Monday 21 November 2011

No. Seriously. "Hunter" does not equal 1st Level

Another question that cropped up frequently during my early days of "dressage" was "Hey, DC, you like your hunter coach.  Can't you just keep on riding with her?  After all, dressage is really just flatwork.  All hunters can do dressage up to first level".

No.  No.  No.

If you are a hunter person, here is a tip.  You sound like an idiot when you say this.  So don't.

Yes, I know.  We have all seen instances where "Bieber Fever" (registered name at time of importation -Teufel Laich), an 11 yr old stopper - oops!  I mean hunter! where is my brain... hunter showed up at a Bronze show and kicked ass in training level 3 with scores in the 70's or something and is now advertised as a "dressage prospect" for $50,000.

"Dressage Prospect"

You see!  Hunters can easily dominate in the dressage ring.  Dressage is just "flatwork".

This is just so wrong.  On so many levels.  Let's start with the "scores in the 70's" part.

The directives for training level are as follows:

Purpose: To confirm that the horse is supple and moves freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm, accepting contact with the bit.

Not exactly rocket science and acrobatics.  It is no magic that aged hunters do well at training level.   Remember - if a horse is going to actually "progress up the levels" in dressage - they should be 3 or 4 and green as grass in training level.  Forward / clear / steady and riding past the judges booth without having a serious meltdown are actually impressive at this age.  Not so much in a seasoned hunter with no other career options beyond dressage and Dog Chow due to lack of initiative to jump 3'. The bar is pretty low.

In training level, any horse that enters the ring, does some semblance of forward, contact, not freaking out like an idiot should immediately earn a 60. Do all of this while looking somewhat  competent - 65.  On a big shiny nice moving beast like Bieber Fever - 70 is a cakewalk.

And when we look a bit deeper at Bieber Fever's situation - it is clear that "Teuffy" is no spring chicken.  He has at least one ringbone encircled foot in the grave.  The days of a long legged German dude in a bowler showing off his prancy little trot at the Verden auction were just so long ago.

Now, his teenage owner who was once so excited to see him step off the plane (thanks, mommy and daddy!) is more interested in a $15 pasta stirfry and flirting with a man who even Teuffy can tell is screamingly gay than actually learning to ride a decent course of jumps without ripping his teeth out over every fence.  He has spent his last 6 summers standing ringside in the blistering Caledon heat (when there isn't torrential rain) sunrise to sunset with golf carts and Honda CRF50's narrowly skimming his ass - pfft, a few flowers in a cone with a letter on them?  Bring it on.  Nothing phases him.  If all you ask of the poor guy is to plod around  in a clear and steady rhythm with his face on the vertical (or nose just slightly in front, if you are a militant UDBBer), hey, he is happy as a schwein in scheibe.  A few transitions?  What the hell. No probs.

However... our goal in dressage is supposed to be progression, and just because Teuffy can cut the daisies around a 20 m circle really doesn't mean he is going to show much enthusiasm for, say, collection.  Or doing a flying change - when YOU decide to do one.  Remember that pyramid I mocked earlier?  Well really, as much as it kills me to admit it, it does make sense.  And while calm and obedient can take you through training level, and maybe even first - after that, you actually have to have a foundation to build on, and most hunter trainers (I won't say all) just don't have any clue how to build it.  Why would they?  It is not their game.

THEY don't know this of course, and when you meet them at dinner parties or wherever it is you happen to cross paths, they will not respect what it is you are slogging away to do whatsoever, and will tell you that good flatwork is good flatwork...and that really, we are all doing "dressage".

My recommendation at this time - instead of driving the plastic holly stir stick into their eye - is to have more egg nog and smile blankly.  Hey, how about those Maple Leafs!  Do you thing Reimer will be back soon?



  1. This is too funny. I love your blog and I can totally relate to everything you say.Well put together. Please keep it coming.You are a talented writer

  2. I was just sent here by a friend - great blog - keep of the great work! I'm an 'older' eventer - I know, don't roll your eyes quite so far back! I am now competing at Prelim level, and have developed a very strong respect for dressage, not just as something you have to do to get to cross country!

  3. Oh. My. God. This is what I go through every day of my life! If I hear "He'd be a great dressage horse. He really knows how to point his toes and can put his head down!" or "My horse is too lame to jump, so I thought he'd make a great dressage horse now" or "My former hunter learned how to piaffe 3 months after I started taking dressage lessons!" or "Of course she (the fat little white pony that has 2 speeds: crawl or get-the-fuck-off-me) knows dressage....we have video of her trotting around a dressage arena!" one more time the stir stick is going in their eye. Immediately.

  4. Love it! Americcan Dressage is always brought about as for the "old and infirm". lol!