Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Digression

In between blogs on tack, I'd like to talk a bit about the concepts of cadence and riding in lightness.
When you pour through the riding treatises of the classical period, you rarely come across the word cadence. La Gueriniere uses it in connection with the Passage, but not anywhere else. The masters of yesteryear were, seemingly, far more interested in lightness in the application of the aids and the sensitvity of the horse's response to them. La Gueriniere talks about the "descente des aides," the cessation of all demands upon the horse, allowing him to carry on whatever he was asked to do. In fact, the assumption was that the trained horse was to continue until asked to do something else, taking responsability for his own self carriage. Impulsion was a constant concern, as was the balance of the horse onto the hindquarters. But cadence, per se, no.
In fact, my observation is thatthere seems to be some conflict between cadence and manueverability, as the more cadenced a horse becomes, often the less he is quick and responsive to sudden movements such as those required on the battlefield(then) or in the bullring(now.)
Likewise, there is an apparent split between brilliance and relaxation, at least the way relaxation is conceived of in dressage these days! We all know that the horses that compete brilliantly at the Olympic levels are High Octane and on Turbo drive, or we do not see the maximum performance from them. However, often, the brilliance comes from tension intentionally created by the rider. The warm up rings at these international competitions are often the scene of such significant "disagreements" between horse and rider, that they look like a battle zone. Heck, lately, some horses come down centerline so tense they refuse to halt at X to begin the test, and many are so tense that their riders refuse to take a victory gallop for fear of a major come-apart! Interesting that the base of the famed German Training Pyramid, i.e. Rhythm and Relaxation, no longer seems applicable.
Now, we are fortunate to be able to view on youtube these days some of the most classically trained bullfighting horses such as the legendary Opus, or Merlin, bursting with self-confidence and energy, performing to astonishing levels in the face of a deadly adversary. Brilliant, yes! Relaxed? Well, it all depends on how you define it. I'd have to say that these horses are not acting in any way like they are being coerced to do their jobs, and that their riders are not creating tension in them but rather that these horses are mentally relaxed, while physically performing brilliantly.
So I'd have to say that any system of training that depends on the need for the rider to create tension in order to perform brilliantly is very different indeed from a system that encourages an energetic, mentally relaxed, self-confident horse, willingly performing to his max.
A friend of mine recently took her Iberian gelding to a classically based trainer for training, and her observations when she took the horse back home were fascinating. First, the trainer worked the horse almost exclusively in hand for two months, because he felt that the horse was deeply disobedient and troubled on the ground, and that fixing this lack of confidence and understanding could do nothing but improve his overall riding performance. At the end of two months, my friend reported that the horse had a newfound work ethic, worked with his haunches underneath him, and was light, respectful, responsive, and UP in the bridle. His poll was definitely the highest point. BUT...he did not take much of a contact with her hand, compared to what she has been used to all her life, had lost much of the "dressage"muscling in his neck and back, and had lost much of his cadence. However, he also no longer dragged himself around on the forehand, and obeyed the aids for collection promptly, with much more brilliance than he formerly did. I should clarify that the horse had been worked in the long lines and in hand in a cavesson.
She has taken him home and put him back in the snaffle; for two days he rode lightly and responsively, but after that, seems to be getting heavier on the hand and less respectful of the aids, even as he becomes more cadenced in his trot again. She has told me that she would like to have both the cadence and the lightness, but she wonders if she will achieve it.
So...Are the two things inimical?
Write me your thoughts and observations!

1 comment:

  1. I found this interesting and it makes me even more curious as to the effect of the bit with regards to lightness, respect and carriage. I doubt that the classical trainer used a snaffle bit at all and when it was reintroduced the horses old way of going returned. From my limited knowledge it appears that horses being ridden in curb bits are more attentive, respectful and elevated in front. Can't wait for your blog on the effects of various bits! What is your definition of 'riding in lightness' and 'cadence'? Thanks, R