Guest Blog post # 81: "Classical vs Competitive" by Bill Kraatz

Classical vs Competitive

A social media post came thru my newsfeed today, wherein the poster complained about the recent riding at the Falsterborg (SWE) show. She used the words “rough” and “abusive” and feels that type of riding is prevalent in today’s FEI CDI rings.

Should the FEI, therefore, do something? Or…is this a different sport than classical dressage after all?

Firstly, let me explain my viewpoint on classical dressage…most likely, in most people’s minds, as practiced by Vienna’s Spanish Riding School. The aim is to produce a horse that is happy and relaxed in his work, while increasing his lightness and adjustability by ever increasing training and subsequent body development, by utilizing a sequential progression of exercises. As the horse’s body develops the proper and necessary musculature, the quarters drop, the head and neck come up, producing the engagement and lightness that enables the trained horse to perform the required advanced movements, primarily exhibited in the piaffe, passage, and one-tempis, all requiring maximum collection.

This is accomplished by starting under saddle training as a 4 yr old, and progressing at the individual horse’s speed, both mentally and physically. The end goal is a horse that is ready and able to perform the Grand Prix movements thru the logical progression of the German training scale.

Let’s contrast that with the competitive dressage of today. Usually, it can be said, there are specific goals in mind, that, preferably, are met as soon as possible:  Ribbons (winning) and profit (the old ‘time is money’ thing). Sandbox riders today are out to win! It may be a division championship, a blue ribbon at a specific class or level, a USDF medal of accomplishment or a quick sale of a horse for profit. (obviously, the level a horse is showing at, and his age, directly correlates to his worth in the marketplace).

So, we have end goals that are VERY different! Therein, I believe, starts the disconnect today’s purists see in the competition world today. Essentially the same sport, but with very different goals in mind. Is one “better” than the other? I think, not necessarily, UNLESS the competition horse is bullied for results, sacrifices soundness, is obviously unhappy or sore, or is simply asked to do more than his body is ready to handle! Proper development takes time, application of a consistent program (again, the German training scale), and an empathetic trainer (or Rider) that has the knowledge to do the job, as well. Without these attributes, flaws appear ranging from ears pinned, tail wringing, etc. to a sour, injured, unhappy, or otherwise broken down horse.  It is always wise and safe to fall back on the classical methods and always, always, listen to your horse!

There is also a very distinct second type of competitive dressage rider. That is the one who begins and dies at Training level. But…we might come back to that rider on another day.

What are your thoughts?

After all, this is…Just One Man’s Opinion.

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