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The pretty good books of Susan Larson


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Does it Matter if Your Horse is in Pain?

Nine Kinds of Pain

I used to love dressage. Dressage is the French Word for ‘training,’ and its goal is, or was, physically and mentally conditioning a horse to the point where she can move with her native pride and grace while carrying a human burden on her back. This would be something like training a ballerina to dance Swan Lake wearing a book-bag. Not so easy. The ideal result of this training should be a centaur: human and horse becoming a harmonious lyrical whole.

My grade companion horses could do basic low-level dressage, which meant: smooth starts, stops, backing up, turning in circles or in place, switching easily from one gait to another, and carrying a rider in a balanced way without discomfort or pain. More than that I never asked, because I was not really good enough to ask.

I admired the great dressage horses and their wonderful riders of the past. I had a crush on the great Olympian horse Rembrandt and his rider Nicole Uphoff, who made dressage look like a dance they were just making up for fun; so expressive of power, beauty and joy.

Lately when I see dressage clips on you-tube, it does not look like fun. One clip I happened upon showed a lady (I won’t name her) in full show kit on a beautiful dark bay horse, doing high level dressage airs in an arena. The animal’s head was tucked in almost to his neck, and his mouth was open in his efforts to evade the bit. His back was hollow and his hind feet, instead of working under his body to help carry the rider, were trailing out stiffly behind. Every time he was asked to turn, he lashed his tail angrily from side to side.

This animal was also extremely expressive. What he was expressing was pain.

And this is the video she put up of herself! Merrily floating along while her horse is desperately trying to tell her w that it damned well hurts!

If I had any hope of being heeded by this ‘expert’ dressage rider I would tell her get off, turn her horse out into a pasture to graze and play with his friends, and after a few months when the pain finally stops, she might want lend him to a twelve-year-old kid and tell them to go trail riding on a loose rein for a year or so. Maybe with no bit in the horse’s mouth.

What kind of narcissistic ego trip, or big-money trip, or prestige trip, is the competitive dressage world on, that they do not notice their own expensive and ‘pampered’ animals expressing pain? Are they so focused on extracting what they– or the show world– desire from their horses that they don’t see? Or care? Maybe PETA should have a look at this sadistic perversion of dressage. I used to like it. Now it makes me sick.