Jan 292014
 

Dressur Rollkur Barock One thing cannot be acceptable only because it is accepted by many Fritz Stahlecker, horse trainer and author of several books and articles  developed with his hand-saddle-hand method (in short: HSH method) a stress-free and non-violent training for horses. In his latest book ” Horses my students my teachers ” he critically analysis the developments of modern dressage. I would like to introduce you to this book, because it fits well with one of the main topics of this blog ( Controversial issues), I find the development in dressage similar frightening and ” diseased” as he does, and because I very much like the philosophical approach of his book. Have fun reading and let the critical thinking begin! Harsh judgements Right from the start, Fritz Stahlecker harshly criticizes today’s dressage scence. With sentences likeCover für Pferde - meine Schüler, meine Lehrer

The horse teaches us that only the things achieved without violence are valid results that deserve applause. The self-healing process of the sick scene is initiated by the FN and must be enforced against all protests

he points out directly the “sick points” of the riding world, or at least almost without exception that of the sports scene. In my opinion, Stahlecker criticizes this world from two sides: On the one side, he highlights the excessive work pressure, which is required of the horses, while on the other side, he criticizes our perception and evaluation of what we see. Let me expalin this in more depth. Performance over all In today’s world, power is placed above all. The grades achieved by a child in school ( the child’s performance), determine his fate. Is the grade point average good enough for the apprenticeship or maybe even university studies? In a system like that, good performance is rewarded. The better the child performs (evaluated with school grades ), the better his future prospects look. Discipline , drill and power become established as values already in early childhood. Later on at work, does not look much better. Commissions for good performance, overtime is normal, even from home one can (and should) work on. All of that is regarded as normal. Noone thinks about this twice. The same can be seen in the ( riding ) sport. Also here , its about perfomring to one’s best (or better): Always, faster, higher, farther, up to or even beyond one’s limits. This way of thinking also applies to horses:

Maximum performance in sports ( … ) going to one’s limits at any cost, even the humiliation of a creature [the horse] is de facto tolerated. ” ( Stahlecker , 2012 Franckh – Kosmos Verlag ) .

Dressur LeistungssportToday’s dressage is seen (and practiced) by most people only as a competitive sport and no longer perceived as what it used to be at the core: the Art of Riding (Reitkunst). The mere choice of words “ we work our horses ” that we use every day, should make us double-think. It’s no wonder that things such as doping scandals and controversial training methods occur in such a setting of hard work and performance. You only see what you want to see Stahlecker believes that we should see more than a sport’s perfromance and an exalted show in the dressage arenas. Instead, we should be seeing a harmonious partnership between horse and rider that show us the art of riding. Stahlecker is convinced that what we see on the show grounds today  has nothing to do with the art of riding. The prevailing performances of sport machines is made acceptable by different players. Firstly, there are the judges http://polpix.sueddeutsche.com/bild/1.1016377.1355769763/860x860/dressurpferd-totilas.jpgand other officials, who judge the riding. Than, there are also the spectators . Interestingly, these two parties often seem to work together. A good example of this good interaction is the stallion Totilas, who had not only huge success in sports, but  who was also highly coveted by spectators and the press. Mind you, all of this has happeened despite people knowing of the controversial training method of Rollkur that have been used (of course there is this counter-movements, but they are shockingly low ).

“ The art of riding appears to require only exercise.However, exercise without true principles is nothing but routine, the fruits of which will be effort , unsafe execution and false jewels, with which you can impress only the half-connoisseur. ” Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere

The art of riding is based on aesthetics and this leads (inevitably) to respect for the natural characteristics of the horse. What we see today is a disregard of the natural characteristics and movements of the horse to an allmost unimaginable degree. Contemporary dressage is more a kind of show or staging. It pretends to show refined natural movements, but instead does the opposite. Let me give you an example to illustrate this: Imagine a paddock and two horses playing and running in it. To every movement they do, their silhouette changes. If the horse sprints fast across the paddock, its silhouette is not round (being collected) but rather long/stretched. Is the horse however aroused and pounces up and down the fence, the silhouette is rounder and shorter (collected frame) . These two “ frameworks ” are fundamentally different from each other and belong to the respective movement of the hors ein that moment. Without stretching, the horse cannot push forward with big movements that cover lots of ground. Likewise can a horse not piaffe if its silhouette is long and stretched. Thats simply impossible. Evo Baracallo Jungpferde toben Unfortunately, in the dressage ring we nearly almost exclusively see horses in extended gaits that dont have a strechted silhouette  in horses. The great movements (usually only with the forehand that go upwards instead of up-and forwards) without being strechted or coming forward, and the rear legs pushing from behind the horse with small steps, is not only unsightly, but also absolutely unnatural and forced. To every extended gait, an extension of frame is needed. Thus, what we see in those arenas are horses that are being asked to move in a certain posture that (in this combination) doesnt not exist in nature. We should seriously question what it is that we want for ourselves and for the horses : Show or actual riding art? Did it have to be like this? According to Fritz Stahlecker, the way the dressage scene has developed is not unreasonable in itself. The force of habit (written down in the rigid guidelines of the German military regulations – “Deutsche Herresvorschrift”) met up with today’s mentality of a meritocracy. It should come as no surprise that doping scandals and controversial training methods are incraesing. Kandare schmerzIn my opinion, the current consumerism in combination with capitalism and egoism of the present time (all these movements are interconnected and mutually dependent). The horse is still , especially in competitive sports, little more than a commodity (consumerism). With its help the rider builds up his prestige. Success in sports on the backs of horses, seperates you from the (common) crowd. It creates an identity. In addition to an identity and fame, there is also the issue of financial viability (the sooner, the faster, the better). What is left behind with this sort of thinking (the health of the horse) is of no interest or simply taken as accepted. What is missing is the humanity, the meaning and connection with nature, and the arts. We are ready to take pain in order to reach our goals. “ In competitive sports,” said Stahlecker, “ the man does uses [a form of] violence against himself. The transfer to the horse was a psychologically obvious step. Elite sport means sompetition, it means violence against oneself “. In the wild, a horse would never exhaust himself to such an extend that it might lead to permanent damage to its health (unless it is in an emergency situation – better a little bit crippeld than dead). However, we force the horse to do so. Violence and art, can never be reconciled with each other, because where the violence begins, the art ends. But why do we need art anyways? Why riding ART? The art and the horse should be united. Each in itself can play an important role in our society. The horse plays an important role in today’s world. We learn from him to empathize more with nature, and to re-discover it. The art takes us back to the aesthetics, an unison and in the end with its perfection, back to nature, as nature is the only thing that is (and creates) true perefection.

The knowledge of the true nature of the horse is the first foundation of the art of riding and each rider must make it his main subject. Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere

The symbiosis between art and the horse, dressage as a form of art (the art of riding) shows an artistic parallel to nature (specifically the “natural characteristics of the horse”). What we are already able to see in the field, will become refined with the aid of the instructor/rider with the goal of perfection. However, and this is very important, perfection cannot be enforced. It must come from the horse itself . Only a horse that wants to be beautiful itself, assumes an appropriate attitude. We can only help him (to want to) do this. Collection au natural And what is in this context almost most important for me: The art cannot agree with violence and coercion. A forced harmony between horse and rider does not exist. A few words about the rest of the book Finally, I would like to say briefly the book also explicitely focuses on the training of the horse and what sort of “wrong thinking” is pervailent with that nowadays. For example, he claims that the young horse should not be trained with a bridle in the first section of its training (resistance and violence are often the result of incorrect training), the curb reins should always be slack – to an extent (the weight of the reins (and therewith the pressure that it applies to the horse’s mouth is much higher than we think) and training with side reins and draw reins should be banned: ” the worst hand cannot induce so much pain in the horse’s mouth as an almost absolute captivation by means of fixed side or draw reins”. More information about Fritz Stahlecker and his method in this movie:

[iframe_loader src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/6k20iTSbCOE” height=”315″ width=”420″ click_words=”Watch on YouTube” click_url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6k20iTSbCOE”]

 

This article was published on the author’s blog on 8 January 2014.  The original article can be found here

Jan 142014
 

For the past few years, once a year, I have taken part in a Transhumance.

The dictionary defines transhumance very simply as the action or practice of moving livestock from one grazing ground to another in a seasonal cycle, typically to lowlands in winter and highlands in summer

For me it is four (autumn) or six (spring) days of adventure, freedom, hard work and most important of all, learning from nature.
And in this case it is the herding of around 70 horses from the high Pyrenees in Cerdagne/Languedoc-Rousillon to the Aude in Southern France.

The Owner: Pierre Enoff; bio-mechanical engineer and musician; inherited a farmhouse and a couple of horses from his grandmother over 45 years ago. From that moment, Enoff has studied the actions and interactions of horses, their habits, their way of surviving in a natural environment; he has, and still does, actively promote the barefoot horse – his own herd being the prime example of barefoot survival.

The Riders: Of necessity with a reasonable amount of experience of riding outdoors in all terrains – a couple of hours around the lanes with the riding club every summer is not sufficient! The days are long, it can be perishing cold, or soaking wet, or both; between departure in the morning and lunchtime, and between lunch and arrival in the evening, there is no possibility for a sanitary stop – you are moving with a herd and they will not stop just because you need a pee!

The Locality: Porta, Cerdagne; the valley floor is about 1600m at this point, the surrounding mountains rise to around 2800m. The horses have a total of around 2,000ha common land to graze on.

The Destination: Denis, near St Gaudéric, Aude; a rolling grassland of 85ha with a lake. Mean height 450m.

The Route: On the map, the autumn edition is about 150km and the spring edition about 200km – in reality, with all the twists, turns, ascents and descents you cannot measure on the map, the distances are some 20% longer.

The Chase CarThe autumn transhumance begins for Enoff and his team some time beforehand, organising the night stops (accommodation is more or less the same each year but at some locations there needs to be hay on hand to feed the horses, for instance), insuring sufficient provisions, getting clearance from the authorities both at local and at departmental levelTransu! – some sections make extensive use of the public highway – and all the sundry tasks involving vehicles and tack.
Corralled in PortaFor the riders, it all begins at La Pastorale on the Sunday morning. Seventy-odd horses have to be brought down from the mountainside and corralled. They can be anywhere within an area of a couple of thousand hectares – but, horses being horses, they are seldom alone, rather in their bands and often close to the larger group to which the band “belongs”. This is always helpful, but there are always groups that will hide themselves away and, surprisingly enough, when there is a reasonable layer of snow, they are nigh on impossible to just find!
Sunday afternoon is the time for a try out – old lags having prior knowledge can pick and choose their own horse, the rest can make their preferences known and a suitable horse is allocated. If it doesn’t click during the try out, then it is no problem; there are plenty of other horses to choose from.

On the roadAnd then breaks Monday morning. 9 o’clock sharp, everyone is at the stable, brushing down and saddling up their allotted or chosen steed. By 10 we must be on the road to insure a timely arrival at the evening stop. In previous years, there have been some major problems during departure – horses have cut a dash over the railway-line running alongside the main road in an attempt to get back to their pastures… others have dived up side roads into the village… so these days, there is a carefully planned departure involving help from the village, metre upon metre of striped tape and a rapid and tightly coordinated release onto the main road.
Col de PuymorensWith the exception, weather permitting (deep snow makes it impossible), of a very short stretch, the morning is spent on metalled roads. The herd passes through the famous skiing village of Porté-Puymorens (4 seasons of skiing) up the old road from Barcelona to Toulouse that snakes up the side of the Puig Carlit crossing the Col de Puymorens at 1915m.
From here, it is a downhill trot – irrespective of road conditions, dry, wet, snow, ice – to L’Hospitalet près l’Andorre, a distance of over 9 km and a descent of nearly 400m, and lunch. The uninitiated are thinking how tough it was and the old lags are remembering how tough tomorrow morning is going to be…

L'Hospitalet

Lunch is an al fresco affair, the Equi Libre trailer being kitted out with an awning for inclement – or excessively sunny – weather and carrying two large tables and four benches providing a modicum of comfort. Soup, cheese, cold meats and salad are the order of the day and all accompanied by the obligatory french bread and red wine. Even here there is no question of really slumming it – most lunches are rounded off with coffee and bitter chocolate.

Along the RailwayNow we follow the railway line almost to Mérens-les-Vals, home of the famous Mérens horse. This is a stretch on wooded paths alongside the river with the minimum of obstructions – occasional overgrown trees and bushes and a couple of particularly narrow bits. The horses have little need of guidance – they can’t do much other than follow the path – and most of the riders are glad of the change of pace from this morning.

First Night StopTwo large rolls of hay await the horses at the night-stop – the next morning there will be just about nothing left of them. We leave the horses to it and are transported by minibus back to La Pastorale in Porta; backs need repacking tonight for tomorrow, we move the whole caravan to Comus, some 12 km above Ax les Thermes as the crow flies.

Hoof 1Tuesday dawns early – the minibus is ready to whisk us back to Mérens-les-Vals at 08:30 so everything needs to be in the trailer well before then. By 09:15 we are collecting saddles, brushing down horses – or still trying to catch horses in a few cases – and the first tentative moves are made to look at the horses’ hooves after the gruelling descent of yesterday morning. And the first gasps of disbelief at just how good they look.

Mérens-les-ValsOnce underway, we pass over the picturesque little bridge in Mérens, over the main road and begin the slow ascent that allows us to reach Ax les Thermes without making use of the main road. The atmosphere is good, the views are superb and everyone is feeling reasonably relaxed; until the twisting, narrow extremely steep path up through the trees. Tough ClimbWith a rise of over 150 metres in a straight line distance of just over 250m, the horses have to work very hard to climb this stretch, a number taking time out at the top to have a good roll in the snow. But then it is all downhill along wide forest rides, finally back onto the main road and into Ax les Thermes.

The herd passes rapidly around the outskirts of the town and heads out on the road up to the Col de Chioula and towards the ski-resort of Camurac. Ax les ThermesOnce again, a suitable spot alongside the road forms the ideal place for lunch – once more, very welcome after the mornings hard ride but also as preparation for the afternoon. The climb up to Chioula and back down the other side is again almost exclusively on metalled roads. Weather permitting, from Prades to Camurac is possible on farm tracks but a recent change of venue for the night halt, has also cut this short.
This is the second night spent at a location usually above the snow line and so hay needs to be provided and as before, the next morning there is almost no trace left. In previous years, use was made of a gîte just outside Camurac that was run by Flemish people – this had the added attraction of meaning the beer was well above reproach! Sadly, they have returned to Flanders and this year the evening was spent drinking self-mixed G&Ts at a brand new gîte in Comus.

Plateau de Sault 1Wednesday dawns with the possibility of one of the most spectacular parts of the route – but again, weather permitting. Too much snow makes it almost impassable but the chance of riding over the Plateau de Sault in the snow is one to take up at every opportunity. Once over the plateau, the route finally descends below the snow line and apart from the occasional patch, we have seen the last of the “real” snow.Plateau de Sault 2
Lunch is at La Maison des Maquisards; the Maquis were rural resistance fighters – named after the scrubland in which they fought – and at this house a group of maquisards was executed and the house destroyed by the nazis.
Château de PuivertFollowing another rocky descent and the fording of a river, the going now very easy. Before long, the castle of Puivert can be seen on the horizon and not long after that we are into the outskirts of the town and heading up to pastureland next to the local graveyard. Tonight the horses will have to fend for themselves – there is plenty of rough grass and scrub; we shall retire to the marionettes’ gîte.

Graveyard, PuivertThe last day; despite this realisation, activity is unsubdued and all the riders are at the graveyard before the saddles are brought up in the trailer. We climb out of the corner of the pasture and hit the road for the last time. The day is a mixture of metalled roads, muddy paths and forest tracks but still enough twists and turns and stretches at a gallop to make even this last day as good as the rest. As we finally climb the hill past the abandoned farmhouse, even the first-timers have the realisation that this is the end. Into the enclosed meadowland, we have one final gallop to the top of the hill, dismount and unsaddle our horses. The adventure has come to a close.

DénisThe horses are thanked, we watch them rolling on the grass and sniffing out the ground they have not seen for the last seven months. The last chance for taking photos of the hooves and the horses and it’s off down the hill to await the minibus back to Porta.

LogohoofHoof 3Hoof 4But what about those hooves? How do they look after four days intensive riding – a substantial part on asphalt too? In one word, superb! The myth that hooves wear out too fast is completely busted. These hooves are as good on day four as they were on day one and lameness and injury is almost unheard of.

What does this trip teach us? That horses do not suffer for being exposed to nature, having to fend for themselves, having only dry grasses and, in their absence, hay to feed on. On the contrary, the majority of liveried horses on bix and cubes and all manner of grain-based feeds, would probably have difficulty getting through day one, let alone all four days. Their shod hooves would have had great difficulty in handling the ascents and descents and the chances of injury would have been considerably higher.