Guest Blog post # 80: "The Professional Edge: Classically driven or Client driven?" by Bill Kraatz

The Professional Edge: Classically driven or Client driven?

Professional trainers and instructors are faced with a continuing dilemma. Is teaching accomplished along classical methods that have been proven over time OR does the Pro acquiesce to the client and do what they say (the goal in most cases of getting little Johnny or Janey a ribbon or the horse moving up)?

This subject came up recently in a conversation with a long-time friend last week. Let’s use the very common example of connection. ie. getting your horse on the bit, on the aids, round, in front of the leg,etc. All somewhat similar terms.  Contrast that classical (and, I believe, CORRECT) concept to what you hear SO often nowadays…. A term I hate!!… “Headset.”

Classical concepts focus on developing the horse along the lines of the German training scale. A progressive type of training where our horses respond to energy created by the aids of the rider in seat and legs, encouraging the horse to get his back legs “‘under him”’ and use the quarters of the horse to push off. This in turn, develops the longitudinal muscles on either side of the horse’s belly. As those muscles develop, the horse gains the strength to raise his back and begin “self carriage.” The position and development of the head and neck and increasing topline musculature only result from systematic training and muscle building over time.

My exceptional friend, Lauren Doyle, of has given permission to post this 5 minute podcast from her Riding Master, the late Ed Rothkranz. Please listen if you are bringing along a young horse. It is a few minutes of excellent advice!   

So, let’s contrast this with the pressure professionals are getting from clients (who DO pay the bills) and who have an expectation for their horses, their kids, or themselves to achieve success (usually manifested in the show ring). You can almost hear the client say, “Wow! He looks great!! Look at that headset!” (not that you never hear those phrases from professionals, too!!)

So, to achieve that end, the pro abandons the classical principles, (hopefully he realizes the difference, too!!) and resorts to the typical short-cuts we’ve all seen, ie draw reins, chambons, tight martingales, etc. I’ve heard of trainers recommending spurs on OTTBs to get them “going forward” and, at the same time asking the rider to go to a much stronger bit, to “hold him from bolting and getting him to flex that neck.” They accomplish the result of “headset”, to what ends and at what cost to the horse?

You have another type of pro, that I consider equally as abusive, but they are far more subtle in doing it. They are the ones who yell at their students constantly, but you don’t see all the obvious gadgetry. You can, though, hear them constantly shouting in a lesson, “Push, Push, Push, Supple, Supple, SUPPLE!!’’   Those are simply code words for driving a horse into the bit, then the rider roughly see-sawing the bit in the horse’s mouth, again to force him to back away from the bit (you know…the bit he is supposed to be accepting!) by dropping his head and flexing thru his neck. Many times, in a period of relaxation after such treatment, you may observe the horse going with his mouth open (Hmmmm, wonder why?), unless of course the pro has the horse’s mouth tightly strapped shut!!

This “headset” stuff may look great to an uneducated observer, and may even result in a few ribbons in low level competition. That said, it’s a false and artificial look that a competent judge will spot immediately.

So, since we’ve looked at the 2 extreme’s, what is the teaching or training professional to do, when they know the correct (classical) way to bring a horse and rider along, yet clients and/or parents insist on “the look” and little Janey or Johnny has instant success in the show ring? Does one stick to their guns and possibly lose business or prostitute themselves AND the horses, for the sake of client satisfaction and ribbons here and there?

My personal feelings are that these latter issues can many times be addressed with direct, honest explanations and dialog. If that doesn’t work, then the pro needs to decide who he or she really is!

What are your thoughts on this?

After all, this is….Just one man’s opinion.

Blog by Bill Kraatz
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