In COLLECTIVE REMARKS, the new book from former Technical Advisor to the US Dressage Team Anne Gribbons, readers are treated to all manner of perspectives, in and around the dressage world. As an FEI 5* judge, Gribbons has officiated at numerous CDIs worldwide and selection trials in the United States, as well as prestigious European shows (Stuttgart, Rotterdam, Aachen), two FEI World Cup Finals, and the 2009 European Championships.
Here Gribbons laments the variety of extended trots to which judges are commonly treated—and they are all “faking it” in one way or another.
From COLLECTIVE REMARKS by Anne Gribbons:
Seeing What’s Not There
To begin with, there are no distinct transitions. Sometimes the beginning and end of the extension is so subtle that it is impossible to discern, even when the judge is awake and focusing. In reality, absolutely nothing happens, and you feel like you are a part of the tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” pretending to see what isn’t there. That is the bottom of the heap.
The next variety is when the horse hurries through the corner, and instead of coming onto the diagonal in balance and with his haunches “loaded” for takeoff, he is running in front-wheel drive. Arriving out of the corner in that fashion makes the transition “mission impossible.” The honest horse makes a desperate effort to salvage the movement, and by the time he reaches X he is hopelessly lost in forward balance, often irregular, and struggling to reach the end of the diagonal. The less ambitious equine crawls behind the leg and does less and less to go forward, until the movement fades to a working trot before he reaches halfway.
Then we have the “mad run,” in which the horse develops a flat-footed scramble with a hollow back and the hindquarters trailing hopelessly. He reminds you of a bicycle flying by.
The really fascinating extension is the one when the horse’s frame gets shorter for each stride, his back lower, his front legs higher, and his neck tighter. That is almost as hard to accomplish all at once as it is to get an actual extension.
Naturally none of the workouts described just now have much to do with the directives for the movement. So, how would an extension for a “10” look?
Let’s start with the transitions: They should be prompt and smooth without the slightest resistance. The horse should proceed accurately from point to point and in a straight line. There will be a clear difference between the extended trot and the medium trot when there is one called for in the test.
Going on to the different aspects of the Training Scale, for a “10”:
- The rhythm of the trot has to be absolutely regular in a clear two beats from beginning to end with a distinctive moment of suspension.
- No stiffness or tension can be present for a perfect score for suppleness. The back must swing under the rider, and the completely unconstrained steps must show superb elasticity.
- The contact has to be light and steady, with the nose more in front of the vertical than at a medium trot. In spite of the ultimate lengthening of the frame, the poll must remain the highest point.
- To accomplish all this, the requirements of the impulsion are strict: The hind legs are expected to propel the horse forward with very energetic and active steps, while the hind feet touch the ground as much as possible in front of the footprints for the front feet. Front and hind feet reach equally forward, and the front feet touch the ground on the spot toward which they are pointing.
- Naturally the horse’s straightness is unquestionable, while the very engaged hind legs give the impression of a horse in complete balance, exhibiting freedom of the shoulder and lightness of the forehand found via collection.
- Under these circumstances the submissiveness is total, and there is no resistance whatsoever evident.
It is doubtful that many of us has experienced this state of bliss for an entire diagonal, but these are the directives if you strive for “excellent.” Naturally there is a range of talent and ability that plays into the score, and there are horses that are superb at collection but have no true ability to become “airborne,” never mind how they struggle. The springs for the suspension just were never installed.
Interesting to observe is that all the way to the top placings in the Olympics, there are horses that lack the ability to use their back in the extended work and who possess almost no elasticity in their gaits or ability to stretch over the topline. What they do have is a tremendous knack for articulation of their joints. They can twist and turn and bend their knees and hocks like performers in Riverdance, and in the “Three Ps” (piaffe, passage, and pirouette) this is a real asset.
Since we have shortened the Grand Prix the extended trot counts for very little. What should be one of our “crown jewels” has been put somewhat on the backburner. Anyone who trained with Colonel Bengt Ljungquist will agree that he would watch this development with a jaundiced eye. I will never forget the endless sessions he had me do on the 20-meter circle, practicing transitions in and out of trot lengthenings. Bengt would insist on the horse becoming “like a rubber band,” and he was relentless about all the features I mentioned above that can lead to a “10.”
Find more dressage insight in COLLECTIVE REMARKS by Anne Gribbons, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.