Saturday, November 12, 2011

Dressage for the 21st Century, by Paul Belasik

This is one of my favorite books, and I am currently re-reading it for perhaps the 6th time. I'm sure I'll read it many more times before I am done with my riding career! I want to share a couple of super excerpts from the book. The first is just a wonderful explanation of collection vs. extension, and is found on page 93. It reads: "If a horse cannot immediately lengthen the trot, there is a good chance that the previously collected trot had no power. If nothing can be let out, nothing was being stored up. Collection and extension should be like the proverbial cannon-the same amount of gunpowder, only a different angle of the barrel." In other words, slow is NOT collection. Contained power IS. The next excerpt is more about the philosophy of training horses and riders. It is a philosophy I personally hold dear. I do not encourage my clients to run out and buy highly trained horses that are trained far above their current riding levels for a reason. I instead encourage my clients to become an integral part of the training process, and I try to demonstrate to them through my own dedication and hard work that learning to ride well, and train your horse, is a years-long process that takes committment and time. The excerpt is found on page 133, and reads: "The underlying theme of this book has been to explain how the classical system is a continuous process. There is a complex layering of skills and a dovetailing of excercises. Unless one trains horses all the way through, it is impossible to really understand the way the training must fit together and what is more and what is less important along the way. All along, there has been the inherent warning that all theory must yield a cohesive whole, or the trainer can become infatuated with interesting but unworkable fragments. The tendency in the beginning is to want to climb the ladder as quickly as possible. Some riders think that a lot of experience at Grand Prix will automatically fulfill the requirements for experience at the lower levels. Well, it won't. There is no substitute for experience at every level: each has its own importance and, in some cases, the lower levels are more important. So long as the rider is seduced by the glamorous notion of high school, there will be a problem. This is not just some psychological problem of too large an ego. The problem is one of pragmatic importance and it has a real physical dimension, which is that the horse knows that the rider does not really care about the fundamentals, about doing the simple things right. The horse knows that it can wear the rider out with a little dragging of the feet. This rider will bore easily." Belasik goes on to say: "Part of being a teacher is to do the teaching and not let the students control the curriculum. Like the horse, if the students know that the teacher doesn't really care about the fundamentals, about doing the simple things right, they also know that they can wear the teacher down with a little feet dragging. The teacher will bore easily. A student might think 'If I procrastinate a little, then I can do something that is more fun.' Any school of horsemanship that is based in such 'fun' demeans the blood, sweat and tears of such as La Broue and Newcastle and Gueriniere, who gave us classical dressage. There can be great joy in riding, but it is set up with great work. The study of equitation is school, not entertainment." I could not have said it better myself, and is a salve to my still raw wound of losing my very educated partner far too young...developing a horse through to the upper levels of competitive dressage takes not only many years of hard work, but also, a lot of luck. I could easily go out and "buy my ride" and be showing in a tophat and tails right now. But I won't...because I know how important it is to fully understand every layer of this onion, despite the blood, sweat and tears involved. Thank you Paul Belasik for staying true to the core principals of this amazing discipline. And thank you to my current very dedicated clients for trusting that there are no shortcuts, that the tortoise always wins the race of developing horses and riders.