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LDR Long Deep and Round, May 14, 2010

Posted by mikeschaffer in Behind the bit, calmness, competition, contact, corrections, dressage, hyperflexion, looseness, performance standards, roll kur, rules, training.

The FEI gets it a little right (and a lot wrong…)

First of all, the General remarks from the 4/15/2010 report are good.  They state the obvious.

1. Basic elements of the guidelines:

a.  The welfare of the horse is paramount
b.  Respect for the horse according to the FEI rules and the Stewards Manual
c.  The responsibility for the Welfare of the Horse rests with the athlete (p.r.)

2. What should be avoided?

Abuse of the horse in general, but especially:
a.  stressing the horse
b.  aggressive riding
c.  inflicting pain and/or discomfort on  the horse

So far, so good.  They should have stopped there.  However, on May 10, 2010 the stewards issued their report on “Pre and Post Competition training techniques – position of the horse’s head.”

The best thing about this is that they’ve figured out stretching is is GOOD for the horse.  They even officially labeled Long, Deep and Round, Low Deep and Round, and Long and Low as “acceptable forms of stretching.  It’s also very good and useful that they separated “stretching” from “extreme flexion” in paragraph 3.

Unfortunately, they confuse stretching and flexing in the rest of the document.  Apparently they still don’t understand the difference between a horse that is BTV (behind the vertical) because he is stretching with a supple poll, vs. a horse that is BTV because he is being pulled in a backwards fashion.  As result, they’ve really made a muddle of the “regulations” by applying rules to stretching and extreme flexing equally.

So, let me begin with objective standards by which an ordinary observer can tell whether a horse is being correctly “stretched” with forward going aids,  or being pulled backwards into an incorrect “flexion” with backwards aids.  These objective standards are:

1. The riders hands are higher than the horse’s mouth and the curb rein is relaxed.  It is possible to pull and hold a horse into a tight flexion with a high hands using the curb rein, but since a tight curb rein is inconsistent with a horse stretching into a frame, that is easy enough for an observer to see.

2.  The rider drops the inside rein from time to time.  A horse that is stretching into a frame, will stay there with a loose inside rein.  A horse being pulled into a forced flexion, will not stay in that frame if one rein or the other is released.  Again, this is easy enough to observe.

3.  The “poll angle” is correct.  The poll angle is correct if the front of the horse’s face will be at or in front of the vertical as the poll elevates to the highest point.  I’ve used my super human photoshop powers to show this exact situation in my new book.  The page with these graphics is included in the free sample pages from the book available for download at my web site, http://www.mikeschaffer.com

(Ok – I guess that was a bit of a plug….)

In the absence of these objective standards, the committee consistently made errors that confused stretching with flexing.  For instance, they state,

5.  Method of achieving stretches

It is imperative that stretching should be executed by unforced and non aggressive means.  By unforced’ is meant that the rider is not permitted to use rough, or abrupt aids or apply constant unyielding pressure on the horse’s mouth through a fixed arm and hand position. It is the responsibility of the steward to intervene if these requirements are not respected.

The first problem with this is that it’s impossible to “force” a horse to stretch. So, it should read “… imperative that flexing should be…”   So, right away, the rules are confusing two distinctly different techniques – something that becomes more of a problem in the next paragraphs.

The second problem with this is they’re saying you can’t use “rough of abrupt aids” to achieve stretching.  So, is it OK to be rough and abrupt and pull constantly on the reins when you’re not trying to stretch the horse? (I ask rhetorically)

Actually, there are times when it is absolutely appropriate to use a correction that is a little “rough or abrupt.”  In fact, failing to tell a horse to “knock it off!” in a way that is clear, effective and over with is definitely NOT in the best interests of the horse’s welfare.  But what does that have to do with stretching or flexing?   Should we have a new rule that says you’re not allowed to be rough or abrupt when asking for a half-pass?  Another for shoulder-in?  Another rule that says you shouldn’t get after a horse for bucking and running off across the warm-up area?

But wait – it gets worse.

6.  Action by the Steward in the case of incorrect behaviour of athlete in relation to  flexion of the head and neck

Ref. Annex XII, Guidelines to the FEI Dressage Stewarding Manual

The steward will intervene should he observe;

*  Neck stretching achieved through forced, or aggressive  riding

*  The  use of extreme flexion  if it does not comply with the above

*  A rider deliberately maintaining a sustained fixed head and neck carriage  longer than approximately ten minutes

*  In cases when the horse is in a state of general stress and/or fatigue

You see the problem?  Here they’re saying, albeit as clumsily as possible, that you should neither stretch or flex your horse through force or aggressive riding, nor should you stretch or flex your horse for more than 10 minutes at a time.  Two totally different techniques being treated exactly the same way very much to the detriment of the horse.  I will generally spend the first 15 or 20 minutes “stretching” a horse in the long, deep and round position before ever considering bringing him up or together.  So, I think 10 minutes is arbitrarily and ridiculous – what harm is supposed to come from stretching beyond 10 minutes?

On the other hand, over flexing done for more than 10 seconds is too much.   How is riding a horse bent in half for 10 minutes a good thing?    What are they thinking about?

But wait, it gets worse:

7.  Maximum duration of pre-competition warm-up and post-competition cooldown periods

Only in exceptional circumstances and with the permission of the Chief Steward, may a training session  exceed one hour. The training session must include a number of relaxation periods.
Riding the horse at the walk whether prior to, or following the training session, is not considered to be part of the one hour training session. There should be at least one hour break between any training/warm-up periods.

Let’s put this in perspective.  We’re talking about FEI rules for international competition.  By and large, riders competing at the international level have spent years and years learning their craft, developing their skills, and have a tremendous respect, love, and feel for horses.

If competing at this level, it’s pretty much a given that while at home, working at your leisure in a familiar setting, you can do a credible job of the test your riding in competition.  So the issue when showing is, can you now perform at your best at precisely 3:06 PM (or whatever) in this different setting after going through all the travel etc.  In short, not only is doing the test well an art form, but so is the warm up.

It means being so skilled and knowledgeable about your horse that you can factor weather, his mood, the time of day, the conditions in the warm-up area, and Lord knows how many other details into having him at his performance peak at the precise moment the bell summons you down the centerline.  (You think doing a few flying changes or a little piaffe in your backyard is a big deal – hah!)

Now, a committee, meeting by phone, has determined the only right way for each of these individuals to warm up each of their horses?  That’s amazing!  This group is either the most insightful, knowledgeable and brilliant the world has ever seen or the same bunch that figured out there’s something “wrong” with a horse that reacts to being touched.

Spin this anyway you want, but this rule says it’s fine to work a horse in 98 degree 100% humidity for an hour, but it’s not OK to work a horse in 40 degree windy weather for an hour and 15 minutes.  DUH!!!!

Of course I know that working a horse to heat exhaustion is already a violation of general rules against abuse and promoting the welfare of the horse.  So WHY do we need a time limit at all and what is it doing in an annex pertaining to stretching and flexing?

The real problem is that the FEI has forgotten its job is to provide a level playing field for the best in the world to duke it out and determine who is the best of the best.   That’s it.  Yes, there should be a generic rule that says injurious, cruel or abusive methods are not allowed and participants who engage in that type of “training” will be sanctioned.  But that is all there should be – one rule on abuse.  Not an ever growing number of conflicting poorly written rules written in the hope of preventing the worst among us from doing their thing, but actually preventing the best among us from doing theirs.



1. Jenny Pournelle - May 15, 2010

Mike, I think you’ve nailed the problem in one: “[the FEI’s] job is to provide a level playing field for the best in the world to duke it out…”

The FEI’s job is NOT to introduce detailed standards of conduct and training techniques to mid-level (and below, and non-) riders. By the time competitors have reached this level, they are already veterans of the various national equivalents of 4H, Pony Club, and USDF schooling shows.

THAT’s the level where I’d like to see some serious education effort going on–and where your reasoned, rational, illustrative explanations are a model of the kind of education needed. That’s the level where I routinely see horses “corrected” (read: thrashed into trembling submission) for being “too stupid” to “learn” a 2d level movement; where I see wealthy amatuers who have bought their way onto horses far beyond their own skill and fitness level reduce skilled performers to tail-wringing wrecks with edema-filled railroad tracks along the spur line; and trainers who reach for the draw reins for every “warmup,” rather than every teaching riders how to effectively use their hands.

Anybody in any discipline who’s been around the block more than once knows what genuine “abuse” and “excessive” whipping, spurring, and jerking actually looks like. If not: it’s easy to spot: it’s generally accompanied by one or more of red-faced anger, cursing, frustrated tears, blood, bruises, swelling, and trembling, eye-rolling terror on the part of the horse. As you point out, that’s pretty well covered by existing rules.

2. D Thompson - June 22, 2010

These rules have been made with one objection only in my opinion which is to try to avoid another ‘blue tongue’ type scandal and to outlaw this type of riding in the warm up. They have obviously gone to great lengths to try and define in words how correct riding should be practised. Whether this will stop extreme hyperflexion in the warm up remains to be seen but i would have thought you would welcome these new rules to be in the interest of the horse and against hyperflexion. I just cannot understand your cynical attitude !

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