Wanted: Good Examples
Kurt Albrecht von Ziegener
Cynthia F. Hodges, JD, LLM, MA
Despite success, the example set by Germany as world dressage leader is endangered. Kurt Albrecht von Ziegner, renowned dressage trainer, especially in the USA, says, "go back to the classical methodology, stop thinking only in terms of movements and start thinking more about your partner, the horse."
German dressage has been much respected on a global scale for decades. At the Olympic Games in Atlanta, the German team gave more reasons for respect by winning yet again. At the European Championships in 1997, German riders won both individual and team gold. In many countries, above all in the USA where dressage is experiencing a boom, people are more interested than ever in the German system because it promises the most success. A behind the scenes look in the German arena is especially appealing because this is where one can learn the new "tricks..."
This world-wide interest in our training methods is wonderful, but with that comes a responsibility that should not be underestimated. If it is true that other countries incorporate our teachings, then the German Riding Federation (FN) and the German Judges Federation must ensure that the practical training is not in conflict with the theory. This is easier said than done. On the one hand, there are guidelines for the FN that are based on the knowledge of the old masters, as well as many well-thought-out tests that score the current training of horse and rider with the help of qualified judges. There are also many pictures that have little in common with these guidelines but are nonetheless copied. What is meant here are training methods that denigrate the horse to a sport-object that can be manipulated and forced to succeed as soon as possible in order to "pay-off." The concern that the horse's health is compromised is down-played. While people like to name German horses English names, it seems that the English word horsemanship has been forgotten. In this age of videos, it has become easier to study the methods of successful riders. It is especially interestesting to see the top international riders at work. Every deviation from the norm is seen and discussed all over the world. Any attempt to copy them is more than likely to fail because horses are different (riders too!). However, we already see here [in Germany] as well a abroad how horses are forced into straight jackets and are virtually raped so that they will perform the tests with as few mistakes as possible and show the judge a "trained" horse. There is little left of the horse's natural vigour or lively expression. This cannot be the purpose or goal of dressage!
Many promising talents have been prematurely aged or ruined by ignorance or false ambition on the part of their owners. Most of them by being forced to perform exercises they were neither physically nor mentally ready for. The "German System" should not allow something like this to happen. One must expect from riding schools that carry the FN seal, that they see themselves as protectors of the system -- and the German riding school in Warendorf must set the example. Mediocre trainers cannot make draw reins and other methods of force the norm, just because they themselves cannot get by without them, and because they are incapable of teaching their students the correct seat and aids to a degree where they do not need these devices.
Thinking in Movements
It is time for a full halt, to stand still for a while, to consider what can be done, to meet and effectively combat the growing deviation from the system. This day and age's drive to succeed puts many riders and trainers under pressure. Movements are drilled even when the prerequisites are absent. The result is the "obedience" of the horse, who at the same time gives up his natural charm. Do we want that? Certainly not! There has been no lack of warnings from knowlegable trainers and judges from here [in Germany] and abroad over the years. They obviously had no effect. The judging system for dressage tests has remained the same and leads to "thinking in movements," because more points can be made in the movements than in the collective remarks. These collective remarks are basically inconsequential, then. The dressage tests according to the German Test System (LPO) are no exceptions. They are eagerly studied abroad and often used as an example. In the tests of Class S (approximately 4th level), for example, the point sum is on average 320, the total for the collective remarks only 80. The relationship is 4:1. In the tests of the other levels, the relationship is similar. The completion of the movements (technical) are marked higher than the fundamental elements of dressage. Even the FEI tests after Prix St. Georges show this unproportional relationship. It is no wonder that the drilling of movements is rewarded more than the purity of gaits, the impulsion, the throughness or the submission. These elements, however, are the essentials for the training of a dressage horse as well as contact, straightness, and collection. If one of these elements is lacking, then the movement could not have been performed correctly.
What then is the point of the dressage training? Remember, if you will, the work Picture of a Trained Horse (Bild des gerittenen Pferdes), in which one of the most important German dressage judges of earlier times, Oberst von Heydebreck, shared his vision of dressage. This book has been translated into several languages and is well-known abroad. In it, there is nothing about movements, because they are only a means to an end in the continual strive toward harmony between horse and rider. He puts more emphasis on tempo, balance and expression - all elements that are only to be achieved through submission, contact, straightness and impulsion. The movements allow for gymnasticizing and obedience. Their training effect is the greatest when they are correctly ridden. In the dressage tests, judges reward those who are the closest to the ideal. This should not be at the cost of throughness, tempo and impulsion, however. This is the essence of dressage, and this is where the emphasis of the training should be placed.
If we stop seeing the horse as an object, then we have to think about how to preserve his natural energy and charm throughout his entire training. Everyone bears the responsibility of keeping the training system pure, above all, the German Riding Federation, the German Judges Federation and the German Rider and Driver Association.
The warnings both spoken and written have been discussed for years, but have obviously been ignored. A lever should be used where more effectiveness is sought: in the dressage tests. If this is to succeed, at least in individual tests, the relationship must increase from 4:1 in favor of the collective remarks to 4:3 or 4:2. This change would be a step in the right direction. The fundamental elements of the training system would again assume their proper importance and the mechanical drilling of movements would stop.
In the USA, there is a Prix St James, which is a combined dressage test that consists of Part I (Basic Test) and Part II (Prix St. Georges.) The total points from both tests determine the winner. In Part I, 280 points can be earned from 24 movements, and 200 points from the collective remarks (10 elements). This is a relationship of 1:4:1. Here, the goal is to show that no "tricks" lead to FEI, only solid basic training, whose fundamental elements of submission, throughness and impulsion are highly valued. Too bad that there is not something like that here. It would serve the purity of our system well -- and our horses would thank us for it...
About K. Albrecht v. Ziegner
Our author Kurt Albrecht von Ziegener has operated a riding school is Mechtersen south of Hamburg since 1971. The almost 80 year old belongs to the most prominent and successful dressage trainers in the USA, where he developed the new judging system, the Prix St James (see text.) Trained as an officer in the calvary school in Hannover, he became a leading NATO officer in the 1950s and took over, among other things, the construction of the Turkish calvary school in Ankara. Von Ziegner, who was awarded the German Rider Cross in gold, enjoys high international esteem as an author of various texts and articles.
von Ziegener, Kurt Albrecht. "Vorbilder Gesucht." Reiten & Fahren St. Georg [magazine]. January 1998. pp 68-69.
Translated with permission from the editors.