horse, as this is compromised the moment someone gets on its back. And she says no horse that is just backed is very relaxed. Finding his balance with someone on board, without leaning on the rider is way more important to her. Controlling the tempo comes next. Straightness is very important too, but this has nothing to do with being rigid or lots of rein pressure. A horse needs to be straight to find his balance. If you ride a circle, the inside hind should step into the footfall of the inside front foot. Same goes for the outside. For this a horse should have an equal contact on both reins. And you should be able to control his speed, forward and back.
In the ‘classical’ or ‘old’ method riders are asked to hold pressure on the outside rein to keep the outside shoulder in line. Anky does not agree with this. She says any aid should be short. If you hold the pressure, it loses its meaning. If a horse leans on the outside rein, don’t give him something to lean against. Correct him so he carries himself. She wants riders to focus on the horse, not the scala on paper, as they all react differently. So there is never one solution that fits all.
Anky says being able to steer and controlling the speed is half the battle. If you have no control, riding can be dangerous. She likes it simple: legs mean forward, hands and seat mean back. One thing at a time as to not confuse the horse. And one aid for each movement. This is a major thing. Think about it. What do you do when you want to slow a horse down? And what do you do if you ask him on the bit? A lot of riders do the same and expect the horse to know the difference. Same goes for going faster or extending paces, which is something totally different.
Don’t fight, think
I still think the scala is a good thing to keep in the back of your mind. I also agree with Anky no two horses are alike and one should be flexible about training. And her points about finding balance and speed control do make sense. Let’s not fight over it. In the end it is all about good riding versus bad riding.