Guest Post: Cross Training:
“Cross Training”. By definition this is when the athlete steps away from his regular discipline and works at something else, and is meant to have physical or mental benefits to the athlete. In the equine world, the term “cross training” is usually very narrow. You will not see a western pleasure QH trainer taking his horse around the arena in saddle seat tack and a double bridle. No, cross training means taking your equine athlete and doing Dressage. (For dressage horses, cross training usually means “take them for a trail ride”.)
To me, dressage is just another horse sport/entertainment discipline, on the same plane as western pleasure, saddle seat, jumping, driving, endurance. I think dressage puts the horse in the most gorgeous frame of all those activities, and it has the ability to move me to tears. But that’s all it is — another horse activity. Please stop trying to convince me that doing Dressage (capital “D”) is going to make my horse “better”. You’ll have to prove it to me.
This has been bothering me since the equine chiropractor came to our barn for his regular multi-horse visit. He worked on my competitive trail horse first and the visit went as it always did — he had to search to find anything wrong with my horse, pronounced him sound and pain-free. Then onto the dressage insructor’s personal horse and 2 of her clients’ horses. All of which were a mess of sore hocks, sore backs, sore polls, sore necks… The trainer made the mistake of pronouncing me “lucky” to have such a good horse. And I made the mistake of saying that I wasn’t lucky, but that I was asking my horse to do something quite natural and did not in any way influence his way of going. And she made the mistake of saying my horse would be even better if I did Dressage arena work with him….
Somebody prove it to me. Dressage (and Dr. Deb Bennett’s wonderful conformation articles in Equus) is based on what the human’s idea of “beauty” is. A stallion puffed up with an arched neck, vertical face, tucked-under hindquarters, collected movements, everyone agrees that’s when a horse is at his most beautiful. Dressage is getting a horse to assume those poses on command and hold them for extended periods of time. Dr. Bennett “proves” that dressage helps a horse because his build will change as a result of the work. Of course his build will change — you are asking him to do new physical things with his body. But that does not mean the change in build is a “good” thing even though the change in build appears more beautiful to our eyes. No one confuses a ballet dancer with a female body builder, yet their builds are each perfect for their disciplines and each would fail if they looked like the other. If moving in such a fashion is truly better for the horse, then you would think natural selection would have produced wild horses moving from waterhole to waterhole in a “balanced” dressage-like manner.
So I will consider dressage to be simply another horse activity. I will continue to believe that my competitive trail horses do not need dressage work to help them trot down the trails. I will continue to let them decide the best way to move to finish the task safe and sound. They will continue to get the winter off with no arena work. Stop trying to convince me that Dressage work would make my horse perform better.
Thanks for allow me the opportunity to voice my opinion!
I wanted to post this because I think this is a great opportunity for a discussion. No two people have the same experiences and so I thought it would be interesting to get some different points of view on ‘cross training’.
There are a few ideas within this guest post that I have issue with, for example, I’m not sure the writer has a solid grasp of what dressage is. I (Snugly aka Dressage Empress) freely admit that today’s dressage world can be a little iffy. However, if we focus on the principles of the discipline, which I think is probably what the chiropractor meant, then dressage can be a useful cross training tool. Furthermore, dressage and conformation articles aren’t based on aesthetics, but function; how the conformation and musculature of the horse help or hinder it in any given discipline.
Personally, I think dressage is beneficial for all horses – sorry, I should say all English discipline based horses as that’s where my experience lies. That’s not to say I believe dressage is the be all, end all of the horse world; but rather that I believe in the principles upon which the discipline is built.
I’m sure most of you have seen or heard of the training pyramid. For those who haven’t, it’s essentially the building blocks of under saddle training. From my understanding, it’s widely used in Europe and not limited to dressage.
Now, does a well mannered trail horse who listens to his rider need to focus on this? No. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it! But what if you needed to open a gait? A few steps of leg yield might not be the worst idea…
Ok, that’s all I’m going to say. I want to leave this open for discussion!