The Horse Inside Out Conference at the Unicorn Centre, Stow, this weekend was extremely informative. Dr Gerd Heuschmann (author of Tug of War) and Dr Svend Kold lectured on training the horse from an anatomical perspective. Both highlighted that even Olympic and World Championship Dressage horses in the hands of elite dressage riders and trainers are forced to work in such a way that they are unable to move naturally; the use of hyper-flexion (so-called Rollkur) prevents the horse from using his back and hindquarters correctly. The spectacular, crowd-pleasing 'reach for the stars' movement of the front legs is coupled with the 'playing with cards' hindquarter movement. This style is perpetuated by the judges who reward leg movers rather than back movers and frown on horses that are seen to be chewing. In the same way, more ordinary horses which are behind the vertical or those with a hollowed back are unable to use their poll and back properly. Both advocate a head and neck that are forward and downwards - one after the other. The horse should reach for the contact. Petra and I have now got some homework to do.
I was heartened to hear a complete vindication of my stance on starting horses which I have always felt should not be asked or forced into an outline - young horses do not have the physique to cope with this even if they seem to offer it. Ideally, those muscles and the top line should be developed slowly over two years and should not be forced by heavy hands or gadgets. In the meantime, they recommend getting young horses out and about so that they learn to balance themselves.