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Modern vs Classical Dressage, is there a difference?

Modern vs Classical Dressage, is there a difference?

You Have you ever heard of an instructor say "I only teach classical principles" or "classical dressage"? After all, isn't Western Dressege built on classical principles? I can't recall anyone bragging about teaching competitive or modern dressage, have you? 

First, I would like to clarify the use of the word Dressage; it can be used as a verb, adjective or a noun. In this article I am using it as a proper NOUN.

There is no shortage of opinions or useless information (including my opinion) on this issue. Why is articulating the difference between the two concepts important or of any concern to you? If the two concepts are different, should you be aware of the difference so you can convey that knowledge to your horse properly? There are many counterfeit trainers and instructors that claim one thing, but do just the opposite. This is call hypocrisy. Do you want to know how to spot a counterfeit Dressage instructor?   

Over the years I have been critical regarding folks making the claim they teach pure classical dressage, but yet they can't seem to articulate the difference in the two. Lets stop being emotional and analyze this topic to get to the truth. 

Both concepts argue or claim:
  • Lightness to the aids as a goal
  • Suppleness as a goal
  • Better balance
  • Forward moving
  • Self carriage
  • Harmony as a goal
  • Willingness as a goal
  • Partnership as a goal
  • Use of gymnastic exercises
  • Welfare of the horse as a goal
  • Art form as a goal
  • Straightness as a goal
  • Obedience as a goal
  • Impulsion as a goal
  • Collection as a goal
  • Up hill as a goal
Did I leave anything out? Who cares, do you see my point? Both concepts claim the same concepts are being adhere too, but are there still two differences in the two? Yes there is! What are they?

#1 Modern dressage came out of the ashes of classical that uses verifiable testing to validate proper method of training. Whereas classical has no verifiable validation of proper training. In other words you can say you are an awesome classical instructor, but there is no way to validate your claim. 

#2 Classical dressage was a method of training war and field working horses back in earlier centuries. It was mandatory to train a horse with a method that allows the rider to ride one handed while using the other hand as an utility. Other than freestyle, modern dressage does not allow one handed testing. Why is this important to know? Because many folks seem to think all you need to do is drop the right rein and ride one handed. That cannot be further from the truth. It requires you to re-school your horse with a different feel and use of aids. The training method to train a horse to the goal of riding one handed is not the same method of teaching a horse to be ridden sole with two hands. It would be like using tuna fish to make hamburgers, they are not compatible.  This is why I like Working Equitation, it is a verifiable test to validate whether a working horse has been trained properly in classical principles. Truth is self evident and needs very little explaintion. It is easy to spot a counterfeit, just watch any instructor ride his/her demo horse and the truth will be demonstrated by the horse. Oh if the instructor does not have a demo horse, run away like hell and never look back. 

This article was inspired by the following information from Lusitano portal. 

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The tradition of educating and training horses to perform movements goes far back into history. In ancient days the main purpose for most horses was to function on the battlefield. It was later, during the Renaissance, that the nature of riding changed. To ride and educate a horse became the noble hobby of kings and aristocrats. This gave rise to the grand riding academies where dancing with a horse became a goal in itself and riding developed into an art form.

classical-dressage-300x172 What is Classical Dressage?

The term ’Classical Dressage’ can be interpreted in many ways and today there are plenty of different schools. The view that we present here aims to be open and not state what is right or wrong – many roads may lead to Rome but in dressage, and riding in general, we often have to deal with multiple versions of Rome itself! A quote from General Alexis L’Hotte (1825-1904), an early chief trainer at Cadre Noir in Saumur, beautifully captures what Classical Dressage and Equestrian Art is about:

“The beauties of the horse reside in the nobleness, the grace, the boldness of his movements, their splendid achievement, their energy. The beautiful horsemanship, in its delicacy and its good taste, seeks the development of these gifts belonging to the horse, and not in perverting them. It is nature which we take as a guide, and not the extraordinary, the eccentric which we seek.”

Light and graceful horses

Classical Dressage, Classical Horsemanship and Equestrian Art all involve training and handling of horses in accordance with ancient and well proven methods. with the main aim that the horse ridden should move and execute exercises with the same lightness and as gracefully as he does when free. The various dressage exercises are not goals in themselves, rather they are seen as a means of achieving a healthy, strong, supple and well balanced horse that can express his natural movements and dance under a rider without tension or friction. This is accomplished through a trustful relationship in everyday training, which itself is based on gymnastic and strengthening exercises where one exercise logically leads to another.


School jumps were probably not used for attack

Classical Dressage is not so much about school jumps and high school exercises as it is about developing a supple and well balanced horse. It is important to remember that in earlier centuries horses were mostly owned and used by the military and that these horses not only had to be obedient and maneuverable, but also needed to stay sound for many years. It is widely believed that the military trained their horses to perform the airs above the ground as maneuvers to use for either attack or evade of the enemy. For example, the levad could have allowed the rider to see better, or the capriole used as a leap to escape when surrounded. That the school jumps were ever used in battle is however doubtful, as most of them expose the horse’s sensitive underbelly. It is instead more likely that these exercises were used to further develop the horse and rider and to demonstrate the control and strength of the horse.



The difference between Classical and Competitive dressage

What we know today as classical riding has evolved from ancient cavalry training, while competitive dressage displayed in the present day has in turn evolved out of these classical principles. Competitive dressage displays all the movements used at the grand riding academies with the exception of the airs above the ground. In actual fact, it is not absolutely necessary to differentiate the two as, at least in theory, competitive dressage should follow the same principles – the FEI dressage judging criteria, for example, expresses an emphasis on harmony and lightness. There does not have to be any contradiction between classical training and competing. But in what is called classical dressage, the goal in performing certain exercises is not to get a score from a judge, but to strengthen the horse, to make him able to carry a rider without shortening his “working life” rather to prolong it.. The classical approach also involves the idea that all horses can perform all exercises. , and they can, but perhaps not always to the standard expected of the dressage course.

Classical Dressage according to famous riders

Just as L’Hotte put it in the quotation above, many famous riders and masters express that Classical Dressage is about the natural beauty of the horse and a harmonious relationship between horse and rider. Contemporary Mestre Luís Valença has also spoken on the subject, expressing that equestrian art is about three things: Firstly the love, beauty, kindness and elegance of the horse’s movements. Secondly that the horse is allowed to express his style and personality with his spirit unbroken. Finally, that the rider must base his relationship with the horse on love to be able to get the best out of the horse.

The following quotes from other masters and famous riders express what classical horsemanship means to them:

“Equitation or the Art of Riding means to cultivate the movement of the horse with as little effort as possible”
– Egon von Neindorff

“Equestrian art is the perfect understanding and harmony between horse and rider”
– Nuno Oliviera

“The objective of the Classical Art of Riding is to train the horse not only to be brilliant in the movements and the exercises of the High School but also to be quiet, supple and obedient and by his smooth movements to make riding a true pleasure”
– Alois Podhajsky

“It is the ability, by means of good exercises, logically structured and based on the natural laws of balance and harmony, to train the horse so that it subordinates itself to the rider´s will contentedly and with self-confidence, without any detriment whatsoever to its own natural sequence of movement.”
– Anja Beran

Sources: Alexis-Francois L’Hotte: The Quest for Lightness in Equitation by H, Nelson; The Art of Classical Horsemanship by E Neindorff; Dressage: The Art of Classical Riding by S, Loch; Classical Dressage in Competition by Dr. T, Ritter; artisticdressage.com; valencaequestriantours.com; classical-equitation.com

Siège de Beijing 1213-1214

Genghis Khan in the art of riding Correctly

Somehow I don’t think Genghis Khan of the Mongol Empire (1162-1227 AD) rode "two handed” in a curb bit while cutting off the the heads of his enemies on horse back. 

For years I have felt that my rants have fallen on death ears. I am glad that I am not the only person that feels that a snaffle should be ridden two handed and a curb is ridden correctly one handed. I would like to remind folks that the purpose of showing (testing) is to have your western horsemanship evaluated. Riding two hands on a curb bit will mask proper western horsemanship training. If you are being tested for proper western horsemanship, how is any commentary helpful (classically speaking) if you are not properly riding your horse western in the first place?

If any trainer, horseman, instructor, judge, organization tells you different, they are destoying their credibility by advocating and allowing two hands on a curb bit. By their own actions, they are not credible and may lack proper knowlege or integraty. 

 No excuses of "well if you have light hands", that is a given that you should ALWAYS ride light handed. That is a sign of a well trained horse person. Western horses have traditionally been ridden in one hand when using a curb. If you want or need to ride two handed, use a snaffle! --- Jane Brack

The following paragraphs were written by Patty Carlson

"Western Dressage/Cowboy Dressage is being used to form new associations that are dedicated to the sport of training a horse to the highest degree and this should be balanced with the highest and best aspirations for what the western/cowboy trained horse is: a partner for the rider to perform many duties as part of their unique partnership. The adjective preceding dressage for me, creates a unique visualization If I close my eyes, I see the old west and a ranch hand in his spurs and chinks, cradling a calf across a saddle laden with a lariat, hobbles and sleeping roll. His horse is moving forward on a soft contact and is relaxed and responsive.

This new discipline of equestrians plays upon the comfort of the padded saddle designed to allow the rider to perform various duties. It has a horn to dally off, strings to tie things to, and a padded seat since you could be riding for hours. It may have double girths and a breast collar. Saddles are like clothing and are trimmed to the unique likes of each person and what they like. Lots of silver or no silver at all, the western saddle offers the comfort of an easy chair with your partner on four legs to carry you on your way. Your horse is a working animal in the western world. The mane is trained to either side of the neck depending on the rope hand of the rider. This keeps that rope from becoming entangled in the mane. Did you know that? See, these western people, we ride one handed for a reason. The free hand is holding a rope, branding iron or balancing a critter in the front of the saddle. It opens gates, shakes hands, moves stuff from one place to another. The gentleman may use it to tip his hat to the ladies or set the hat down low when he means business. The ladies may use the brim to fan themselves since riding can be hot work. 

Then why am I seeing the aversion to riding with one hand with a western saddle in Western Dressage? Is it because it is harder? I grant you it is. In a breed show, I must ride one handed in a curb bit in all western classes. No questions, no arguments, and the rules say so. I can go in the class, I can ride two handed and I will not place and will more than likely be excused from the class. In my personal opinion, the rules for WD need to change to require the horses be ridden one handed in a curb bit starting at Level 1. Horses in Intro should be in a snaffle bit and horses in Basic could be either depending on how far along they are in their training. The release of the inside rein in a 20 meter circle will tell you if you have taught your horse that meaning of an inside leg with an outside rein. 

I showed at the WDAA World show last year and I got to ride two handed in a curb bit because the rules allowed it. Not because it was the correct way to ride a western horse. The horseman that coached me asked me why I was riding two handed in a curb bit? My answer is simple. The rules say I can and with the bit I’m using, I feel it gives me a definite advantage over riding one handed in a curb bit. It is easier to balance myself, easier to cue, and as a former snaffle bit pleasure person, gave me the security in the show ring I desperately needed that weekend. Will I show two handed again in a curb bit. Heck yes, If the bit is a transition bit and designed to work as either a one handed or a two handed bit, you are darn straight I will. You can take that straight to the bank and cash that check. It will never bounce. 

The history of the western horse goes back a long way. Riding with one hand goes back even further. It may be great to use two hands when you are fox hunting with a large group, but actually working from horseback, requires a free hand. The Western Rider is the American legend and the legend needs to live in the USEF no matter what breed you ride. The working riders of the world, they ride one handed. Western/Cowboy dressage takes inspiration from these ancestors. We need to uphold the long tradition of using Dressage to create the best horses possible and do it with one hand free. You can open a gate, stroke your horse or even flip me a bird, but the western rider can do this because his horse is trained to be ridden in a curb bit. 

WDAA and USEF: Please change the rules and force your Western riders to ride in the western style. Change your rules that riders must compete on an equal level. A horse that scores a 72% two handed should never beat a horse that scores a 68% one handed. Everyone competing at a certain level should have a level of competence as a western rider”

Supplemental info:
I started showing in 1979. My primary seat is western. I have had a formal education and have an AA from Midway and a BS from William Woods in Equestrian Studies. I have had the pleasure of competing in many seats on many breeds and love the idea of western dressage. I bought my horse to ride dressage in 2003. I fell in love with dressage in college at a chance clinic and have wanted to compete for me and me along. Until WDAA and Cowboy Dressage came along, I would have had to ride in that dressage saddle with two hand. That’s not me at all. When I think of “western and cowboy” I do not see a neatly groomed rectangle of groomed earth with bright white fencing and letters on all sides that are far from any order ever seen on the plains.

Like a Flawless Diamond

Where has common sense gone these days? Have you ever seen something that made you shake your head in disbelief? This reminds me of a phrase I have heard: “If you tell a lie long enough, it becomes the truth.” 

“Wisdom is not just the use of knowledge, to properly use wisdom you need discernment”. You need to discern whether the knowledge you are taking in is based on truth. EXAMPLE: There are many crooks in the world passing off imitation jewelry for the real thing. Can you tell the difference between a cubic zirconia and a real diamond? Recently, I went shopping for a diamond with a friend. If you are an adverage person (guy) like me, we are clueless when it comes to real or counterfeit jewelry. I am happy to say after a few hours in a diamond store, I became a gemologist. How does this illustration help us with horses?

Just like in my jewelry illustration, most folks are clueless when it comes to knowing the difference between Classical vs Modern dressage. Many popular, professional, likable, charismatic trainers, and instructors pass off Modern dressage as Classical training out of ignorance or to gain more popularity, public favor, or profit.

"All too often these days, the modern discipline of dressage is falsely referred to as classical dressage. When it comes to those riders who win on a national or global level in dressage, it is automatically assumed that they are riding classical dressage, and they themselves usually claim to be doing just that. However, the modern sport of dressage is far from classical." ~ For more info please see this article.

If we are going to train our horse (western or English style) with Classical principles, we need to know what those principles are, and how to spot counterfeit Dressage training, RIGHT?  As I have said in past articles, (beating a dead horse) both Modern Dressage / Western Dressage are eroding our "Western Heritage." How is our western heritage being eroded? If you know what to look for, you will start to see that Modern Dressage works against not for Western haritage. Modern Dressage is being used and passed off as Classical. Many trainers are using short cuts that mask proper Classical training. So what is the correct and proper way to train a horse or better yet, a Western Horse in light of Classical principles? Just like picking out a genuine diamond, you use your trained eye of discerment. Once you know what you are looking for, the real article will stand out.  

HalfPassHarasBefore I go any further let me clarify an above statement; as in the words of (John Lyons) "there is no correct of incorrect method, all methods work to train horses.” However, the idea of "Western Dressage" was to improve western horses with classical princaples and because western folks wanted an alternative to modern dressage methods. The simple truth is that many western folks do not like how modern day Dressage horses are trained and the way they move. Most western folks do not want to train their horses in that manner nor do they want dressage trainers helping them build a western horse. However, many western folks need help and see the benefits and the similarities between TRUE Classical and western riding. Western Dressage was supose to bridge the gap without losing the western heritage. Is that what happened? It was not long before classical imposters filled the gap with "feel good ear tickling training".

How do we spot imitation classical training and how do we get back on track? "If you are teaching, training, or riding two handed in the curb bit, you are an imposter." We need to educate western folks on the correct concepts of Classical not Modern Dressage, but first we need to identify imposters and the difference. Simply put, both Classical and Western styles require the practical use of the horse in field activities like cow work or military service of pass generations. Field activities like cattle work requires training the horse to be controlled one-handed in a curb bit, whereas Modern dressage is contrary to this concept. In order to properly train a bridle horse for one-handed use, requires different concepts than is taught in Modern Dressage.

How do we know that there are similarities between Classical and Western? Take a look at the "Dressage double-bridle" and the "two-rein" method as to the "California Bridle Horse" for an example. Yes, both are bridle methods that transition to a single handed use of the curb. Sorry Modern Dressage teaching and methods are contrary. Modern Dressage does not teach this and it is illegal to ride one-handed. There are no levels of Modern Dressage that allows the rider to drop the snaffle and contue riding in a curb with one-hand. 

HarasBridgeIf you are like me, I want the best for my partner. I have taken the time to study, meditate, and put into practice Classical principles as it pertains to Western riding. How do you know if a rider is using Classical not modern principles? Use your eye of discernment, is the rider you are observing riding correctly in a curb bit? I can't speak for you, but I want a practical use of my work partner not a show horse. Don’t be misled by counterfeit likable, charismatic trainers and instructors that pass off imitation training. Do your homework, discern the difference and become knowledgable. The lines between Classical and Modern Dressage can seem to be a little muddled, but if you view it from the practical application of a one-handed working horse, the truth will stand out like a colorless flawless diamond.

Supplemental Info....
  • Riders must use a western saddle and a curb bit, and may only use one hand to hold the reins while riding. Two hands are allowed if the horse is ridden in a snaffle bit or hackamore, which are only permitted for use on "junior" horses, defined differently by various breed associations, but usually referring to horses four or five years of age and younger. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_riding
  • Breed associations' rules (AQHA, APHA, ApHC) allow for junior horses to be ridden two-handed as long as a regular O-ring or D-ring snaffle bit or a hackamore is being used. If any kind of curb bit is used, only one hand on the reins is allowed, and only one finger between reins. If closed reins are used (West Coast romal-type), the rules request no finger between reins, and the finger around the reins so that the reins enter the hand at the bottom and come out on top, between index finger and thumb. http://www.equiworld.net/uk/sports/western/westernintroduction/
  • It is therefore more correct to ride a horse in a curb bit with only one hand. However, practicality intervenes! The fact is, lots and lots of people who learn to ride with western tack start out with a curb bit and lots and lots of horses who are ridden in western tack have NEVER had anything but a western curb bit in their mouth. The point of Western Dressage is to help riders and horses learn how to be more in harmony with each other, how to be suppler, better balanced, stronger, fitter and happier so that they can perform any activity more successfully. If all the riders who have always used curbs were suddenly told the rules no longer allow two hands with a curb bit, it would create a quandary. In order to get their horses to bend correctly they will have to use two hands. Yes, a snaffle would be good, BUT if they have never used a snaffle better to let them use two hands on a curb than exclude them right from the get go. http://www.horsecollaborative.com/snaffle-vs-curb-bits-western-dressage/
dress nh dressage tension

Light Hands / Soft Feel

What does the term "Light Hands” or "Soft Feel" mean to you in regards to Western Dressage?


What can we learn from great leaderships like Ronald Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower? The USA won the cold war in part because President Reagan was willing to back up his words with unyielding military force. Does "Speak softly, but carry a big stick", ring a bell? "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it." – Dwight D. Eisenhower The principles of leadership are the same whether we are leaders of man or domesticated animals.

Closely examine the above pictures.
What do you see? Do you see heavy handed riders with stiff resistant horses? Look closely at the HAND of the rider in red. Notice that a short rein with contact does not necessarily lead to heaviness. He has an open hand while holding the horse with three fingers. Also notice that the horse is happy without a gaping mouth. What contrast do you see regarding the dressage rider and horse?  Have you ever watched a competition horse going around the arena with a blue tongue, a gaping mouth, and rider riding with white knuckles? Is this the type of riding you want? Of course not. Because of the unwanted resistance, it is not uncommon to hear western folks say that it is wrong to be in your horse’s face. Have you heard the terms “Light Hands” or “Soft Feel"? Its obvious to a person with a trained eye that the rider on the right has a “Soft Feel” on his horse. Some folks think having short reins leads to heaviness and resistance and the “Soft Feel" can only be attained through long reins, with minimal contact. The use of the terms, “Light Hands” and “Soft Feel" seem to be a growing trend in the Western Dressage community and can be applied across the board. Can you identify with this thinking? 

In the Dressage world
self-carriage, lightness, and softness are highly sought out and valued. The premiss of any form of dressage is collection, self-carriage through building a balanced, soft, supple horse, that is responsive to your aids and working of the hind-end. Who does not want these qualities in their horse? Over the recent years Modern dressage has come under fire and criticism for what is perceive as heavy handed riding instead of lightness and soft feel. Western Dressage was created as an alternative by taking all the good things from both disciplines.  The question now is: How do you achieve that level of horsemanship while maintaining the "Soft Feel"? Can you recognize a soft, light horse when you see it? Is it through light hands we can achieve a light horse or the soft feel? 

What are your expectations? 
Do you have a balance understanding of the terms “Light Hands” and Soft Feel? To fully appreciate this article you need to view it from the perspective of training western horses with Classical principles (Western Dressage). We are all concerned about the welfare of horses, but many folks are sacrificing higher performance for fear that they may somehow hurt the horse’s feelings. Some folks feel that higher performance means that we need to be unkind to our horses. 

The reality.
Depending on your perspective, I have learned that these terms mean different things to differnent folks. Dont you agree; however, there are far too many folks that rely mainly on their hands not on their legs and seat. Did you know that true softnes and lightness comes from the seat and legs not from your hands? The reins should only be taught as a secondary aid to the seat and legs. If you want a "light horse" and "soft feel" the first directive is to have an independent seat not light hands. Far too many folks rely on their hands to balance themselves not to teach the horse to have balance. 

So why do you think I felt the need to tackle this topic? Over the last few years there seems to be a trend that Light Hands or Soft Feel means long reins. Let me help you understand some fundamental concepts of classical training. Hands that “throw away” the reins are doing a disservice to the horse, even if the rider thinks that letting the horse go is a good thing. An effective contact, whether on a long or short rein (and in a long or short body outline), is a support system to help the horse maintain his balance. Training with long reins means long frame. Training with long reins will lead a horse to be flat and downhill. This is great if you are building a western pleasure stock horse, but the tenants of a Western Dressage bridle horse is collected and uphill.  If you are going to build a true "Western Dressage Bridle Horse” that is willfully guided one-handed with classical principles, you cannot do it with long reins. In addition, Western Dressage requires the poll to be the highest point in a rounded collected frame. In order to shift the weight back to the hind-end, you need to create a barrier in the front end to lift the shoulders and drive the hind-end to the bridle. You cannot do all this without making contact and shorten the reins. Contact does not mean pain to either the horse's mouth, nor the rider's hands. It is a fact and it is mandatory that you need to get into the face of the horse to teach it to carry itself in the correct and proper frame until he learns to do it himself. You need to understand that for some horses it takes years to build muscles to hold a frame like it is demonstrated in the picture on the right. Yes, you need to teach a horse to carry himself by carring him first. Are you starting to see my point?

To achieve this level of ride-ability while maintain kindness to you horse, you need to memorize and apply these concepts at all times:
  1. “Soft as possible and firm as necessary” 
  2. “Start soft and end soft.”
  3. “Ask, insist, demand" 
  4. “Get in, get it done, get out”
  5. “Do not nag and peck”
  6. “Retest for softness”
I want to clarify a huge misconception;
horses lean and push into pressure by instinct, NOT go away. For an example if you make contact with any aid, they will push and resist. In order to get lightness in a movement, you first ask lightly, then insist, then demand until you get a reply (turning up the volume so to speak).  This will cause the horse to be uncomfortable and resistant until he learns what you want. Because of this concept, light hands alone is NOT what creates a light horse! To be effective, you need SLOW, FIRM, and CONSISTENT hands NOT "Light Hands". No horse respects a light touch without some type of consequences. Lightness and softness is a result or an end product of proper training. One of the tenants of western dressage is straightness, but straightness lends itself to resistance and stiffness. Lightness and softness is created through bending and creating situations where resistance can be eliminated. By teaching lightness you automatically cause discomfort and resistance as a result. Yes, it is no secret that you cannot get a light soft horse with heavy hands, but lightness is supported by firmness. There is a direct correlation between lightness and firmness. The degree of lightness you want is directly associated by the softness of your voice and sized of the stick you are willing to carry.

Supplementary information, see video.


Seeking Truth One Hand at a Time.

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is "NOT" ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” 
― Daniel J. Boorstin, The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself

What does the above statement mean to you? What is the best way to gain power and infuence over folks? The best way to mislead folks is to be perceived by the angle of light. Everyday folks are misled by charismatic folks like: government leaders, religious leaders, and folks with a sharp tongue of humility and knowledge. It is the illusion of knowledge and humility that they are cloaked with. It is all about knowing how to tickle and dazzle the ears of the unsuspecting.  

Truth! Most folks in the world hold truth, honesty, and integrity at the top of the list of attributes they value in other folks. We demand honesty in our marriages, relationships, friendships, our government leaders, and our religious leaders. What about horse trainers? Do we hold them to the same standards of truth and integrity?  

Western Heritage! What does barrel racing, reining, trail riding, western pleasure, working cow horse, cutting, and roping have in common? Yes, they are all western disciplines. Done correctly, they all require riding one handed in a curb bit. The truth is that the western curb bit was designed to be used on a well schooled western working horse guided by one hand with split reins. This is the western heritage and the code of ethics that we shook hands on. Riding a finished bridle horse is the goal we expect to have. This is "common sense based on truth!"

So what is the issue? Our western heritage is being slowly eroded by a new discipline called Western Dressage. When this new discipline was conceived, it promised to hold on to the western heritage by improving the western horses with classical principles. It was to be different, it was not  about putting a western saddle on a dressage horse. Great idea, eh? What happened to that hope? 

Quick history lesson. It is against all rules and principles to ride one handed in Modern Dressage. Only Western and Classical Dressage teaches folks and allows folks to ride one handed as an end goal. Over the years there has been some confusion between Modern and Classical dressage because many English folks were teaching Modern Dressage calling it Classical. This is due in part mainly to bring some type of self importance to their teaching. Back in the day, Classical Dressage was based on building European working horses to be used for war or field duties. In the beginning of WD, the self appointed WD leaders asked for help from dressage trainers to teach western folks how to do WD correctly. Well, the Dressage folks responded and brought along all their tools including the "double bridle". The problem with this is that most western folks do not recognize the need for a double bridle systerm in the mouth of their horses; they knew it could be accomplished with one bridle. Soon after, a real nice phrase came to light, "Western horses should be improved by dressage principles not ruled by it." "Common sense based on truth!"

lmh 1815-zf-2975-85890-1-002 copyThe division! Some folks wanted to bridge the two disciplines and others wanted a completely new discipline. The truth was that WD was created because some western folks saw the need to do dressage differently from what they saw in the competitive arena. We only wanted to use the original principles of dressage not the rules and things like the double bridle. The western folks also saw the need for a "soft feel" and knew ways to incorporate both ideas to teach horses the same movements, but in a more productive manner without losing the "soft feel" of the western horse. Some of the western folks already had a plan on how to teach WD with a hybrid version that combined both disciplines. Soon after the unveiling of WD there became a division not cooperation.

The first horses that competed in WD were basically finished western pleasure Morgan bridle horses (one handed). One minute these horses were in the WP ring being ridden one handed and later that same day they were being ridden WD in the same bridle, but the rider was riding with two hands not one. Why one hand in one ring and two hands in the other? The truth is that these horse were well trained for WP not trained to bend like dressage horses. They only needed to look pretty going straight down the rail. So instead of retraining them for proper dressage movements, they cheated by taking the easy way out by using two hands. 

After two years, this practice of using two hands on a curb bit has not been challenged and is becoming a regular practice. Many Dressage trainers / instructors rationalize that it is not incorrect to use a bridle in dressage so it is not incorrect for a western horse using dressage principles. Riding a dressage test correctly with the training pyramid is very difficult one handed in a curb bit. Because of the level of difficulty to achieve this level of communication, most folks can't do it nor do they know how to transition a snaffle horse to the curb. Instead of raising their expectations, they minimize the importance of riding correctly one handed. The problem is that new students do not know its incorrect and the leaders continue to take short cuts. They do what is popular without regard to what is best for the horse and proper development of proper training.. 

lmh 4546-zf-2975-85890-1-007 copyI want to make this perfectly clear! It is okay to ride one handed or two handed, but certain tack is used for certain applications and should not be misused. If you are going to ride two handed, ride and train with a snaffle. If you are going to ride one handed, ride in a curb! When riding in a curb, there are times that you need to make corrections with the FREE HAND, but riding primarily with two hands is not proper nor is it correct. 

Also It is imperative to ride lower levels in a curb to properly develop the bridle horse. There is talk to eliminate the curb at lower levels. This is would be another travesty to the western horse. All we need is rules to eliminate two hands on the curb. Make it simple!

Final note!

Common sense based on Truth. 

"The leaders and top riders are not setting the example and people will always take the easiest way out.... it's just human nature."~ Jen Johnson

Not all things that are in the common consensus are based on truth. The driving force of this disinformation is driven by several groups of people. Western trainers, clinicians, coaches, judges, and dressage instructors. In a nutshell, dressage instructors rationalize that riding two handed in a curb is because they use a double bridle two handed. They want to push their way with no regard to western heritage. Western trainers want to attract more students by lowering the expectations and tickling the ears of the unknowing. Clinicians want more recognition, so they continue to take shortcuts in proper training. They justify the use of two hands because its all about developing a partnership with good hands not proper development. Those folks that are promoting two hands on the curb are lazy and are disrespectful to those trainers that work so hard to create a properly trained western horse without short cuts. The bottom line is they can't walk the talk. 

How can you make a practical application to this article? Don't be misled by fancy words and popularity of a single charismatic person. Expect more. Do not sell out! Don't we owe it to our horses to be instructed by knowledgeable truth seeking horseman? What do you look for in an instructor when it comes time to find help with your horse? Truth!! Look at the way they ride and how their horse moves. If they do not have a demo horse, run away as fast as you can....Use common sense based on truth. Look for trainers or instructors that can walk the talk..

For more info please see this article.

Here are some folks that make great points and are supporters of proper western heritage.

David WratchfordMy thought on the matter is this. Schooling your horse or making a corrective action by using a second hand on the reins is one thing, constantly riding your horse in a curb with two hands is something else entirely. The bits typically are not designed to function that way and I think it shows laziness or a lack of desire to create a finished horse. Whatever works for a person is great but what about who rides that horse when you're done? Don't we owe it to our horses to educate them in such a manner that they don't have to deal with frustration or misunderstanding when they are no longer with us?

Michelle LasiterIn my opinion...it is a false feel to ride two handed in a curb. Of course they rife light....if you apply too much pressure...it will be painful. Many of my head tossing issues are because of two handed riding of the curb. If they want to ride two handed...why don't they just stay in a snaffle...something that is designed for two handed? Why do they need to cheat and go with two hands on a curb? I don't believe in schooling two handed in a curb before shows either.

David WratchfordA two handed curb is not mechanically viable. It really doesn't take a masters in physics to understand the why of it. Feel free to do it if you want but you are honestly just cheating yourself and your horse. But then again if you feel you need to ride your horse two handed in a curb, you've already failed...

Renée Kozak-HellbergIf you don't know how to use a shanked, leveraged bit of any type one-handed, & you have not perfected (as a rider) the classical levels in which double bridles are used with two hands on a shank (as classical as applied to western riding is the goal, right?), then you just shouldn't do it. Use a snaffle - that simple. Not everyone will be able to ride like Eitan.

Jen JohnsonIF that was happening I would be completely on board with it. But the leaders and top riders are not setting the example and people will always take the easiest way out.... it's just human nature.
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