A bronze statue of a Greek school horse from the 5th century A.D. The form shows a similarity to a Lipizzaner. This form is hardly found in today's dressage presentation. Note the good flex at the poll and the head is not on the vertical position and well above the hip.
The whole concept of the parade style dressage "framed up" horse was the presentation (parading) of a high official (general) before the public. It was mainly practiced in the royal courts stables and not so much by the common campagne horse. It was adopted by most of the western world cultures. The statue presents a noble, athletic and balanced picture of a horse and rider of the same attitude. (Compare with photo at the bottom of this page) Note, much smaller in size than the horse below and the head is not on the vertical, despite the extreme high collection.
An other common appearance in the dressage today are oversized and too heavy horses which would be unsuitable for the latter military campaigns, clumsy and lacking required temperament for the parade. The polo pony has a practical use for bandaging to protect his legs, but on the dressage horse it is down outright silly.
The polo horse performance is today the closest to the formal military horse. Unfortunately most of these horses do not have the basic campagne balance, hence many of them retire prematurely, lame and used up.
The Mongol horse, one of the best military horses of all times. He is durable and small, hence the out of balance riding has very little negative effect, as against by the larger warmbloods the balanced riding is of the essence, though often difficult to achieve. The Mongol horses are also much quicker and easier to maneuver than the presently popular oversized and unsuitable warm-blooded "klutz".
The Cossacks, one of the best cavalries ever, presenting medium size horse (Don Horse). Note the simple head equipment with a simple snaffle bit. If the horse could be controlled on the battle field only with the snaffle bit, just how silly the dressage horse looks performing in a show ring requiring spurs and curb bits.
| Today, the dressage is one of the most misguided riding disciplines of all times. I have not seen so much nonsense written, and inconsistency in writing about anything in reference to horses as when I read about dressage on various websites and books these days. Most claim that dressage has its origins in preparation of a horse for military campaigns, which is
not quite accurate, though it does attract new comers to the sport. It also came to my attention that the
shows in the US are claiming about their horses, that they are war horses, which is of course self contradictory, since their entire training revolves around shows and non of them ever seen a battle field. One of the most preferred and required qualities in any military horse was speed and endurance. I can hardly imagine any of today's Lipizzaners (or other dressage horses) as fast running horses, nor it would be very hard to believe that anyone would prefer a white horse on the battle field,
unless there is a bunch of them in the regiment or smaller unit.
We can trace the "dressage" purpose of riding to the Greek culture, in the age of Sparta and Athens. Xenophon already describes some of the figures and moves of the dressage, mainly the piaffe and levade. However, these had nothing to do with the battlefield, but these movements were trained for a parade, to show off a military leader on a high-spirited horse that is "trotting" in a place (piaffe) or one can see the bottom of the belly of the horse e.g. high collection, levade etc.
Another obvious fact is that the training of the various figures in the "Spanish High School" takes many years, and if they would truly have a military purpose, it would be impossible to replace theses horses during the war. Well, one fact is obvious, that the Spaniards had very poor cavalry in comparison with other European countries, hence it is a poor example to look for "correct" riding or training values in the Spanish or the Baroque fashion, not to mention that the training methods were to some points relatively cruel those days. To put it into laymen's terms, there are two poles in the riding arena, which serve to a simple training method. I'll let you imagine the rest.
If one truly cares to learn about genuine warhorses, one should look at the "Hell Riders" as the Mongols were called, whose horsemen never lost a battle. Guess what? They had no dressage, and rode little (in English terms ponies) "ugly" hairy horses
with their "heads up in the air", against the "mighty" knights cavalries, which they always demolished. The training of their warhorses involved primarily various games from which we have adopted the polo; hence the polo ponies' performance is the closest to the training of a military horse today and not the dressage,
but it is a hardly a realistic example.
Whether the dressage was used for
military purpose or for the parade it always emphasized the head UP and not
down. No "proud" horse walks or runs with his head down and only a complete
idiot would charge against his enemy on a horse with his head down. It is no
surprise that many folks believe that once when the horse is trained in
today's dressage he will not jump, and it is the truth in most cases, since,
among other things, the horse cannot see well once when he has his head on
the desired vertical position and drops it below the impulsion (hip) line.
What Is Dressage?
Dressage - Abuse
Rollkur What is it and where it came from?
Dressage - There is not such thing today.
Finding a Dressage Instructor
Written by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek