My own personal training had begun to lean more toward a longer frame as what I was seeing in the “uphill” frame of many other trainers were tense horses who either used the bit as a crutch or developed various crookedness issues to avoid collection and throughness. At least, I thought , in the longer frame the horses were supple and in harmony, they understood what was being trained and were not tense. But really they could not correctly develop consistent carrying power on the haunches, over the back and nuchal ligament to the bit, unless they were one of the fortunate animals born “already collected”.
During my sabbatical I searched out the reason for these gaps in Classical Dressage. It is no surprise that in 2011, I finally read a book written by Paul Belasik. This book was , “Nature, Nurture, and Horses” and it reminded me why I loved training and also made me laugh as Mr. Belasik described certain events which I also had had similar experiences with. Paul has done decades worth of research. Mr. Paul Belasiks’ work included collecting some very eye opening facts that were a result of his work done with his thoroughbred gelding at Michigan State University using force plates to factually see if the horse was indeed taking weight on his haunches. I did not need to keep looking. However I did spend two more years pouring over and re-reading books written on dressage by Gueriniere, Steinbrecht and Podhajsky just to name a few as the path to collection was becoming very clear.
In 2013 I spent a week at Pennsylvania Riding Academy, watching Mr.Belasik train and teach. I was awestruck by the beauty and consistency of the horses that he trained. These horses all learned to take weight on their haunches by following a system of training that has been in place at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna since its beginning in the 1600’s.
At home I taught my young mare, who has her own physical shortcomings, using these specific principles and exercises. Two years later I was able to ride this mare while I Interned with Mr. Belasik. I continued to develop her foundation and within three months watch a mare, not really built for dressage, learn to bend at the lumbar sacral joint and carry weight on her haunches. She actually does it very well, and in lightness.
Correct Classical Training is an attainable goal. It is not just a “show frame”. Collection is collection. The principles are the same but just as a young dancer must learn form and develop muscles before learning the advanced movements, so must the dressage horse.
The Classical masters of the 16th and 17th centuries learned that the Spanish breed of horse, the Andalusian, had both the most suitable conformation and temperament for dressage. With these horses they trained and perfected many of the High School movements including the “airs above the ground”.
From these horses, developed the Lipizzan breed used exclusively at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria. We Classical trainers have the Spanish Riding School to thank for not being sent off track on tangents or “new” training methods but staying with the fundamental principles of Classical Dressage and consistently training their stallions to take the weight on their haunches, many of which go on to excel at the airs above the ground.
It is my goal to give a percentage of the income that I make from teaching lessons to the Spanish Riding School of Vienna as a thank-you and to help support their Classical Dressage work.