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The Emporer's New Clothes

August 27, 2007

by Steph Skjoldebrand

Where are the coaches?

A hard working and interested group of people are trying to improve the communication between riders and judges. They have organised two excellent weekends in Canterbury for riders, judges and coaches with video clips, discussions and organised guinea pigs to show us ways of going at the lower levels. Setting up the programme is a lot of work for just a few dedicated and well-meaning people who want to address the perceived gaps. There have been strong discussions and perhaps not every one in agreement. This is good - "the little voice must speak up" if we are to have any integrity in our sport.

But where are the coaches - the middle people between the riders and judges?

It is often whispered that judges do not know what they are looking for. So come out and discuss it with us, let's get this thing going, the channels are open.

Bill Noble gave an excellent summary of the ideals of dressage - I haven't heard it better explained and with such passion and so valuable.

Coaches have to stand to be counted and be open to discussion and constructive criticism, so as to uphold the correct basic training of horses so as to carry them through to Grand Prix.

No wonder there is the rhetorical gap - I myself have been told over the years that my horse can go to Grand Prix; I certainly have trouble winning a novice test - Oh! The judges cannot see my Grand Prix horse!

I suppose this is said to get me to come back again and again - but never ever have I come away with anything that describes how do I do it! Hey - get real, Steph - in a climate of competition some coaches may train riders to produce "good tests" - to win - perhaps taking short cuts and leaving out the correct basic training which build muscle, self carriage, balance and strength to go on - to develop.

It seems that between novice and elementary level, riders have to change their methods to achieve "collection", as the tests now demand a little more collection. It should be a gradual and daily progression from the day the horse is backed, from day one. As Bill Noble says we are teaching the same thing but with a little more balance and engagement, all should be in evidence in preliminary.

How many times have I seen riders making horses crooked saying the horse is not old enough to go straight by using the dreaded inside rein? Hey, give the horse a chance, start right!

However, we cannot really blame the coaches, either.

• How fit are you?
• How supple are you?
• How balanced are you?
• Do you need the reins to sit on a horse?
• How soft is your feel?
• What have you felt?
• Have you any feel? Coaches cannot teach feel.
• Have you ever betrayed the horse's trust in the mouth?
• Are you clear what to do, the order of aids and where?
• Do you know what the aids do and when to apply them and not to apply them?
• Do you sit in the right place, are you centred?
• Do you have an independent seat?

As Kyra Kirkland says -" I can give you a cake recipe and it will never be the same with everyone. There will be different versions due to the variances of ingredients, the way it is mixed, the order it is mixed and the oven etc. It is the same with horses. Your horse's training is like baking a cake - it will rise on occasions and other times go flat due to the quality of the ingredients and the way and order you mixed it".

The coaches can give you instruction and you may not understand the knowledge given and many people will get the same message differently. Also they may have to repeat things again and again but you will revert to old habits once away from the coach's eyes - I know I do it all the time.

Also, some judges do not see the effects of correct training because they have yet to see it! Most judges want honestly to be encouraging and try hard to find ways to skirt the truth to be kind. Some riders do not read the carefully crafted comments, which should be there to give riders something honest to work on. Some times juges are stuck for words. As a rider I have often had tests with "nice" this and "nice" that. "Nice" is not a "nice" word, it does not tell me what has happened or what did not happen - I need to know if my training is correct.

As a rider when you feel the horse is going well it may not mean he is correct as we get used to the familiar lack of energy, choppy rhythm and horrid pace, and may never have experienced what a correct working trot feels like or a good uphill canter. So we rely on the judge and the coach to give us an insight as to what is going on.

As one person so rightly said there are a lot of grey areas. Maybe these grey areas are communication gaps and the rider's understanding of the basic training to be demonstrated in the tests, is what the judges are looking for.

And this is what the seminars are aimed to address even if it hurts.



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