(© Manolo Mendez and Caroline Larrouilh. First published Baroque Horse Magazine, July 31, 2013. Image Courtesy Manolo Mendez Dressage.)
A correctly executed pirouette is a thing of beauty, a perfect storm of collection, impulsion, suppleness, strength and balance. At canter, it is one of the most physically demanding movements we can ask of our horse. It is a test of a trainer’s ability to develop self-carriage and a horse that is completely attentive and responsive to the aids…a horse filled with power and expression, yet focused and tension-free.
(NOTES FROM KM: Western master of lightness Roy Allen Yates (1930-2010) rode into my awareness on his QH stallion Tidys Chirp in San Juan Capistrano almost 20 years ago. He was giving a weekend clinic and it was an eye opener for certain. Trained by Roy, Tidys Chirp happened to be an AQHA Performance Champion with Superior Awards in Reining, Western Riding and Western Pleasure as well as a Register of Merit in Trail. At that time, Tidys Chirp held (and still may hold) the world record for the longest sliding stop of 66 feet. In a western saddle and western curb bridle, first Roy did a demonstration of reining and then he put Tidys Chirp to the sliding stop. They kept sliding and sliding until I thought they might go out the arena on the other end. Roy then excused himself for a 10-minute break, and to our amazement re-entered the arena on a proudly prancing Tidy’s Chirp tacked up in a dressage saddle, double bridle and dressage whip, and together they treated us to a demonstration of classical dressage, although I didn’t know what that was at the time. The horse was in perfect self-carriage, which I also didn’t know anything about at the time.)
[CONTEXTUAL NOTES FROM KM: Charles Owen Williamson’s name (1894-1977) was on everyone’s lips through the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s as the “go-to” Western trainer and instructor for riding across the disciplines. “Dr. Williamson is that rarity of rarities-a Western horseman who has had a wealth of experience in handling ‘wild’ horses, range-bred broncs, and yet understands the benefits of elementary, secondary and superior dressage, and can put them effectively to work. No theorist, he has spent a lifetime practicing what he teaches,” explains some of the flap text on his famous book “Breaking and Training the Stock Horse (and teaching basic principles of dressage)”. (First published in 1950. My copy is sixth edition published 1976, Charles O. Williamson, Hamilton, Montana. Illustrations by Carl Hoobing and Sherman Hayes.)
(© Kip Mistral. First published in Equine Journal, August 2009. This article won a Second Place for Personality Profile in the 2010 American Horse Publication Annual Awards Program. Photographs courtesy of Sheila McLevedge.)
No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of our knowledge…If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.
~ Kahlil Gibran
An elegant silver-haired man and his silver horse proudly advance across still-green autumn grass, rusty-golden fall foliage rimming a field in the background. Rein gently slackened, the powerful horse in beautiful balance and collection, together they present the image of the quintessential ride… a moment of grace, of union between man and horse. The picture draws us in, symbolizing the quest so seductive to equestrians through time who have sought to share a moment of grace and union with their horses.
[John Richard Young was an influential American horseman through much of the 20th century. He published numerous instructional books that were considered bibles in American equestrian literature and intentionally crossed all disciplines in their scope. Young had a classical approach to equitation and even developed western saddles with a correct classical position as opposed to the “chair seat” of the typical designs. The following excerpt comes from pages 324-325 in his out-of-print book “The Schooling of the Horse”, published by the University of Oklahoma Press, 1982. Image scanned from page 193.]
Head position is a result of collection; not the cause of it. A horse that is truly collected is relaxed and supple from jaw to croup; he must be, for the slightest stiffness anywhere destroys collection–and I don’t mean the full collection of a school horse; I mean any slightest degree of true collection, such as we should expect in a trail horse or a stock horse when the rider demands it.