Thursday, August 22, 2019

What We Can Learn from Emily Miles and the World Young Horse Championships

Editorial by Anna Goebel

I had been wondering how Emily Miles, a US rider, had fared at the World Young Horse Championships, since she didn't show up in the reports on the final results. Kenneth Braddick answers that question in an article on Click here to read the article.

Emily took two horses, both owned by Leslie Waterman: Sole Mio and Daily Show. I had seen both at the North American Stallion Sport Test, where Sole Mio was the high-scoring dressage stallion. (Click here to read about that event.)

These are lovely stallions, and Emily Miles is one of the most beautiful dressage riders I have ever seen, so I was really curious to know how they did at the World Young Horse Championships. I didn't shell out for a subscription to, so I was not able to watch the whole show, all the rides.

If you've followed the commentary of experts - click here for a list of links - you know that there are two prominent criticisms of the World Young Horse Championships. One is the "perceived domination by one entity," as Kenneth Braddick puts it. Chris Hector, of, is more explicit: "...some have decided that the World Champs have really become a publicity stunt for Helgstrand dressage...." The other is the complaint that the judges reward extreme movement - movement that is so extreme that it is inappropriate for the ages of the horses. Both authors, for example, point to the all-out extended trot being highly rewarded by judges - even though it is the medium trot that is called for in the test. The top rides of last year certainly were the ones who pushed for everything they could get from their horses.

I would describe a competitive performance by Emily Miles as impressive, beautiful, harmonious, sympathetic, full of impulsion and athleticism, and a joy to watch. A German judge at the North American Stallion Test called her riding, "what dressage riding should look like." I would add that she is also effective: her horses go exactly as dressage horses should go.

I suspected that in Ermelo these qualities would not enough. If you ride a superlative medium trot, and the judges score it as if it were a defective extended trot - where does that leave you?

Emily Miles did not do well enough to make the top 15. Sure, I wasn't there, and I didn't see her rides. But she was proud of her horses, and so I am confident that they showed well, extremely well, and appropriately for their age group. And it wasn't enough.

Good sportsmanship dictates that we don't gripe when we don't place, and Emily Miles shows no signs of whining. Instead, she suggests that maybe we need to pay more attention - go to Europe more often - so we understand better what is needed to win in international competition.

Please, Emily, no.

Instead, perhaps we all need to ask, on a worldwide scale: is this what we really want? Young horses pushed to the extremes? Dressage that - ever since Totilas - has come to look more and more like Saddleseat? Dressage has had training barns for some years now where Saddleseat techniques are used, including the abusive ones. Emily Miles coined the word "pumped-upness" to describe what her horses were lacking compared to the higher-placed youngsters. Can that really have become a required quality in any dressage horse who wants to win in international competition? From young FEI horses to grand prix competitors, the answer appears to be yes. Dr. Reiner Klimke would be rolling in his grave if he could see "pumped-upness" become an essential element for winning. 

Envision the perfect dressage horse: willing and submissive, moving with impulsion and suppleness and athleticism, responsive and in harmony with the rider. Beauty and balance. You can't "improve" that by adding flash, extreme movement, and "pumped-upness."

Dressage has been evolving from its beginnings in ancient Greece, where there were some pretty barbaric techniques along with the development of many of the more thoughtful training principles we use today. We've moved forward in training through the centuries as we've become more civilized; we've learned to create a living work of art, of beauty, because you can do that if you learn to work with a horse's natural way of going, using techniques that avoid force, so that you have harmony instead of tension. But it looks like that goal of dressage has been left in the dust, because it didn't have enough flash and pizazz. Instead, today's dressage is producing caricatures of a horse's natural way of going. 

I had a friend who was a Saddleseat rider who switched to dressage. She went back to Saddleseat after a while because she "missed the glitz." Come on back, Pam! We're totally getting there, and we're starting with our 5-, 6-, and 7-year-olds!

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