If you haven't had the pleasure to watch this breathtaking horse and rider, Edward Gal and Totilas, here's a link with 3 videos of their Gran Prix Special, Musical Kur, and warm-up at Aachen where the pair set world record scores. Talk about harmony, accord, and a horse that loves his job! The site is Equine Ink at Networked Blogs. Enjoy!!

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My honest answer is this; the description in art. 401 is classically correct, and it is what I prefer to see. However (there had to be one, didn't there?) it's not the whole story, and focuses on only the part of the horse's anatomy in front of the shoulders. Yes, a braced neck is symptomatic of a horse that is not through, as is (less often) a profile slightly behind the vertical. A stallion with a heavily crested neck is never going to have his poll as the highest point. A horse that is not through (working over his back) is going to display other symptoms. He will step wide behind (caused by not lowering the croup, and taking large steps instead by only the swing of the hind leg), he will fail to (in the more collected gaits) step toward his center of gravity making his steps appear short and choppy. His shoulders will not swing or lift as his moves, transitions will be abrupt and inaccurate, aids from the rider will be crude and highly visible--all due to the horse not being properly balanced with the rider and therefore not being able to work from the rider's seat. When this occurs, the horse will continue in the direction of his imbalance until he is roughly put onto the track the rider intends. Tension will be evident throughout the horse's posture, not just his neck. A warning here: do not mistake a hot horse for a tense horse. Properly balanced, a hot horse's energy will be directed toward his line of travel and he will be doing what the rider wishes. A tense horse's energy will be spent opposing his rider.

Watch Edward Gal carefully. I saw him use a leg aid once. Not once did I see him withdraw his hand. Totilas worked from his seat. If the horse was not in perfect harmony with him, you would have seen the aids--particularly for the piaffe and passage.

The frame of the competition horse is quite different today than it was 20 years ago. Many people object to that. My objection is that that frame is often forced on horses through artificial means who should not be going that way in the first place, and are perfectly capable of performing all the "tricks" in a longer frame. I don't use the term "classical" here, because even in classically trained horses you will see a good deal of variation in the height and stretch of the neck--it is dependent upon the horse's conformation. Each horse has his ideal.

Apologies for carrying on for so long. I've been in the biz a long time, and evidently I've managed to form an opinion!
Thank you for the compliment, Allan! I try not to be too one way about things. Any time I've taken that stance the very next thing that happens is I'm proved wrong! (ouch!) My preference if for the classical methods in dressage. I don't show any more--and for a large variety of reasons,. However, I do have a lot of respect for those who can compete and not compromise their horses. I know trainers who have careers based in the show ring, and I know judges as well and most of them are educated, competent people who work hard at doing things right. There will always be debate as to the correct approach--there HAS been, for many hundreds (thousands!) of years. I don't see it ending anytime soon :)

I like your explanation to your clients on the hand. Proper contact is a difficult thing to explain so that the student truly understands. I generally add one more point: lightness in the hand is dependent upon the engagement of the hindquarters. Without the hind legs properly stepping forward and lending balance to the horse the hand can never hope to be light.

I'm looking forward to future exchanges.

Here we go...

i think the horse is soft over his back. he has a large well muscled neck which some might say looks tight. if anything he does go behind the vertical at times. many horses at all levels do this. but he is soft and responsive throughout the test. i personally don't like the high leg action in his front. although i do like his flowing loose shoulder. his hind is beautifully engaged and he shows good flexion through his hocks.
I agree with you, Vickie. And the high front leg action is not my favorite, either. (I don't think the extended trot is his best gait, but I'd have to see him in person. Video tends to flatten, and you don't get the same sense of power as you would in person).
It is not just about front leg action, that seems to be somewhat "odd". But it is a first hint, that something has gone terribly wrong.

Let me say first, that our dressage fore-fathers (whomever they are), at one point emphasised the purity of gaits, and had gone a great lenght to photograph, animate and describe the foot sequence in 3 basic gates of the horse, making it a paramount to clean and correct riding. Why? Because they recognised, that a break from clean sequence is a sign of imbalance, and forceful riding. Simply said, purity o gates was like a document signifying the quality of training. It was a welfare issue.

Nowadays, we talk about positive and negative displacement in a trot, as if normal everyday characteristic of a dressage horse. What's more, we even use the word "positive" as if the author - H.Clayton - meant really a physiologically positive thing rather than a mere descriptive term for the hind legs touching the ground ahead of the front. And we started calling pure trot to be something plain, ugly and not elevated enough, and people who advocate pure gaits as "those purist", as if it was a bad thing.

Biomechanically speaking, any break in the sequence is a horse's solution to a loss of balance, or the inability to synchronize front and hind legs due to forced formats. It is a sign of a restriction. More, it stresses the tissue unduly, unless there is an adaptation, and one way to judge adaptation is the development of enormous muscles, that should not be on a horse otherwise, if they were not strained to a maximum. Of course, the strength of the muscles says little about the strength of the other tissues ... and mind of the animal, therefore dressage has become a synonym for orthopedic injuries and abnormal behaviors.

And back to the discussed video. Slow motion (must be downloaded to your hard drive) video of this performance reveal both, positive and negative displacements throughout the video. Also, there is lots of "jerks" that are super fast, and almost invisible to an untrained eye in normal speed. The corners (many, but not all) are also "swept" by the horse by his sudden shifts of the hindquarter, rather than a gradual bending.

Those are the reasons, why people, who admire this performance, also feel a bit "uneased" about it. Just not knowing why...
however--- there would be no way for a judge, no matter how experienced to be able to slow down the motion in their mind as they mark. isn't this a bit much!! i see your points but in my opinion, too nit-picky. i watch tests and think of the visual mistakes, then when i go in the arena, it's all over rather quick. correcting errors isn't what one should be doing in the arena, that's for training, and no test ever goes just the way we visualise it to go before we ride. it.
true there often seems to be preconceived notions of who is the best. and not only in this sport- see figure skating for example, or ballet competitions. however, i still believe the judges saw sufficient quality in many movements to place this horse as high as he did score. are we sufficiently trained in judging to be able to nit pick? i certainly don't think i am, and i have been riding, training, competing and judging for many years.
I no longer have to see slow motion video to see the displacement. I have trained my eye, using photographs, slow motion videos, various motion analysis. It is easy for me to spot irregularities now, but it was not always this way.

There are general rules, that apply to horse's motion. For one, the horse cannot place the front hoof further beyond the vertical line projecting his nose (it has lots to do with a physical forces combined with the anatomy). Therefore, very short neck and tucked nose dictates, that the front hoof will not touch the ground very far. Notice, I highlighted the word "touch". it may still shoot to the sky and jerk all the way. What does a horse have to do if he cannot use front legs to "reach" distance? He must use the power of the hind, right? So far so good, but what if the hind hoof grabs the front, which is behind? There are 2 solutions to this problem: 1. the horse must lift front unnaturally high in order to "delay" its footstep, 2. the horse displaces its diagonal sequence.

You can bet pretty much on every horse, that is forced into giant powerful motion, and yet is not allowed the freedom of the front, that he displaces its trot. But the high leg action - pretty, and that's what people choose to see. But, this is also the reson, why rollkur works for the current equestrian collective mind. It produces high action of the front, it produces animation on already animated animals by their genetics. The horse simply has not choice. If we ever abandon rollkur, or overbending, or various restricted devices, we must accept "plain" as well. That's what the equestrian community is NOT prepared to give up, I am afraid.
Another tool I used to understand horse's motion is a study of gated horses. That's sort of fun, particularly if one starts seeing similarities with other, non-gated breeds.

One particular breed of interest is Paso Fino in general. You might have heard, how their gate, is largly inheritted, and you may see all kinds of anatomical charts pointing to angles of their bones etc. However. When PF is born, it differs from other breeds by their disrepancy between the length of their legs and their shortness of their neck. More than any other breed I know. Their neck is so short, it cannot be used as a balancer, yet their long, quick legs are capable of throwing the body seriously out of balance. Therefore, the foal naturally chooses 4-beat gait, since that is the most stable gate, it offers maximum contact with the ground.

As the foal grows, the neck becomes longer, and most PF start to trot, except when they are in the stressed motion. By the time they are ready to be saddled, they trot just like any other breed, and 4-beat disappears. Their neck starts to function as a balancer. So what a trainer needs to do, to get the 4-beat gait back to the PF? S/He must manipulate the neck. Specifically, they need to shorten the neck of the horse, so it is back to the foal-like state. In the case of PF, they start pulling the neck beckwards, while pushing the horse forward out of balance.

Once the horse is trained, the gate becomes habitual, no need to force it.

I am drawing here the parallel between two extremes, that have one thing in common - displaced gate and manipulated neck as a mean to achieve displacement. Both breeds have a natural component and that's inborn animation, that is being exploited at max.
I agree with Eva about learning from gaited horses.
I had a Puerto Rican PF mare for over twenty years, got her as a weanling and trained her myself. She was PACEY (I saw her trot 2-3 times in her life?) and the breeder swore up and down that I would not be able to 4-beat gait her using just Forward Seat principles. I did 4-beat her gait reliably, though she was always ready to go back to her pacing. I rode this mare FS her whole life (no showing), and she would collect herself (on contact, off contact) when she went into her gait.

Modern flashy dressage horses look gaited to me. The ones with true diagonal trots do not look flashy. What is next--soring and heavy shoes?

I have noticed that people who have not looked long and hard at natural gaited horse movement are often fooled by a disunited trot, especially with high front action. It happened to the Arabs decades ago.
>The ones with true diagonal trots do not look flashy. What is next--soring and heavy shoes?

Heavy shoes may not happen in the dressage, since that's against the rules, but soring is happening and has been for as long as I remember. However, ordinary liniment and warm bandage is often all that it takes. And it does not have to be used for a competition, just a training purpose will do. Gait becomes habitual, remember? It would be even contradictory to use hot substance during competition, since hot legs don't like to stand still. As long as we look for animation, as long as we regard clean gait as boring and shallow, we are going to push direction of the dressage in a wrong way, starting with breeders and their huge $$$$ influence on the "sport". Everybody is guilty in some way. All it takes is to like Totalis-like expression, and lustily seek the same....

Regarding gated horses. I owe a Paint horse. Yes, the most unlikely gated horse in the world :-) And yet, I was able to produce 4-beat gait on him just by pulling his neck backwards while he was excited. No, it was not smooth, he is a Paint after all, but it documents what manipulation of a balancer = neck does to biomechanics.
After my small, short experiment, I offered a treat to my buddy as an appology. He refused to take it and looked the other way :-)


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