"Modern" Dressage = Horse Abuse

The relevant definitions of the word abuse are as follows, lest the reader finds excuses to justify these abusive actions.
Verb: abuse.
1. Treat badly.
2. Change the inherent purpose or function of something.
3. Use wrongly, improperly or excessively.
Noun: abuse.
1. Cruel or inhumane treatment.
2. Improper or excessive use.

    Dressage today must be one of the most contradictory and confused riding styles of any age. It looks like some witch-brew and mixture of modern theories of amateurs, combined with various old and out-of-date training/riding values. First and foremost, the old (classical as the greenhorns call it these days) dressage, as well as the more modernized style of the campagne style based dressage, were to some point intended for the use in the military of its age (outside the parade presentations of horses). Just in case you haven’t noticed, there is no longer any use for the "so-called" warhorses! 

   So, the question is simple: "What are we doing when we ride dressage these days and what is it about?" Well folks, you may get many answers from the dressage participant and if you are open-minded you will see that their justifications are as corrupt and confused as the entire dressage society is in this day and age. Why? Well, it is so simple that even a little kid would see the answer. 
    Once, when my family and I were watching the Olympic Games dressage competition, one of my children (then four years old) asked me with her innocence: "Daddy, why do the riders look so stiff and grouchy?" (Imagine that, a little four-year-old child who knows nothing about horses and riding can see the obvious absurdity of these riders’ actions, which their presence reflects. Some folks said in defense of this observation that the riders are not grouchy but rather are concentrating, and yet they compare dressage to a dance. Just how bad must a dancer be to have to concentrate on where his feet are?) 
I told my kids that they look the way they do because “they, as well as their hearts, are hard as stones.” One would think that this may be a cruel statement, but here is a simple enlightened response to that. The dressage folks preach a freedom of movement and a willingness to work on the part of the horse. Well, if that’s so, why do they need all the severe aids like curb bits (also called leverage or lever bits) with brutal chin chains that immensely increase the pressure on the horse's mouth, and why do they need spurs for a willing and refined horse? (Some of the fools say in defense of this, "because the horses are more refined". Can this get any dumber than that, they don't even know why the severe aids were mandatory in former dressage!)
    In the time of battle these severe aids may have served their purpose, but in riding for pleasure and entertainment it is downright absurd. On top of this, the widespread theory that one has to drive (push) his horse forward (the one that is supposed be willing to do so) just puts the icing on the cake.
   We cannot preserve the warhorse type of training, since the warhorse is made by battle and not by training alone, not to mention that we no longer have the use for any warhorses. Comparing the dressage horse today to a warhorse of yesterday is like saying that one is a good soldier without being "christened" by a battle. The battle makes soldiers as well as warhorses. What we have in dressage today are mostly people who are looking for fame, money and an easy ride. The whole sport of dressage is so corrupt that in today's world it is nothing else but a parody of
what it once was, literally a circus, therefore the dressage riders are nothing more but comedians entertaining the clueless public.

A horse in a nice frame, good flex at the poll, note the head is not on the vertical position, and there’s much more freedom in movement (see shoulder) which can be seen in the _expression of the horse alone. Unfortunately this type of movement is not as frequently seen as the one below. (The comparison of the above with the below is about the horse and not about the seat of the rider. See more about the seat here)

Inappropriate and very common frame of a dressage horse with exaggerated lower foreleg extension and with the head past the vertical. Horses like this should be disqualified from any level of dressage competition because the head past the vertical demonstrates bit refusal. The movement is cramped up and such horses will often go lame because of it.

It is hard to believe that such things can be seen in the dressage ring. I've seen little kids riding their ponies in better riding balance than this. The irony of this is that a horse like this will come out of the ring with some score, instead of being disqualified for such a downright brutal display of abuse.

    Another example of the abuse of horses in the hands of "dressage" people is that they started so many levels for the greenhorn rider and relatively green horses, completely forgetting that these young and green horses are incapable of working in such confined areas as the dressage ring. On one hand they say that a ten-meter circle is for the more advanced horse, while at the same time they ask the young, green horse, who is not collected at all, to ride out the corners (part of 6 m circle) of the relatively small dressage ring. Just how stupid and contradictory is that? Most of all, however, they are completely leaving out the fact that at one time dressage was exclusively for the very advanced riders, the so-called elite riders, to which testifies the mere fact that only the military officers were allowed to present dressage at the Olympic Games before WWII. Now, relative to that, how ridiculous are the lower levels of dressage, when the participants cannot sit on the horse, let alone ride it,  and the horses are off balance?

     Folks, it is an absolute joke to have an unbalanced horse enter a dressage ring, yet it is done repeatedly in things called "training level" and "first level" tests, and then the off-balance going of the horse remains tolerated (carries over) in most of the higher levels of dressage as well. This of course leads to immense pounding of animals in the confined areas day after day, till the horse is finally crippled because he is forced to move in relatively tight turns while out of balance and on a hard surface. One cannot go ballroom dancing without knowing how to dance; one cannot show a dressage horse in the dressage ring unless he has one! The “dressage” level starts at the campagne level, which any riding horse should master before he enters any riding ring, let alone a dressage arena. In addition to all this these fools completely confuse the term "school" with the term dressage, and think that dressage includes schooling a young horse, and that is why they invented all these stupid so-called "lower levels" of "dressage".

     I came to the states in the early seventies, at which time I was involved primarily with racehorses, since the money was easier to earn than in other riding disciplines, and without me degrading my self to some comedian level. One day I had a farrier come to shoe some of my horses, while I was stabled in the country getting the young stock ready for the track. I asked him in which riding discipline he finds most sore horses. I expected that he would say thoroughbred racing, because when I came to the states I was shocked by the amount of lame/sore racehorses I found here.

    Before coming to the sates, I was employed as a "futermeister" - rider - groom by one of the champion trainers in "West" Germany , where over the span of three years and about 100 horses, I came across only three lame racehorses in his stable. (On account of my past dressage experiences, the trainer often used me to get the stiffness out of some horses that presented it. Acorrect implementation of the basic schooling will often help horses that show some mild forms of stiffness or soreness to become sound)
    When the farrier replied that he found the most sore horses among the dressage participants, I was speechless. For a moment I thought he was making fun of me, since dressage was also part of my riding practices and experiences. It was simply inconceivable that in riding dressage there would be any lame horses at all, let alone a majority of them. 

    Dressage is supposed to show a well-balanced riding horse that can serve safely and soundly well into his advanced years. The whole concept of balanced riding (dressage) is about the horse, his safety and mainly, his longevity in service. How can it be that dressage leads the way among disciplines in the amount of sore horses it turns out? Folks, do not be misled-just because a horse doesn’t bob his head (limp) doesn’t necessarily mean that he is not sore or in pain!

   If my schooled horse is willing to perform the required work, why would I need severe aids like spurs and a curb bit, let alone a whip? Why would I "drive" or "push, push" the horse forward, looking like a dog humping a leg, as many of these fools do, if the horse is willing to go? The old and obsolete ("classical") dressage evolved from a relatively brutal form of training. It eventually developed more humane principles in the campagne based style of riding, when the rider achieved everything through riding and without the help of the work off the ground, but that was short lived.

    The term "war horse" has appeared more and more in the last decade as a tool for propagation of breeds and various riding disciplines. (People just want to OWN and ride a "WAR HORSE." Different generation! "Mommy, I don't want your 'Black Beauty' anymore, I WANT A WAR HORSE!")
    Horses were at one time bred and trained for military purposes, but that alone did not make them war horses! Once the horses took part in a battle, then they became "war-horses"-that is, if they didn’t freak out or get killed. One of the main qualities of the latter "war-horse" was the ability to run away from, or to pursue, the enemy if needed; hence speed was of the essence, as well as endurance. 
    Have you ever seen today's Lipizzaner or a dressage horse in full run? I believe that most of them have never done it with a rider, and if they did I think they would for the most part look ridiculous, like a clumsy fat man on a treadmill. 
    The Mongols had the best war-horses and I assure you that they hardly practice anything similar to dressage, since dressage has its origin in the west (
Greece ). The Mongols were not called the "Hell Riders" for nothing, and trained their horse via gaming (playing games on horseback). They were the best horseback warriors of all time, riding just "little ponies" (by the English standards) and completely demolishing the knight cavalries of the Europeans. Did you know that the Mongolian horse could gallop with a rider for four hours straight? How many dressage horses do you know today that could do that for one hour?
    So, if you believe that today's dressage training is some sort of military training of horses, just imagine what would happen if someone would fire a shotgun next to the show ring where the horse is performing, or if another horse would run full speed straight at him. 
    As you can see, the formal western (meaning civilization) military horse training could justify the use of severe aids but the show riding "dressage" of today cannot
, especially when preaching about freedom of movement and the willingness of the horse to perform the required tasks.

    Basically, dressage riding today for the most part draws the kind of people who want to show horses (dress nice, look pretty, make pretty moves, socialize, etc.) but are afraid to do the disciplines that require more courage, thus opening the doors for the faint hearted and becoming a downright insult to the term "war horse" (on which grounds they base their riding/training theories), because the folks that participate in this discipline in this age would for the most part be the least type of warrior on a horse. 
    Mind you, these people ride horses on nice even terrain, in slow speeds, supposedly balanced and yet most of them somehow manage to get their horses sore. Ludicrous, extremely abusive and corrupt! 
    Furthermore, if the judges would exclude horses that are out of balance (on the forehand) they would have hardly anyone to participate, and thus no dressage shows and of course no money. Therefore, today's dressage riding is not about horses or riding, nor does it adhere to any of the principals of the foregone dressage, rather, it is about the dressage societies and the participants, which in reality represent some form of comedians, rather than genuine riders and their well-balanced and willing horses. Remember that it was the circus people who said "The show must go on" (despite the consequences, especially when it comes to the animals), and so the "dressage show" must keep on going. WHY? Because they are comedians and the "show must go on"!

    The major points of abuse in so-called dressage are:

    Improvement suggestions:

    If you own, ride or train a dressage horse that gets lame from his work, you should be downright embarrassed and ashamed of yourself. Don't blame the trainer or the rider; you own the horse and only you are responsible!

    The practical purpose of dressage, for the modern use of riding horses, remains the same as in the past: improving the safety and longevity of the horse for riding purposes, as well as his reliability in the particular service for which he is being used. This is of course is not practiced by the "modern competitive dressage" since the fools often injure their horses in the process, which of course contradicts the whole purpose of dressage.

Related Article:
What Is Dressage? - Origins, History, Present State

Dressage - Present State
 What is it and where it came from.
Related Correspondence:
Dressage - There is not such thing today.
Finding a Dressage Instructor

Edited by J. G. May 1st, 2006
Written by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek