There is an enormous amount of confusion in the horse world about what constitutes ‘long and low’, ‘forward down and out’ ‘deep and round’ and the dreaded ‘rollkur’. For me, the average exponent of ‘long and low’ has the horse almost ‘peanut rolling’ head near the floor, trundling along on its shoulders. ‘Forward, down, out’ is probably the method espoused by proponents of Philippe Karl’s ‘School of Legerete’, where he is looking for ‘neck extension’ with the poll always the highest point, and the horse extending the frame with nose well in front of the vertical.
‘Deep and round’ is what I see the best exponents of competition dressage, such as Carl Hester, when he works the horse to stretch so much over the topline with hindlegs very well engaged, that the back rounds up, the horse coming round and somewhat behind the vertical as though completing a ‘bow’ shape, but never pulled there or short in the neck. The neck muscles are not tense, and the jaw relaxed, the reins even slack.
‘Rollkur’ is where the neck is shortened to the point that the chin touches the chest, the eyes bulge out, and the whole demeanour is one of force and tension, the reins taut and the mouth often gaping against the pressure of the bit or bits.
I have no problem with the neck extension or the deep and round when practised correctly. The first, long and low, is the recipe for putting the horse on the shoulders, yet we see riders cooing over photos of horses in this position, clearly weighting the forehand and the withers down between the shoulder blades. Rollkur is nothing but cruelty, a ‘method’ many of us have been railing against for a couple of decades, to try to get that wet bunch of cowards, the FEI to actually do something about it. Fat chance, unless someone blows up the whole lot and starts afresh with people who are willing to stand up for the horse, which would make a refreshing change.
In the French school of training that I largely follow, we wait for the horse to seek to stretch, rather than as many riders do, attempt to nag the head into position with the hands. Yes, we will use the fingers to ‘ask’ the horse to relax the jaw, and in doing so he will lower his head and relax the all-important under neck muscles. In my EE training, we will walk the horse on long reins, but always ensuring he is seeking down, and even round, in this warm up period for around 10 minutes. Then we will start in lateral exercises in walk. Once these are completed, the horse is already well up off his shoulders, and the walk will be performed in collection, even with the younger horses. Kyra Kyrkland's recent article was entitled ‘Smaller Steps Mean Better Balance’, that was balm for weary eyes to read. The horse, having performed the lateral exercises in collected walk, then happily offers the stretch once allowed to take a break in free walk on a long rein. Usually we will go straight to sitting trot, to perform many transitions, often including rein back to walk or trot, and the lateral exercises. Then the next break would be in rising trot with the horse again offering the stretch over the whole topline.
If the rider has to ask for the stretch, this is nowhere near as beneficial as the horse offering it. Because if the horse is offering to stretch correctly then the work has been correct, and he has been using his back correctly, the pelvis has been tucked, the abs engaged, the withers lifted. No amount of tanking round the school on working trot 20m circles, long and low, will ever achieve this result. My 6 yr old Lusitano Faiel has been a nightmare, having two years off with injuries culminating in a major operation last September on his hock needing a years rehab. He has only had about 5 months in total under saddle in his life, yet he rides like a far more advanced horse. We never let him go on in walk or trot, to the point he dropped onto his shoulders. Always only just enough strides before he lost balance and would drop the withers. So he has never learned to go on the forehand. His neck is raised, and the poll nearly always the highest point, despite a hugely muscled neck, bigger now than when he was a stallion, and nearly all achieved just walking in hand as part of his rehab. Now that he is back under saddle although just hacking out, he is so light in hand in a mullen-mouth hanging cheek snaffle only, no noseband at all, and moves sideways easily in leg yield or shoulder in out of the path of vehicles on our tiny high banked Devon lanes. I remember Dr Reiner Klimke remarking at the ABRS 40th anniversary convention ‘the trouble with you British, you have your horses going low and low even when they are 10 years old and you wonder why you never progress?’!! How right he was!
On another note, I was horrified to read on Newsfeed today that Carl Hester’s 2012 Olympic ride Uthopia is the subject of a bankruptcy case, I hasten to add, not any involvement of Carl, who rode and trained Uti for his owners. My heart goes out to Carl, having seen Uti at home, a stallion, standing with the stable door wide open whilst his adoring public made a fuss of him, Carl whom I know personally, will be gutted to know that his old friend is to be sold at public auction without even a reserve. If only our government would follow that of New Zealand, in declaring that all animals are sentient beings and must be treated as such by law. This case would never take place if this were to be the law here too.
It is admirable that crowd funding has been instigated to try to buy Uthopia to keep him here with Carl, but I feel that discussions need to be held with the bank that is dealing with the bankruptcy, to try to bargain with them to prevent Uti going to auction and for a private sale to take place instead. I hope for Uthopia’s future that something can be sorted to ensure a happy retirement here with Carl.