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Eventing Dressage vs. other types of Dressage... How different are they really?

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  • Eventing Dressage vs. other types of Dressage... How different are they really?

    Hopefully this is an appropriate question to ask.

    A long time ago I wrote about a trainer who rode my horse in rollkur. I sang her praises and thought she came from the heavens because she was able to get my horse's "back up" as it were, and I will admit my mare looked DAMN GOOD with this trainer riding her, BUT then again isn't that why rollkur exists? We all know it's wrong, though (well most of us).

    Anyway, that trainer advertised herself as a "competitive dressage" trainer, but she only trained students in eventing. She was an eventer herself, albeit low level. As I've mentioned in other threads this trainer has a very bad reputation but to her students she is a goddess.

    Anyway, my mare and I have now joined forces with a newer trainer, a gal I knew a few years ago who has left her job as an instructor for a barn in pursuit of her goals doing individual training. She's moving her two horses to the barn she's picked out as her training facility at the end of February, of which i moved to in November in preparation to be her very first full-time client. This lady was a dressage rider turned eventer, but she doesn't ride dressage in any way I've really seen.

    I've had classical trainers before I had this woman. Her ideas and methods are more similar to the Eventing trainer, but she is not nearly as "abusive" or forceful. There is no rolkur, but there is "rounder" - we've never put my horse in as tight a frame as Trainer 1 but this trainer definitely seems a little more focused on head set than my classical GP trainers were.

    There's more contact. There's more pushing with the seat. There's more resisting a horse's resistance until it gives. Things are just a lot more physical with this trainer, as with my classical trainer it was more about just the bottom of the training scale and getting my mare comfortable with being ridden again (long story short, bad saddle fit = severe atrophy and 8 month layup with no riding, just lunging). We're officially training 1st level with this new trainer.

    My horse's natural connecting point is with her nose slightly in front of the vertical. That's her sweet spot, but new trainer would prefer her to be a bit more on the vertical. When this happens, the contact gets a bit stronger and there is work to be done to lighten that connection from being heavy upon taking up a shorter rein. We do eventually get it, though.

    I don't know what dressage we are doing. Definitely not classical, as this trainer understands my goals are to compete, but in 2 months of training with her we are leaps and bounds further along than we were in my 6 months with my classical trainer, in which we only cantered after 5 months of lessons.

    Flame suit zipped, I will say again my horse is fine, happy, and doing absolutely incredible, I just wanted to get insight into whether or not this is a style of eventing training and/or modern, or if this is honestly how dressage is? Whatever the answer, I'm looking for clarity, not right or wrong.

    I will also say my horse is a hunter, we do dressage for me because it is my new obsession. Competition is the goal but getting her physically strong and comfortable is really what I am after.

    To put things into perspective: I haven't always had the best of trainers. I worked alone with my horse for a year before going back to training, and only recently started full training. I'm a pretty independent rider who doesn't take what professionals say at face-value without a little personal research, so I'm not questioning/doubting my trainer, I just want to know what I am to expect in this new way of riding.
    Last edited by thecolorcoal; Feb. 8, 2018, 07:43 PM.

  • #2
    Are you talking about theoretical or practical differences?

    You will find many different opinions on the topic, particularly if you dig through some of the threads on the Del Mar spinoff.

    In theory I don't think there should be a difference in dressage whether it is performed in the context of an eventing or a dressage competition. However, some people have said that they feel they are being judged differently on things such as being behind the vertical, being squirrly vs. steady, etc.

    As far as practical differences, the eventing dressage tests, particularly at the lower levels are less complicated and the movements don't come up as quickly.


    • Original Poster

      I suppose I am coming from a theoretical? The difference between the two styles is night and day, at least for me, and now I am in both worlds. New trainer's methods work just as well as classical trainers but it is simply a different way of thinking about it, and her ideas are more similar to Eventing trainers. So I am wondering if this is "eventing" dressage? I know dressage is dressage but I admit noticing different training practices and ways to achieve based on the sub-discipline.

      For example:

      classical trainer - long rein, slowly take contact, but just until you feel the slightest natural connection, horse must be light in front, nose slightly out, completely relaxed, and you must find natural balance.
      New Trainer: warm up long rein, take contact to the length you will work in, horse must push from behind into contact. Relaxation will come with forward and rhythm. Once achieved you must relax contact, too. Rise and repeat each time as needed.

      classical trainer - long rein, long stride = relaxed back
      New trainer - short rein, hind end engagement = lifted back, engaged abs

      Classical trainer got her gold medal and competed FEI, new trainer is an eventer and competed 2 star, reached PSG in dressage, now trains hunter/jumper and dressage.

      I will note that both of these methods have worked on my horse. We are not being hindered by new trainer, I just feel strange because it's sort of going against what I learned from my classical trainer.


      • #4
        Originally posted by thecolorcoal View Post
        I don't know what dressage we are doing. Definitely not classical, as this trainer understands my goals are to compete, but in 2 months of training with her we are leaps and bounds further along than we were in my 6 months with my classical trainer, in which we only cantered after 5 months of lessons.

        Flame suit zipped, I will say again my horse is fine, happy, and doing absolutely incredible, I just wanted to get insight into whether or not this is a style of eventing training and/or modern, or if this is honestly how dressage is? Whatever the answer, I'm looking for clarity, not right or wrong.
        Since you mention that dressage is your new obsession, let me give you a suggestion that hopefully you may find helpful.

        Fixating on what "school" of dressage you're in is probably going to be detrimental to you in the long term (and for your big-picture view). There are many schools in the philosophy of riding (and dressage). This is likely because different people (with different horses) have found different methodology and approaches to be helpful.

        Now with the caveat that no one should employ riding that does harm to a horse (or is otherwise harsh or unnecessarily aggressive), I will say that there's no right or wrong answer for "how should I ride? what school of dressage should I follow?"

        Riding rarely fits into tidy boxes - because even when you talk about "classical" you're running into the issue of (french classical? german classical? The Spanish School of Riding? Xenophon?) as all of these will (not incorrectly) be referred to as "classic" or "classical" riding. Trying to label riding as one school or another (or eventing dressage, whatever) is just going to be a mental exercise in anguish. Ultimately, what's the point of doing so?

        And on a side note/example for why I say these things:
        Considering that one of the masters of "eventing dressage" is also one of the inheritors of the german classic philosophy of riding (Ingrid Klimke). That's just one example of event riders whose dressage foundations don't fit the style of riding you're talking about.


        • #5
          There is a happy medium which isn't crawling until high school and not forcing a 3 year old to do times tables. I wouldn't expect to see a huge change in your horse over 2 months because muscles to carry properly take longer than that to develop. This training now sounds like it's still forceful, and I can't imagine wanting to go over solid obstacles on a horse ridden that way. I suspect you're asking this because your gut tells you that, too.
          If Kim Kardashian wants to set up a gofundme to purchase the Wu Tang album from Martin Shkreli, guess what people you DON'T HAVE TO DONATE.


          • Original Poster

            Edre - thank you as always, edre! I am a categorical person, it helps me to be able to understand things through their title and definitions. Not sure what kind of personality type that is, but I've always been like that. Hence why I am trying to categorize and label the dressage I am participating in. It is miles different than my introductory style. I was extremely, extremely upset when I found out the "beautiful" riding my horse went through under Eventing trainer was rollkur - I felt stupid and ashamed I had let her do that to my mare and I will never again make that mistake. I am just wanting verification that we are on the right path.

            @everyone else: I understand dressage is dressage, and maybe it is because I stuck with the classical side for quite a while, in which there is a lot of, for lack of a better word, "propaganda" that states "classical dressage" is better, healthier, correct, and the utmost "right way," and what that side categorizes as "modern/german" dressage is the opposite. Of course, I know better now and no longer have such a dichromatic mindset - neither is wrong, they are just different!

            My mare is doing fabulous. I just wanted to know what dressage I can tip my hat to and thank? I only have titled a style of dressage as "eventing" dressage because of the way Eventing trainer rode: from what I understand, going off of the research I have found, and comments I have read on this forum (correct me if this is wrong because sometimes checking the legitimacy of one's sources can be tough), it is a thing to be "muddled through," and the focus is more on just making do rather than correct riding. She may just be a very, very bad rider - I need to know that, too, before I start labeling my experiences as to not paint with such a broad brush.

            @netg, in essence, yes. I just want to clarify/verify/double check we are going down the right road. This is a much quicker, much more hurried pace than we've ever gone before. However, even still my mare has gone from no top line to looking like a beef cake, and she's a thoroughbred! I am over the moon at how well my horse can balance, collect, and pick up her gaits now. She goes on a 3 hour trail ride once a week, ridden by this trainer (which is the only time trainer rides her due to my current financial struggle). She has been in training since October of last year, but we moved to this new barn in November. So november and december she was being ridden 3 times a week by trainer. January was one day a week by trainer, 2 days a week by advanced rider, 3 days a week by me. Feb's the same pattern.

            In her new home, with turnout and friends, she is incredibly happy. I am happy too, this style of riding is just so foreign to me. My trainer has said this will help with "maintaining control" which... sounds a bit like rollkur... I am trying to think positive though. I think at worst this is LDR, but still - even though I do know the difference, I admit I was more comfortable in the classical hemisphere. But I have given up everything for my opportunity to train with her, and since dressage is our side-gig and hunters is our main sport, I've chosen not to grow roots at this new barn, but also play it by ear.

            I never thought we'd get this far this quick. My FEI trainer went at a crawling pace with us, but my horse also had severe behavioral issues after coming back into work so I am sure that contributed to the snail's crawl training program.

            If there is something I need to be worried about, I'd like to know just so that I can stay observant and aware. I think only the best of this trainer - i am sure it would not be her as a person, but the methods might not be right for my horse. The trainer is extremely, extremely successful and has a wonderful reputation. But, to be fair, she also rides very, very difficult horses so has adopted a heavier, more defensive style of riding - she is the person you go to for the fix on serious, dangerous horses.

            Having watched her ride my mare many times, she never, ever, ever cranks her head down between her legs the way the Eventing trainer did. But every time she shouts "rounder!" when I feel like we were "round enough" I always worry about muddling into hyperflexion land. Often, "ROUNDER!" comes up during the lesson when distractions happen outside the ring, of which my horse can be dangerously reactive to. "rounder" puts a blindfold on her and practically forces her to pay attention to me, but force is force. I don't want to force my girl to do anything. As soon as maresy's head is back in the game, Trainer allows me to release. I will get someone to film me during my lessons so I can see how "round" we are so I know "round" is not nose-between-the-knees.

            f these methods work for my horse, great, but I will protect her from bad training practices at all costs, even if it means hiring a different trainer for my dressage lessons and keeping current trainer for my jumping.

            Again, like netg said I am not leaving this trainer but something is just not sitting right in my stomach... Mare reacting very, very well, but her mommy is afraid that we are simply shutting down responses! I want Mare to be able to participate in our lesson.

            Trainer is a lot more relaxed with Leaser about keeping Mare round. Leaser is allowed to keep her nose above the vertical in a hunter-frame because Trainer trusts Leaser to be able to handle the bucks and broncs my horse can sometimes throw. I have not the stickiest of seats and severely hurt myself when this horse bucked me off last year, so maybe this Trainer is just being more cautious with us as a pair?
            Last edited by thecolorcoal; Feb. 9, 2018, 12:15 AM.


            • Original Poster

              I trust my horse but sometimes, her heart gets in the way of her wellbeing. She just wants to do well, and she will fight through pain, discomfort, and emotional issues to make me happy. This is great for most riders but not for me, as it comes back to bite us in the butt later.

              She is not the type to speak up against abusive riding practices if she's in the zone. I rode her using rollkur after Eventing trainer's lesson and only after I got off did I realize I had done some serious damage: she was sore for 5 days, lame, and had to be on stall rest because I had her in such a tight frame... Not a peep out of her in the arena </3. I never did it again, but I wish she had said something!


              • #8
                I can see the appeal of being able to categorize things. It would make things easier if it were so clear cut black and white.

                At the end of the day the problem is, of course, that not every horse and not every rider are the same. There are approaches that work very well for certain horses that don't click with another. Natural propensity has a lot to do with what works best, and there's no real way for anyone who isn't directly "in the know" with you and your horse can really green-light (or pull the emergency brake) on what's going on with you.

                It sounds like you ultimately want reassurance that what your current trainer is doing isn't detrimental to your horse - and unfortunately, that's something that's really, really hard to ascertain through text. There are things that you've mentioned here that I would be leery about because for some horse/rider pairs, it could be too much. On the other hand, it very well may be that your horse is responding favorably to them so it's a nonissue.

                You clearly have specific components that you're looking at and wondering about - have you asked her specifically? "Why do you emphasise "more round" to me in (x,y,z) situation?" And honestly, bring up your thoughts. Trainers aren't mind readers. Create a dialogue in a practical way and you may be able to find that there's more of a foundation behind what she's having you do than you're realizing (and subsequently, than it sounds like from what you're sharing).


                • Original Poster

                  thank you Edre, I will keep the line of communication open with my trainer.

                  This is my very first in-house training situation so i am a little unaware of how everything is meant to happen, how to talk with a trainer, discuss goals, etc. At my old show barn the trainer did everything, from riding the horse to showing the horse to taking care of injuries, to vetting and shoeing. Owner didn't do anything but show up for lessons and pay the bills.

                  I've always done everything myself, very much DIY with this horse. Understandably I am nervous, like a parent sending their child to daycare hoping the teachers will remember they have a food allergy, or do not like loud voices, anxious that they won't criticize kiddo for coloring outside the lines, etc etc etc.

                  I feel, after Eventing trainer I have lost my confidence in myself to judge what is right and wrong, as I missed that big red flag so very blatantly.

                  I always come to coth in order to stand under the "knowledge umbrella" of others in hopes they will guide my young self in a positive direction.


                  • #10
                    My first red flag is your statement, "but she is not nearly as "abusive" or forceful" - so you feel this trainer is abusive, not not nearly as abusive as your previous trainer. Why is any level of that acceptable?

                    Here is *my opinion* on competitive vs classical trainers.

                    The difference between competitive trainers and classical trainers is competitive trainers train for the show ring, to move up as quickly as possible. They're more likely to push the horse to LOOK correct than to BE correct. A classical trainer tends to be more concerned about the growth of the horse, at the horse's growth speed, not at the speed of what 'should' be taking place in the show ring.


                    • Original Poster

                      DancingArabian - my apologies. that wasn't what I meant to imply. I don't know what constitutes as abuse anymore because it seems the horse industry lets so much go with the idea that "everyone does it."

                      I would consider rollkur abuse but some do not! See my confusion? This lady doesn't rollkur but there seems to be a "leg to hand" that i am not used to? HOLD the front so it cannot move, leg to encourage the hind end and that is supposed to create lightness in the bridle?

                      it is the same theories that Eventing trainer used, just not to the extreme that Eventing trainer actually performed.

                      Is this right? I suppose I am not understanding the physics. How is a horse supposed to give when it's head is on the vertical already, wouldn't that cause it to hyperflex? DDD: There is a difference between forcing the head down with brute strength, I understand that. But is it "less bad" when the head is "encouraged" to go behind the vertical, ie that is where the release will be?

                      we don't seem to be lighter when we are rounder, only heavier. So I am very very confused!!!

                      Luckily our dressage lessons are every other week. The other days we jump and the deep head set never reappears. It only seems to be for our dressage.

                      Trainer's arguments: "sometimes we have to exaggerate when we train for the light bulb moments." And it HAS worked. I am not going to say it doesn't.

                      But Rollkur works too. Eventing trainer was able to get Grand Prix-looking gaits out of my mare in just one lesson. Do you see my predicament?
                      Last edited by thecolorcoal; Feb. 9, 2018, 02:00 AM.


                      • Original Poster

                        Originally posted by DancingArabian View Post
                        The difference between competitive trainers and classical trainers is competitive trainers train for the show ring, to move up as quickly as possible. They're more likely to push the horse to LOOK correct than to BE correct. A classical trainer tends to be more concerned about the growth of the horse, at the horse's growth speed, not at the speed of what 'should' be taking place in the show ring.
                        I would agree with this and with that definition I would feel we are leaning more towards the competitive side, so my gut instinct and feelings were correct.

                        I will get some film to show as accurately as I can what is happening in lessons. I am not a crank and spank rider. I don't want to become one but it seems I am traveling further and further away from the introductory classical training I was introduced to.

                        I admit a part of me doesn't like this style of dressage. Is that bad to say? Something in my heart is making me feel guilty.
                        Last edited by thecolorcoal; Feb. 9, 2018, 02:02 AM.


                        • #13
                          OP I am reading here a history of bouncing between extremes of a discipline from rolkur to lite classical to your current drive into the bit competition dressage. But you say your actual discipline is hunters which is a very different way of going. So that confuses me.

                          Trainers vary along two axis. One is overall effectiveness of the riding and one is biomechanical correctness/ correct theory/ etc

                          In other words a trainer can be effective or ineffective in achieving results despite what school they adhere to. So you can have effective or ineffective rolkur, effective or ineffective classical, effective or ineffective competition dressage or ground work or clicker training, etc.

                          Anyhow OP my question for you is, how do you know your horse is moving correctly now? What in your recent experience has taught you to evaluate this? What do you look for beside head set? Without seeing the horse none of us can say anything at all about how she is moving.

                          From what you say it sounds bang on for how low level competition dresage is taught in my region by most coaches. Of course in my region most people stall out at Level One and often trash their horses hocks and tendons in the process by progressing too fast.

                          If you want to evaluate your coach more (granted it's s bit late for that) you can research and analyze her centerline scores to see what level she has ridden at and if she has brought a horse up the levels and how far. And check out what levels her students are showing at.

                          If they are all eventers it's complicated by the fact that typically the jump and cross country levels set the riders level.


                          • Original Poster

                            Scribbler, I feel her back is up and she has impulsion now instead of being hollow. I think her muscle development and the fact that her spine is almost covered with top line is good testament to whatever we are doing is working?

                            Let me clarify for you since you seem to be confused.

                            I am a hunter/jumper rider. My actual time spans may be off. Bought horse May 2016. Horse laid up from November to April 2017 (saddle fit injury). Eventer rode her in december 2017. Back to Lay up after. Ridden Dressage only (classical) from April 2017 to October 2017. Started new trainer October 2017, just focused on flatwork the first month.Resumed jumping under new trainer November 2017.

                            I have a new appreciation for dressage. I am allowed to jump around disciplines since FOR ME dressage is about improving the horse, not a sport in itself. Competition would be primarily for feedback. I enjoy the intellectual challenge and the striving for perfection. Jumping has seemed ho hum since I've discovered dressage. Horse is build as a hunter, though, so I have a pro show her in hunters for me.

                            She's moving a lot better than she's ever moved before.The lameness issues are gone. We haven't had one since moving barns. That is my cue that something is working.

                            Of course considering her main discipline is hunters we will never be dressage specializations unless something changed BUT Dressage is primarily for me, as I'm more interested in it. We are not putting all our eggs in that basket. Surprisingly she is doing very well. I'm very proud of how far we've come. This is just a fun thing horsey and I can do together to "bond" or whatever you want to call it. I really enjoy the "oneness" that dressage can give you.

                            Oh and I live in an H/J part of the world, dressage is almost nonexistant in this area.

                            Scribbler, I can get some videos for you!
                            Last edited by thecolorcoal; Feb. 9, 2018, 02:28 AM.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by thecolorcoal View Post

                              an example. This is in a jump lesson and the head set for our dressage lesson is just a smidge behind the vertical. I'll get a better video soon. Sorry for the double posts.
                              I thought you wanted comments on the dressage? This is just straightforward low jumpers.


                              • Original Poster

                                Originally posted by Scribbler View Post

                                I thought you wanted comments on the dressage? This is just straightforward low jumpers.
                                I posted that for the headset.


                                • #17
                                  But it's just an open poll headset no real collection just a crosspoles level jumper with a natural headset looking like every other low level jumper on the planet, with her head in pretty much the same place? Why are we looking at this in the context of how your dressage teacher is getting you to ride?


                                  • Original Poster

                                    Scribbler, I have no film of our dressage rides, i can get those for you later.


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by thecolorcoal View Post

                                      I would agree with this and with that definition I would feel we are leaning more towards the competitive side, so my gut instinct and feelings were correct.

                                      I will get some film to show as accurately as I can what is happening in lessons. I am not a crank and spank rider. I don't want to become one but it seems I am traveling further and further away from the introductory classical training I was introduced to.

                                      I admit a part of me doesn't like this style of dressage. Is that bad to say? Something in my heart is making me feel guilty.
                                      The short answer will always be - If you don't like the style that a trainer promotes, you're entirely within your rights to not train with them. Difference in goals, ideology, teaching/learning styles - it happens all the time. If you're really as uneasy about this as you're conveying here, then there's no point in sleuthing out the why's or the how's. If your mind has made itself up to be uncertain about it then it's not worth the emotional swamp of continuing. Find another trainer that gels with how you want to ride.

                                      That said: I do think that a little footage on the flat would probably be helpful to this entire conversation, if you're still looking to suss out more of what's going on. Specifically, video that's showing what about the training you're most uneasy about (parts of a lesson for example where you're getting instructed on the things you've mentioned above would be most productive I suspect - that way people can see the timing of the instruction, what's going on in the moment that might evoke it, and how it's meant to be applied in context of that moment/that ride).

                                      Working with a trainer "in house" should be no different than a trainer you trailer in to see (or any other type). We need to have communication with them so they know where we're at with our thoughts, concerns, goals, etc. Some trainers aren't super chatty-communicative (and some clients don't want them to be) so that works for them - but by and far, most of the ones I've ever worked with would be over the moon if they were invited to a conversation where a rider had clearly thought out questions ("Can you explain to me why you say X when Y is happening", "When you say A, I have concerns about B - can you help me work through this?")


                                      • Original Poster

                                        Thank you edre, I will be sure to put that up.

                                        I think my main confusion seems to be along the lines of what happens when. In my previous training it was all about a long and low head set, picking up connection bit by bit. As soon as horse got head-high, let out a little rein to maintain a low, in front of the vertical contact. Maintaining rhythm at all costs. Only leg when you need it.

                                        New training is focusing on a more compact frame, leg into hand (which i admit is a new concept for me) and theoretically this will cause the hind end to engage and the jaw to relax and causing the "round" neck. The flexion is more extreme, with the thought that relaxation will create the ideal headset while a strong contact will create slight hyperflexion, so lightness is release of that pressure. However when we want roundness trainer also doesn't want a quicker pace. SO when I put leg on to ask what happens is the rhythm gets quicker before the head lowers. Instead, she wants me to wiggle the bit a little bit and soften the jaw that way and simply have a supporting leg to keep the rhythm but not push into it as much as the Eventing trainer wanted. Her balancing on my hands, though, is accepted for both the Eventing trainer and my current trainer, at the very least for right now.

                                        Horse had to be in self carriage 100% of the time with my fei trainer. No leaning, no physical support from the rider.

                                        New trainer feels she is finally physically fit enough to start finding her own balance but there is a lot of bit movement that is encouraged.

                                        I think where I am starting to get tense is seeing the similarities between these two trainers. Their backgrounds are the same, their compassion is definitely on two different planes as is there desire to win (eventing trainer being more about ribbons and overall control and less about benefits to the horse, New trainer being about safety through control, ribbons aren't a focus).