As we all know, for the past few years, tension has been building and bubbling over into conflict in the dressage world between “classical” and “modern” dressage. Â Modern dressage is characterized most visibly by a very round and low frame, with the horse often worked behind the vertical. Â Having watched and talked with riders who employ these techniques with varying degrees of regularity, the emphasis is on using the outside rein to encourage the horse to soften, raise its back, and put its weight on the hindquarters. Â Classical dressage keeps the horseÂ in-frontÂ or on the vertical and seeks to transfer weight to the horse’s haunches using transitions primarily via the seat aid. Â
Modern dressage has a relatively small but growing number of practitioners, including the incredible Anky Van Grunsven. Â Anky’s trainer and husband, Sjef Janssen, essentially developed modern dressage, and speaks about the technique in this interesting article.
Modern dressage has been met with passionate resistance from classical enthusiasts who believe that modern dressage is abusive and painful for the horses. Â Tug of War: Classical verus ‘Modern’ Dressage by Dr. Gerd Heuschmann is an excellent read and leads the charge against modern dressage. Â For more info, check out this book review, or I would suggest buying the bookÂ yourself.
All of this tension in the dressage world found a catalyst and exploded after epona.tv recorded a video of Swedish Olympic rider Patrik Kittel and his horse, Watermill Scandic, at a World Cup qualifier warm-up. Â Watermill Scandic was being ridden in the hyperflexion characteristic of modern dressage, and the horse’sÂ tongueÂ “was clearly blue, and flopped limply from the horse’s mouth.” Â The moments in question start at 1:18, and end a few seconds later, in the video below.
Here is epona.tv’s original article on the incident, which sparked the resulting furor. Â A few days after being released, the video went viral and has led to a full-out movement to ban hyperflexion. Â Opponents of modern dressage called for an FEI inquiryÂ and the FEI soon thereafter decided to investigate the incident. Â There is even a petition to the FEI to “eliminate this method of training.” Â
The FEI has stated publicly that “There are no known clinical side effects specifically arising from the use of hyperflexion. However, there are concerns for the horses’ well-being if the technique is not practised correctly.” Â There is aÂ litanyÂ of people who would disagree with the first part of that statement. Â Kittel has responded by giving this interview,Â and most recently in this article, where he says “During the filmed period of my training, [the horse]Â caught his tongue over or between the bits.” Â Epona.tv just released this follow-up article, which answers some of their critics. Â This firestorm is ongoing and Eventing Nation will have update’s as it progresses.
My take: I prepared this article/post about a purely dressage topic because the same dispute is coming to eventing sometime in the future, mark my words. Â Modern dressage has some very successful proponents and is growing despite the criticisms. Â Anky absolutely destroying everyone in her path does a lot to encourage the modern dressage movement. Â Eventing dressage certainly lags behind full dressage, but there is already a considerable and growing modern dressage influence in eventing. Â I will be fascinated to see how our sport recognizes and deals with this issue over the next few years. Â
Now, I am so sick of reading and writing about dressage that I will spend the next 20 minutes watching XC videos, which I would post here if this article wasn’t already 6 feet long. Â Thanks for reading, and go eventing.