Dressage - Anything forced or misunderstood, can never be beautiful. Xenophon

Last week, right after we came back from Aachen, our barista at the company cafe said to me that she had read about a wonder horse in the newspaper. Not being a horsey person, not being a dressage fan she still got the news about the wonder horse. Because the news is right now everywhere - sure, all equestrian magazines write about it. But there is also an outside world who now looks at dressage. They do not look at the beautiful pirouettes and one-tempis, they do not even know what these are, but they look at what message is transported to them: a horses being retired from sport, after being one of the highest paid for sports horses ever, lame, bad riding. She further said to me that he is hurt now. And she shook her head.

It is totally ok that the outside world does not understand the fascination of dressage, the dancing that is going on between horse and rider, the unison, the beauty. The ease of movements trained for so long. It is not ok that the only picture transported now is that dressage does harm to horses, that riders abuse their equine partners, even hurt them. These are headlines that can be read even in small regional newspapers let alone quality papers like Die Welt, FAZ etc in Germany. Newspapers even bankers, politicians, CEOs read. And the only thing they see is that dressage must be a bad thing.

Is that the picture that we want to have of ourselves? Definitely not! We want to see dressage as FOR the horse, making it easier for him to carry us, to stay sound over years.

I do not believe that professional riders see that any different. They became pros because they love what they do. Work with horses. They would never intentionally hurt them. But there is one factor that might change some habits and attitudes: money. While we amateurs need to work to have the money for our hobby, pros need to make money out of their hobby. Riding is not about relaxation and fun, it is for a living. Riding 12 horses a day - cannot be for relaxation purpose anymore. Time to spend with your horse just watching him eat his hay, snuggling or going for a bareback hack out in the forest is hard to find. They need to perform as sponsors in the background want to see a return on their investment. Because that is what it is - a way to make more money. Nobody is interested in investing in something that does not give any return. Would you buy shares of a company and not expect to get something back? Would you go to a bank and not expect interest rates for your savings? Definitely not. And all those sponsors invest a lot of money. Not only to buy the horses but also the running costs of horses are for sure higher than in other sports. Vets, physios, high quality food, grooms, riders...the maintenance of a top sports horse is pretty high. They see the vet and farrier more often than the average horse around the world. Of course, they care for the well being of the horse - if the horse feels good, it will be more likely competitive. Why should they not watch over their investment?

But then there is the pressure to perform. Be better than other horses. Win more classes than other horses. That increases popularity, rankings, indexes, market value. And it is getting tougher out there. Breeding efforts result in better performing horses - and there are more and more good horses out there. In former times, there was only one top horse, names that we all remember. Today, there is a list of top performing horses. Horses for the average rider have become better. This results in pushing the limits - and this is not only happening in top sports. Look around the warm up at your local show. For sure, you can see bad riding there. For sure, there is people hurting their horses. If there was money to be won in lower classes, I bet the number of horses hurt would be way higher. What is even worse for amateur riders is the fact that nobody says anything here. People look away, simply do not care. Horses do not see a physio on a regular basis so nobody knows that they are in pain. If problems show up, nobody is going to write a news article about it, the horse is getting sold and a new one, a better one is being bought. Top riders are in the spotlight. Every move they make is being watched. Every mistake they make is revealed. And making mistakes is human - we all do that. With horses performing at new highs and the right marketing, dressage has drawn the attraction of people not being involved before. That increased the pressure even more. 

The yellow press loves drama - no matter what - so also stories on abused dressage horses are welcome. I wish that the picture that is shown in the media was a different one. One that shows the beauty of dressage, the harmony between horse and rider we ALL are striving for - pros and amateurs alike. It is the love for those precious animals that distinguish ourselves. It is a vicious circle - and money is again the root cause. But it is up to ourselves to change that picture. We are responsible for what we see, what we show, what we post, what we do. It is ok to have idols, it is ok to imitate - but use the right ideals, do the right thing, keep on working on yourself. Neither me or you can change the world - but we can change our way of thinking and riding - because "Anything forced or misunderstood, can never be beautiful". Xenophon

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