The famous Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo is credited with having said: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
This implies “setting the statue free” by chiseling away all the rock that is not part of it. It is similar when developing the gaits of the dressage horse.
Every horse has his own, unique walk, trot, and canter, as well as his own, unique piaffe and passage, which the trainer has to find and bring out, by eliminating everything that prevents the horse from moving optimally in his own, unique manner.
First, the rider sets the parameters of the gait with his seat and aids, i.e. tempo, stride length, weight distribution, as well as the degree of the flexion of the haunches, elevation and longitudinal flexion, so that the horse can feel good under his rider and move efficiently as well as without unnecessary wear and tear.
This is an important prerequisite for relaxation, which is in turn a prerequisite for throughness, impulsion, collection, and the development of the gaits to their full potential, but also for the longterm soundness of the horse’s joints and tendons. In the search for the optimal setting of the parameters of the gait the only guideline that is allowed is the horse’s individual nature, without giving in to any current fashion trends. If you try to train a type of movement or a posture into the horse that is unnatural for his conformation or that does not match his training level, he will inevitably sooner or later suffer damage. This also requires the maturity to train the horse you actually have, and not the one you would like to have. It is all too easy for ambition to tempt the rider to make demands that are unrealistic, unfair, and detrimental to the horse on many levels.
Once you have found a setting for the parameters of the gait that the horse is comfortable with, you can use targeted exercises to seek out and eliminate deficits in the horse’s body awareness, coordination, balancing ability, and suppleness that prevent the horse from using his body in the healthiest, most efficient way. This way, you gradually develop the best horse that is POSSIBLE.
- Thomas Ritter