Classical dressage is the preparation of the horse for collection. Collection, which requires the horse to shift more weight onto its hind legs, places the horse in a more balanced frame, allowing it to move at any moment in a change of direction or gait. The origins of this training were the need for a nimble horse of war. It is believed the art of the preparing the war horse probably goes back to 1500 BC. The written history traces its roots back several centuries to the Greeks and notably one particular cavalry man, Xenophon , born about 430 BC. Xenophon’s treatise, The Art of Horsemanship provided the basic classical ideals for all horsemen. It was the first known publication of horse training. He set forth not only the physical training of the horse but also the psychological considerations necessary for the trainer. Three aspects were necessary: respect for the horse, gentleness towards the horse, and the correct seat of the rider. An effective war horse was “brought about through a system of suppling and collecting exercises on the circle, as well as change of rein through the demi-volte to be equally responsive to either rein.” (Sylvia Lock, Dressage, the Art of Classical Riding.) Gymnastic movements leading to half pass, and pirouettes, demonstrate lateral control of the horse’s body, allowing the horse and rider to move as one. Through collection, the extended gaits covering more ground would not cause the horse to lose his balance. During the Renaissance, several ‘schools’ of training developed. There were, and continue to be, schools in Spain, Portugal, Austria, and France. The most famous is the Spanish Riding School in Austria. While not preparing a horse for war, they remain true to old principles and training methods. These training methods are slow and methodical, involving training of the horse’s muscles to be supple, able to perform the all lateral movements, and eventually the highly collected exercises necessary for the ‘airs above the ground.’ The focus is on collection, and lightness. Traditionally the classical riders preferred the horses of the Iberian Peninsula, particularly the Lusitano, which are naturally more balanced and agile due to centuries of selective breeding for traits of collection. Classical dressage is also an art, necessitating selection of gymnastic exercised best suited to each horse’s needs. “Art speaks for itself.” (La Gueriniere, Paris, 1733).Xato 7R and Training with Sarah Pinney
At Sun Hill Training, Sarah Pinney emphasizes principles based on the old masters. This means the horse in self-carriage, lightness in hand, and using systematic gymnastic exercises to supple the horse, thus prolonging its useful life. I have chosen Sarah to continue Xato’s education. We both have an interest in Working Equitation, and hope to be showing Xato in this emerging sport in the near future.
Grateful Acknowledgment for source materials: Sylvia Lock, Dressage, the Art of Classical Riding and The Royal Horse of Europe Arseno Raposo Cordiero, Lusitano Horse, Son of the Wind Conquistador Magazine – “The Iberian Horse of Antiquity” Sons of the Wind Farms Lusitano of the Netherlands –“The Origin of the Lusitano Horse”