Ok so we know that dressage has a set system made up by jolly clever people thousands of years ago so we don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Phew.
However because horses have changed down the centuries because man's use of them has gradually evolved and morphed each generation has re-tweaked dressage to the needs of their own horses/jobs/geography etc.
Our mentor Manuel Trigo points out that in the ancient world and the baroque age the need was primarily for a small, maneuverable horse for the battlefield and the training around Pluvinel's time (16th and 17th century) from which most of our modern dressage comes from reflects this. So the emphasis on collection and sudden explosions of power - terre a terre, piaffe, the airs etc., Spanish walk to knock down infantry all go right back to the battlefield. as do the lost movements like the carriere (launching forward out of the terre a terre at top speed to knock your opponent to the ground, horse and man), and the canter work on two very steep tracks for circling an opponent (they still use this in bullfighting)
but then, as Manuel explained, artillery and firearms got more and more sophisticated in the 18th century and a bloke called Rubicon de la Gueriniere in France said - hey this battle thing we do with horses is beautiful, we could just do it for the sake of its own art!
And the first 'academic riding' schools were formed - and some survive to this day; Vienna, Lisbon, Saumur among them.
Our mentor Luis Valenca elaborates on this history: 'around the 19th century the cavalry horse changed and so did the gentleman's horse. horses did less and less on the battlefield itself and become more and more about just transporting men to the front who would then get off to fight; mounted infantry - then ride away fast. Speed and endurance became the watchword, not maneuverability. And the officers wanted to foxhunt and jump, as it became fashionable to make like English gentlemen, so suddenly trainers like Steinbrecht and Baucher had to ask - how do we take these new fast, elongated horses - Anglo Arabs and thoroughbred - and 'dress' them in the old way?
And so the Baucher and Steinbrecht ways were born.
Then the 20th century came along and horses became obsolete in battle but sport riding was born. And it was mainly German/northern European cavalry officers who dominated the early years of competitive riding and so the horses most often competed reflected their needs- big horses for big men. And so the system was adapted yet again for Warmbloods.
yet - as Valenca points out - the system remains the system: 'if you can understand it in its pure, its baroque form,' he told us; 'then you can easily see how its adapted this way for sport riding, that way for bullfighting, another way just to create a really soft riding horse out of any physical type...but the system remains. Consistent but applied slightly differently for the different physical types of horse and human that have evolved down the years
We will do a part two of this blog next week because our mentors have more to tell...
Thank you mentors! We are forever students! For more, go to stressfreedressage.com