For several years USEF ‘S’ dressage judge Natalie Lamping has advocated for permitting rising trot beyond training and first level dressage tests. On July 13, she went to Facebook to ask for support in making a proposal to test writers that would permit rising trot during medium and extended trots through fourth level. Although her suggestion was met with pushback from some, saying that it will lower standards in the sport, many others supported it. Lamping eventually would like to see rising permitted for all trot work at those levels. Here, she lays out her case for such a change.
I was thinking of this as a horse welfare idea first and then secondly as a rider welfare idea. The horses don’t want someone banging on their backs or their faces.
I’ll sit with some of my colleagues, and we’ll watch a class, and I’ll ask afterward, “Tell me, were any of these people in this class able to sit?” and they say no. Everybody agrees on that, but nobody has done anything about it.
I thought one thing I would like to accomplish is to get rising trot permitted for medium and extended trot further up the levels.
Now we have it in training and first level. I’ll be the first one to say: A lot of the wrong people sit, and I think that’s the trainer’s fault. I’ve heard riders say, “Oh, the judge prefers it when we sit.” And I’ll tell you, on the test I say—especially when we have the chewy circles, and it has to be in rising trot—a horse is much better when you are rising. As a judge, you are trying to educate the riders, but the trainers need to do it also.
To post well takes skill also—almost as much for some people as learning to sit does. There’s no way people who can’t sit the collected trot can ever sit to the medium or extended trot. It’s not going to happen.
[Some people believe] you can’t have collection without sitting. I come from a jumper background, and my father always taught us and believed that a well-trained horse could do a fourth level test in a two-point—not sit, sit, sit, sit.
I think there’s been more harm done to horses with the sitting trot because the people sit too hard, push too much with their back, and actually hollow the horses and push them down into the ground. You’ve seen horses long-lined—they’re collected; nobody’s sitting on their back. They do piaffe, they do passage, they do half-passes, and nobody is sitting on them. To say you have to sit in order to get collection isn’t completely true.
Our sport, dressage, needs to survive. It’s not like [The Juilliard School of performing arts in New York City], where people are banging down the doors to get in. We have to look for the welfare of the horse and for the shows to survive. If you’re making rules and keeping people from being able to enjoy the sport and participate, and instead just taking their money, that’s not right. That’s not inclusivity.
We’re talking about competitions where good people, regardless of age, would like to compete. They love horses; they spend money on them; they take care of them, and it helps everybody in the industry. It helps the shows; it helps the feed stores, the tack shops, everybody, and it helps the horses most of all.
Not everybody can sit. I don’t care what age you are. Some people don’t have the elasticity in their back to be able to sit. Some of them have injuries like fusion of the back or part of the spine, and it’s just impossible. And not everybody wants to be doing training or first level [indefinitely].
We need more entries, and we need people to feel good about the sport. You know, the hunters, they come up with all kinds of divisions to make their membership happy.
At the highest level I have no problem, but we have stuff way below that, and people need to enjoy it. It isn’t pretty, watching people going around struggling, bouncing on the back and hanging on the reins.
If you want to become a trainer and do all that, of course you have to become really good all the way around and sit and everything, but there’s a lot more people who enjoy the sport and love the horses that can’t sit. I know some people who have a lot of good trainers, and they never learn to sit well because they just couldn’t. It’s like somebody learns the dance moves, and they know all the steps, but they don’t have that fluidity to be able to glide.
The people who go for high performance, of course they’re going to have to sit, but we’re not talking about those people. We’re talking about all those at the bottom that support the shows, so the people at the top have shows to go to. The people at the top aren’t the ones paying for the sport; they’re the ones getting sponsors and stuff from the people at the bottom.
I see three options:
Option No. 1 is make sitting optional all the way through, and then you don’t need any new awards or anything. No. 2, just make it optional through the national levels. No. 3, come up with a new “modified” division. But with No. 3 you need another set of awards, and that makes it more complicated, whereas if it was just optional, you judge what you see.
Ultimately, I would like to see sitting be optional at all trots through fourth level. Otherwise, make rising optional in medium or extended all the way through fourth level, or even go a step further and allow it through all the national levels. That would make a lot of people happy, but I’m not sure the powers that be would go for it, so that’s why I’m proposing baby steps.
The scores are mostly for the horse anyway, and it’s the riders that inhibit the score by sitting and hanging on the face, and then the horse doesn’t go forward enough. To me, if extensions done in rising or sitting trot are equal quality, they would get the same score. What would it hurt? You’re judging the extension, and you don’t want the horse to go slower and shorter and hover. Let’s get good dressage whether the riders sit or they post. And sometimes if someone posts long enough, and the horse’s back starts swinging, they might learn to sit in the end. It’s not a bad thing.
I would like this to be allowed across the board—not related to age or amateur divisions—but the committees would decide whatever they need to do. There are some adult amateurs who are fabulous riders, and there are some professionals that are terrible riders, so it doesn’t have to have to do with that.
It’s a similar argument to the one made to allow snaffles instead of double bridles. Now we can have the snaffle all the way through the levels nationally, and in FEI through the CDI2* tests. There are some horses that go better in a snaffle, and others go better in a double bridle. Good is good. And in time that may change too. To me, bits on horses are personal, like shoes and underwear. One likes this, one likes that, it doesn’t say one is better than the other. Everything is individual to each horse.
Originally from Nördlingen, Germany, Natalie Lamping is a retired four-star Fédération Equestre Internationale judge and has been a U.S. Equestrian Federation ‘S’ judge for 54 years. Throughout her career Lamping has judged Olympic and Pan American Games selection trials as well as World Cup qualifiers. She was president of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association and a member of the USEF Licensed Officials Committee. She lives in Ocala, Florida.