Ferdinand II of Spain in a letter of May 23, 1498 to the Marquis of Mantua:
“To answer here what you asked me, that is to say, whether it is necessary that a well-trained horse should obey both the leg and the hand as if, without the repeated action of the hand or the leg, one could not direct all the operations decided by the Cavalier; while you have also seen horses evolve without any help with the firm legs of the rider which seemed immobile, and still others who guided their horse very well without the help of their legs.
[“Oliveira Shows His Art of Riding,” by Elizabeth Polling, Horse and Hound, November 1987.]
SEVEN HUNDRED enthusiasts drawn from all walks of the equestrian world gave a standing ovation to Nuno Oliveira following a day of equestrian artistry at New Hall Riding Centre near Chelmsford, Essex.
(© 2020 Kip Mistral. Images and excerpts used with permission of the publisher Xenophon Press.)
“The horse must always feel comfortable in all equestrian activities. This is how we show him our love and respect.”
I read books about classical training and riding techniques all the time (and have even co-authored one), but I find “Dressage Principles and Techniques” by renowned Portuguese classical dressage trainer Major Miguel Tavora, published by Xenophon Press in 2018, to be extraordinary.
It is extraordinary because this author is able to teach a complete, well-illustrated program of basic classical equitation and training in great detail, and combine high seriousness about the importance of classical method and technique with repeated reminders to treat the horse with understanding, kindness, love and respect…all this written in simple and easy-to-follow language, in only 158 pages. Those 158 pages will take you from terminology and theory to first longeing to work in-hand to canter pirouette, piaffe and passage. Finally, here is the thought-provoking yet very useful book you really can take to the barn.
(© Text by Don Juan Gómez-Cuétara. Detail of painting by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez Felipe III, King of Spain 1634-35)
Like a magic crucible, wherein history and art are fused, the Spanish horse, our partner in love and grief, slave to our glory, is a horse at once fiery and docile, whose proud neigh proclaims to the world the beauty of his race, pride of men who are not prepared to abandon chivalry, dream of young men who refuse to accept a way of life which holds no place for him.
(© 2011 Manolo Mendez Dressage. “The Importance of Riding the Whole Horse: Supple and Tension Free” by Manolo Mendez with Caroline Larrouilh. First published in The Baroque Horse. All photos by Kate Barber, artistic rendering of feature photo by Danielle Skerman).
“Bring the back up, bring the back up!!!”“Drive the hind leg under, more, more, MORE!” and “Make him more round, rounder” appears to be considered by a lot of riders to be the three keys to dressage. To achieve these goals they are taught to put the horse in a frame by pulling on the outside rein while kicking with the inside leg, often while keeping the horse in endless shoulder fore or shoulder-in. Instead of a flexible, supple and tension free horse, this approach creates stiff and crooked horses, with little enjoyment for their work, and eventually leads to soundness issues.