30 Years Practice: An Excerpt from Jim Wofford’s Autobiography

In this excerpt from STILL HORSE CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS, Olympian and tale-teller Jim Wofford shares a formative experience with an equestrian coach that told him all he needed to know about what it takes to be a good rider.

When I first came to Gladstone in 1965, Richard Wätjen was coaching the dressage team, and I audited his lessons whenever possible. Wätjen, German by birth, was classically trained at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna after WWI and had become a coach after WWII. Tall and portly, he was a legend in the dressage world, and must have been a tough old buzzard as well. In the winter of 1966–67, Nautical Hall, the indoor riding arena at Gladstone, was one of the coldest places on Earth, but no matter how cold it was, Wätjen taught in slacks and street shoes, wearing a dark green Loden greatcoat. He was not an inspiring instructor, and his comments were brief and pungent. “More,” was one of his favorites, along with “Again,” and “No.” I never knew if teaching in a second language was a problem for him, or if it was just his style, and I was too intimidated to ask. 

He was dedicated to obtaining a correct response from his horses by establishing an inside leg to outside rein connection. One day a student remarked that he wanted to start work in half-pass. “No,” said Wätjen, in his heavy German accent. “Vee vill put him in shoulder-in for two years, und zen vee vill put him in half-pass in two days.” His point was that once the basic response was correctly established, the horse would put his forces completely at our disposal. In terms of my overall development as a horseman, I might have gotten as much from my auditing as from riding at the time. 

Once Wätjen had finished his work with the Team horses, he taught occasional outside lessons for dressage riders. A woman showed up for one lesson with a very fancy, recently imported horse reputed to have set her back a princely sum. (Given the fur coat and diamonds she was sporting, I don’t think she noticed the cost a bit.) It was obvious after she careened around the ring for a few minutes that she couldn’t get this creature even close to being on the bit. 

Then magic happened. Telling this unfortunate lady to ride in and “get down,” Wätjen turned toward the corner of the arena where Rick Eckhart and I were cowering. Pointing at us, he said, “Boys. Come here.” 

Next thing we knew, we were holding the horse while, in street shoes and gabardine slacks, Wätjen laboriously stepped aboard. He would have been in his late seventies by this time, and his beer belly indicated he wasn’t much for exercise. I knew he had been a fabulous rider in his day—a long time ago. He walked off gathering his reins, then moved into working trot. By now the horse was starting to settle into the contact and produced a few transitions from working trot to collected trot, followed by extended trot across each diagonal. This happened with no discernable aids, as Wätjen sat bolt upright in the saddle. Some canter work followed, including several flying changes remarkable for their straightness and fluidity. 

All this only took a few minutes, with no preparation or warm-up. In the meantime, the dressage rider was standing with a stupefied look on her face, and I was pretty impressed as well. Wätjen walked back to the center and gestured that we should hold the horse while he carefully stepped down, gave him a pat, and said, “Nice horse.” The owner began to babble about how grateful she was, and how impressed. “How ever did you do that?” she inquired. 

Gesturing with his hand toward her shoulder, Wätjen said, “Vell, you must sit mit a straight line from shoulder, to hip, to heel.” She replied eagerly, “Yes, yes, I am doing that.” Wätjen continued, “… und zen you are riding mit a straight line from elbow to horse’s mouth.” The lady pounced on this statement with glee, “Yes, yes. I have been doing this.” “Goot!” said Wätjen. “Now you must practice for 30 years.” I started to crack up at what I thought was a masterful put-down, but I happened to take a look at Wätjen’s face. He wasn’t putting her down, or kidding. He was serious.

STILL HORSE CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS (If It Didn’t Happen This Way, It Should Have) is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

Friesians, Parachutes, and Playlists: 24 Hours with Horse Trainer and Performer Sandra Beaulieu

It is always amazing to learn how our authors manage their days. With most of them working equestrians or equine experts, hours are always an incredible juggling act of horses, clients, and family. This month we caught up with the stunning and talented Sandra Beaulieu, author of FREESTYLE: The Ultimate Guide to Riding, Training, and Competing to Music, to find out how her life balance works as the manager of Little River Friesians in Havana, Florida.

Photo by Susan McClafferty

5:00 am A few years ago I started waking up early to work on my book FREESTYLE. I love the dark and quiet nature of the morning…with my two cups of coffee of course! Don’t get me wrong…I would love to sleep in, but if I don’t work in the morning it just won’t happen. To help me stay consistent I put my cell phone outside my room so I have to get up to turn off the alarm, otherwise I will hit snooze. I am currently working on an ebook specifically for Second Level choreography, which is a supplement to my book FREESTYLE. I also work on blog posts, social media…basically anything that involves my computer.

Coffee and working on the latest eBook. Photo by Sandra Beaulieu.

6:00 am Light yoga and any physical therapy exercises I am working on. I have old riding injuries and a chronic hip flexor issue that takes a lot to maintain. I go to the chiropractor and a masseuse once a week and also use my Magna Wave machine, KT tape sometimes, and Arnica to help improve healing and symmetry in my body. If I ride too many horses in one day or a very wide horse it puts a lot of stress on my body so I do my best to stay flexible and strong.

7:00 am Down the stairs and into the barn…I live in a beautiful apartment above the horses and I love being so close to them. I have quick access in case of emergencies, and it makes my day to hear them whinny when it’s time for carrots. There have been many nights where I need to give medications, bring in a loose horse, or check on a pregnant mare. I help with morning chores and make sure everyone is safe, happy, and healthy.

A beautiful morning bringing in the horses at Little River Friesians in Havana, Florida.

8:00 am – 11:00 am Run back upstairs to make my morning smoothie and take my supplements. Then back downstairs to write out my plan for the day and powwow with Lilian, our barn manager. Every day is different but most of the time I plan to ride two or three horses by lunch. Once a week we plan a trail day where the horses get to venture out and have a relaxing stroll through the woods. Sometimes I am preparing for a clinic, performance, or photo shoot. 

I work on basic dressage training with all the riding horses and add liberty and trick training as well. Lately, I have added some working equitation obstacles and introduced some of the horses to the garrocha pole. I like to keep training sessions fun with a lot of variety. I always play music and have individual playlists for each horse to work on future Freestyles and to keep the energy light and playful. 

Riding Co Fan S at a dressage clinic. He is a thirteen-year-old Friesian gelding owned by Little River Friesians. Photo by Triple C Photography

11:00 am – 12:00 pm  Lunch time for me and the horses. I help the team give out hay, water, and extra supplements/medications. I usually check the social media channels for Little River Friesians while I eat and Lilian and I meet to work on TikTok videos and post to Instagram/Facebook. We love creating beautiful and funny videos of the horses to share with the world. We have mostly Friesians at the farm along with a few Warlanders (Friesian x Andalusian cross) and Andalusians. They are certainly fairytale horses with wonderful personalities that love to entertain.

Preparing Co Fan S for a funny TikTok video. Photo by Rachel Quidagno

1:00 pm – 3:00 pm Back to the horses! We have quite a few broodmares that I work with, doing long-lining, easy trail riding, and sometimes ring work. My main priority is to keep them happy and healthy so that they are in the best shape possible for carrying their foals. This includes a lot of grooming time, bathing/braiding, and some trick training for fun. Lilian and I also work together to train the foals/yearlings so that they are well-handled when they are sold. All our weanlings lead very well, stand for the farrier, get baths, and are introduced to the trailer and the round pen before they move on to new homes. 

The “Model” Friesian mares at Little River Friesians: (left to right) Truus Van Het Houkumhuis, Trudi, Trude Van De Kleine Koppel, Sybrich V. Stal Staf Karima. Photo by Kimberly Chason

3:00 pm “Dinner time” is fairly early so the horses can go outside and spend most of their time grazing and out with each other. In the summer months they stay inside under the fans until later in the evening but right now the weather is perfect to be outside from 3:00 pm in the afternoon until 7:00 am the next day. 

4:00 pm This is usually my time to work with Rovandio, my personal horse. Right now we are learning how to do Working Equitation and having fun preparing for shows/clinics. Rovandio is nineteen years old and requires a lot of maintenance so while I am grooming him he has the Magna Wave on him, his nebulizer for breathing, and I give him his homeopathic remedies, arnica, and herbal cough syrup before we ride. We usually do a short walking trail ride to warm up and work on dressage and obstacles, depending on how he feels that day.

I have known Rovandio since he was born and owned by my close friend Bethanne Ragaglia. When he was older I started training him full time and taking him to perform with my horse Douwe. He is a handy horse, easy to ride with one hand, and has a comfortable stride. I started painting from horseback with Rovandio, and we have performed at Equine Affaire and were invited to the World Equestrian Games and Equitana as well.

Painting from horseback while riding Rovandio, a Lipizzan/Andalusian/TB cross gelding. Photo by Kimberly Chason

7:00 am Usually I try to catch up on my own social media channels at this time and make sure to include my sponsors, Adams Horse Supplies, Espana Silk, and Kastel Denmark. I check to see if Little River has any comments/messages and return emails as well. 

Before I have dinner I enjoy taking the four-wheeler out to the horse’s paddocks to give them carrots and check that their fly masks/sheets/blankets are on properly and that everyone looks happy and healthy. During this nightly drive I stop by the beautiful meadow where my heart horse Douwe is buried and say goodnight to my special boy. He tragically passed away last summer due to a ruptured spleen and the past year has been a difficult time for me to grieve and figure out my life without him. 

My heart horse Douwe was a lot of fun in photo shoots. We used to perform a lot together, blending bridleless riding, liberty, and tricks. Photo by Kimberly Chason

8:00 pm Wind down from the day with a healthy salad, sometimes a glass of wine, and an episode of whatever I have been watching recently. I like to watch familiar shows I have seen before…if I watch something new and exciting I just want to stay up all night to see what happens! I love watching shows and movies that have horses and beautiful costumes like Game of Thrones, Outlander, and Bridgerton. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong time period!

With Douwe, the Friesian gelding that changed my life. Photo/art by Kimberly Chason

9:00 pm My goal is to be in bed by this time, and I usually write in my journal before I turn the lights out, reflecting on my day and appreciating all the positive things in my life. I look forward to the future but do my best to stay present, enjoying my dream job surrounded by the beautiful, special horses of Little River Friesians.


Sandra Beaulieu’s book FREESTYLE is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Enjoy this? Check out other author interviews in the “24 Hours” series:

Dr. Stacie Boswell
Cathy Woods
Dr. Jenni Grimmett
Dr. Bob Grisel
Tik Maynard
Jec Aristotle Ballou
Kendra Gale
Jean Abernethy
Yvonne Barteau
Jonathan Field
Emma Ford
Jochen Schleese
Heather Smith Thomas
Lynn Palm
Daniel Stewart
Doug Payne
Janet Foy




Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

“I hear her in my mind when I ride!” A Tribute to Jane Savoie from Lynn Palm

Jane Savoie, Lynn Palm, and Rugged Painted Lark. Photo by Rhett Savoie

One of our favorite things at TSB is when our amazing and inspiring authors connect. What better than to see the people we know, admire, learn from, and care about find common ground in their love for the horse? That’s what happened with our friend and author, Jane Savoie, who we lost to cancer in January this year, and our friend and author Lynn Palm. They appreciated and learned from each other over many years as they both wrote several books, taught thousands of people, and strove to teach riders how to be the equestrians they want to be–whether just riding at home or competing at the highest levels.

Lynn wrote this moving tribute to Jane, and we asked if we might share it with you:


We will all miss the spirit, talent, teaching ability, inspiration, honesty, and passion for horses that was Jane Savoie. 

I first met Jane on the phone, and I was so impressed with her positive energy. An international “queen” of dressage (though she never acted like it), she reached out to interview me on classical training for a series of cross-training books she was writing. [Editors Note: These would later be bound together in what is today JANE SAVOIE’S DRESSAGE 101.] Jane had learned that I did hunters, Western riding, and driving (to produce “All-Around” horses) with my Quarter Horses. She was the first in the dressage world to recognize the I was using dressage training with my horses. She sent me her first book to read: THAT WINNING FEELING!, and I read it before my next Quarter Horse Congress competition. I was amazed how I could turn every negative thought in my mind before competition into a positive. I succeeded more than I expected that year and became a Jane Savoie follower from then on! When she asked me to write the foreword for her first cross-training book, I was honored! 

As I collected all Jane’s books and always found new things to learn in them–for my horses or students or my own riding–I asked Jane to be a part of three events I created under the name Women Luv Horses. I hosted them in North Carolina, California, and Florida. I asked Jane, along with the top women trainers, competitors, and instructors in the dressage, reining, working cow horse, barrels, and English/Western All-Around disciplines to join me. Jane’s classes were always the best attended and always kept the audience mesmerized. Not only did Jane bring positive education to equine enthusiasts, she brought fun as she shared her passion of understanding the horse.

Photo by Rhett Savoie

I will always remember my lessons on tempi changes with Jane as we prepared my Rugged Painted Lark for his bridleless exhibitions at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. She could articulate her teaching so that it was easy to understand, and she could always come up with an exercise to improve a goal. I remember that straightness of the forehand gives the perfect balance I needed for the tempi changes to be more consistent. I hear her in my mind many times when I ride!

We will all miss Jane. I know that she will continue to ride with all the thousands of people who followed her, as I know she rides with me nearly every day.

Love you Jane. Thanks for all you have done for people and horses!

Lynn Palm
LynnPalm.com

Author of THE RIDER’S GUIDE TO REAL COLLECTION and YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO WESTERN DRESSAGE

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

Riders Must Have “the Will”

Photo by Arnd Bronkhorst

In her new book, HOW TWO MINDS MEET: THE MENTAL DYNAMICS OF DRESSAGE, Beth Baumert explains how to optimize the use of your “thinking mind” in order to become a better learner in the saddle and provides techniques for maximizing mental and emotional harmony with your horse. Here she tells us why we need to have “the will” to achieve every task, every movement:

Horses don’t understand negatives. They do not understand I hope she doesn’t…, I wish she wouldn’t…, Don’t do this…, I’m afraid that…. They don’t understand mental or emotional garbage—for example, I hope he doesn’t refuse the fence, because I want to get out of this alive and I’m afraid I’ll fall off like I did last week. This is a message that is negative, emotional, and convoluted. It’s usually accompanied by a dreadful mental image that the horse has no trouble reading, and we all know how that story ends.

Since the horse doesn’t understand the negative aspect of the message, he gets a message that goes like this: Refuse the fence as I have in the past. Do it eagerly. My rider may end up on the ground. Even the boldest, most willing jumper would, at least, become distracted or confused by his rider’s message.

The rider must think positively.

German trainer Conrad Schumacher often told his dressage students, “You must have the WILL.” He was usually referring to a line of tempi changes, and he often asked his rider to verbally call out “I WILL” when riding each change. The rider must know what she wants and have a very clear plan for achieving it. Horses train people to think clearly and positively.

For example, to jump a vertical fence or to ride a lengthened stride on the diagonal, the rider might go through these steps:

• Half-halt before the turn and balance through it.

• Half-halt again after the turn to straighten.

• Establish the length of stride you want and ride the line.

• Half-halt to rebalance after the lengthening or the fence.

• Reward! (Great job!)

• Rebalance and repeat….

Horses understand these positive, clear messages.

For more from HOW TWO MINDS MEET: THE MENTAL DYNAMICS OF DRESSAGE, including a free chapter download, CLICK HERE.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

Our Friend Jane Savoie

Jane with Woody and Emma in South Strafford, Vermont. Photo by Rhett Savoie.

I first met Jane Savoie when I was 19. I was home from college and looking for a horse job to counter the nights I spent waitressing. Jane needed a groom. She had Eastwood, aka “Woody,” then–a big chestnut with lots of chrome.

It was a long time ago but certain moments are still incredibly clear in my memory: Jane and I standing side by side outside Woody’s stall, watching him, curled up like a big dog, napping. Jane, all business, firmly correcting my mistakes as I learned to meet her high standards for her horse’s care and turnout. Jane, with her sweet dog, Emma, power-walking along the trail that ran behind the barn as I bathed Woody in the sunny wash stall.

By that summer of 1997, Jane had already competed as a member of the U.S. Equestrian Team and written a book, THAT WINNING FEELING!, which was published by Trafalgar Square Books in 1992. She was hard at work on a new project–what would become Cross-Train Your Horse: Books One and Two (and later JANE SAVOIE’S DRESSAGE 101)–writing and rewriting her words with the help of publisher Caroline Robbins, striving to provide a truly clear how-to description of every basic dressage movement. Her aim to empower the amateur rider would become a driving force later in her life as the educational materials she was moved to create multiplied.

More recent memories of Jane are clear, too: Laughing with her and her husband, Rhett, as she related stories from the road over dinner in Wellington. Watching her dance lesson in a slick Florida studio, sensing her absolute commitment to every step. Visiting her when she first got sick, walking with her and our Managing Director Martha Cook, and brainstorming “what’s next?”

During an early treatment for her rare form of blood cancer, Jane had to stay in isolation. Never one to be idle, she decided to finish recording the audio version of her sport psychology book IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE RIBBONS from her hospital bed. “It is so easy to lose yourself in the physically excruciating process of battling back from illness or injury,” she said in her introduction to the audiobook. “I realized, as I forced myself to walk, IV rattling beside me, the 40 laps around the nurse’s station that would mean I’d gone a mile, that it was techniques I talk about in this book—those habits formed over a lifetime—that got me out of bed and placing one foot in front of the other, determined to get strong enough to go home.”

That was in 2016. We were all incredibly lucky she was so determined. Jane’s fight and drive, the building blocks of “her” that helped her attain her riding goals, against the odds, gave her the strength to stay with us another four years, against the odds. We had a chance to share more laughs; we had a chance to watch her dance.

Photo by Rebecca Didier

Receiving the call last week, being told she was gone, was an unbelievable blow to all of us at Trafalgar. THAT WINNING FEELING! was one of the first horse books published by Caroline; it was one of the first books Martha worked on when she came to TSB after college. Jane and her passionate, innovative ideas are an integral part of the foundation for what our small company has become. But more profound is the vast impact a friendship of 30 years has–how Jane’s evolution, my evolution, and Martha’s and Caroline’s, were all interwoven. Losing a piece of that is losing a piece of ourselves.  

When I first met Jane, at 19, I had no idea she would become such a force in my life. I guess we can never know that about the people we meet. But aren’t we lucky when it happens.

–Rebecca Didier, Managing Editor

One of our favorite photos of Jane…on Jolicoeur. Photo by Terri Miller from That Winning Feeling!

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

Using Music to Increase Forward Energy in Your Horse

MusictoTrainBy-horseandriderbooks

Who hasn’t struggled to get a horse in front of the leg? None of us want to resort to kicking like a kindergartener in a Thelwell cartoon, but sometimes, when the piggy pony comes out…

Dressage trainer and exhibition performer Sandra Beaulieu suggests that music can be used to increase forward energy in the sleepiest, most sluggish of equines. In her new book FREESTYLE: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO RIDING, TRAINING, AND COMPETING TO MUSIC, she explains what to consider when faced with energy problems in the arena:

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Is your horse unmotivated? When your horse is on the low end of the energy spectrum, you can use music to help “find the forward” by changing the energy around him. In my experience, some draft and Warmblood breeds are more likely to fall into this category, but remember: It doesn’t matter what breed your horse is…he’s an individual.

MakeYourOwnFreestyle-horseandriderbooksSet the Mood

In the same way you can use calming music in the barn and while you ride, choose upbeat, lighthearted music for the low-energy horse. Pick up your pace around the barn, have some fun with your riding friends, laugh a lot, keep spirits high.

Be aware of how your horse is affected by the change. You may notice that your version of “high” energy may actually be irritating to your horse. There is a big difference between positive, light energy and frantic, fast energy. Your horse’s reaction will let you know if you are on the right track.

Are You Too Grounded?

One of the reasons a horse may not move forward under saddle is because his rider’s energy is really grounded and slow. When you ride, do you tend to work harder than your horse? Do you follow your horse’s rhythm more than you create it for yourself? If you are a more advanced rider, you may find that you are better paired with an overly forward horse that your grounded energy can help slow down. Many horses respond well to a rider who is quiet and peaceful, but there is a difference between relaxed, positive energy and stuck, depressed energy.

Some riders have the ability to excite a horse and get him to move really forward, and others can kick and kick and nothing happens. The horse is reading the energy and body language of the rider. If you lack confidence, balance, and the right energy, you will struggle to create forwardness in your horse until those things are in place.

To help improve your riding when you suspect you are “too grounded,” you can try yoga, tai chi, or dance classes to become more aware of your energy and how it affects those around you. These exercises will not only help you understand and manage your groundedness, they teach you to lighten your energy, go with the flow, feel more elastic, and discover awareness through your body.

BookstoHelpwithEnergy-horseandriderbooks

Is It Pain-Related?

I have dealt with many types of horses over the years, and in my experience, a horse that does not want to go forward is sometimes feeling pain physically and/or emotionally. If you find that increasing your energy makes your horse more upset rather than more forward, you may be dealing with a pain issue.

My Friesian gelding has taught me volumes on this topic. He came to me with a lot of emotional and physical baggage that was difficult to unravel because he is very stoic. His reaction to everything is to not go forward, whether he is experiencing pain in the hind end, ulcers, or just “stuck” in his own mind. I have tried every exercise and technique I can think of to encourage him to be forward and in front of my aids. What works often depends on his mood and how he is feeling physically. He is an odd mix of highly sensitive and dull to the aids, so being too aggressive can shut him down and being too loud also bothers him. He is very receptive to my voice commands, and I have found some success in creating voice cues to encourage “forward” and “collect.”

FreestyleTheBook-horseandriderbooks

My Friesian gelding Douwe struggles in the “forward” department. Sometimes I ride to epic soundtrack music and imagine that we are in a movie scene. This gives added energy and purpose to my riding, and helps him as well. Photo by Spotted Vision Photography.

Create an Upbeat Playlist

If you are in the early learning stages when it comes to tempo and how to stay consistent in the saddle, try the following technique. For a slow horse, create a playlist featuring music that is a beat or two faster than your horse’s stride for you to match with your own body’s movements. The slightly faster music will give your body something to “sync up” with, encouraging you to post in a more determined way, use your driving aids more effectively when you feel the tempo slow down, and feel amazing when you and your horse find the beat.

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FreestyleIn FREESTYLE the book, Sandra Beaulieu provides everything readers need to know to enjoy Freestyles of their own—whether for fun or for ribbons. Discover how to choose suitable music, explore choreography techniques, and learn basic music editing. Review required movements, then use Beaulieu’s expert suggestions for weaving them together. Plus, enjoy a section on preparing exhibition performances—complete with ideas for props and costumes.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

Olympian Isabell Werth Dishes on Rollkur

IsabellWerthDishesonRollkur-horseandriderbooks

German Olympian Isabell Werth is one of the most successful horsewomen in the world. With six Olympic gold medals and scores of championship titles to her name, there are few her equal on paper.

In Werth’s authorized biography FOUR LEGS MOVE MY SOUL, readers get the inside scoop when it comes to the dressage rider’s amazing accomplishments—and her failures, too. In this exclusive excerpt, Werth shares her personal thoughts regarding one of the biggest controversies to rock the dressage world: Rollkur.

Rollkur for me is the forced “screwing in” and “rolling up” of the horse’s neck in front of his chest. The horse is held in this too-tight position for a certain time. When this happens, the necessary stretching and lengthening of the neck is completely neglected. It doesn’t correspond to my understanding of dressage training at all. Truly gymnasticizing a horse is something completely different. The templates are out of place in every respect. Xenophon’s standard still holds true today: A horse’s nose should ideally stay in front of the vertical. Yes, but the way to this ideal has to be adjusted to each horse. For example, when I am starting a young horse whose body is not yet trained or muscled, I want to form that horse into an athlete with appropriate gymnasticizing. This means that, among other things, the horse is made more supple and elastic through frequent bending of his neck and stretching of his entire body.

IsabellWerthGigolo-horseandriderbooks

Isabell Werth and Gigolo winning gold at the 1996 Olympics. Photo by Jacques Toffi

This, however, has nothing to do with rollkur. The aim of the right kind of gymnastic training is that the horse can use his body elastically and be supple, just like a high-performance athlete, a gymnast, or a figure skater.

Total obedience, the achievement of so-called “blind obedience,” is an essential aim of rollkur. With this in mind, I have also pondered how such an exaggeration of position might relate to other exaggerations in training, such as remarkably frequent repetitions of movements. I have asked myself why a pirouette is constantly repeated, even after it has been carried out successfully several times before. Even in the time of Xenophon it was said that praise for the horse doesn’t only mean patting his neck or giving him a treat. “Calling it a day” when something goes well is another reward through which the horse learns to identify when he has done something right. That is a guide post that Dr. Schulten-Baumer firmly installed in me: If it goes well, it’s “home time.” The only explanation that I can find for the constant repetitions we so often see in dressage schooling is that they are hoped to lead to an automatization of the horse. People must feel that mistakes can be eliminated this way.

I principally respect my competitors’ achievements and don’t want to denounce anyone. My goal is to advance myself. But the great pleasure I take from my work mainly results from the fact that I work together with animals that have their own personalities, that are confident, and that I am on par with. A horse may and must live his own personality. Of course, I expect obedience, I wish to be in control, and I want to be the one who decides what happens when. But, my horses are also allowed to resist; they are allowed to tell me what they think. Live and let live. I have to lead my horse so skillfully over the years he is in my barn that he plays along voluntarily and has fun doing it…. Only a horse that has fun can develop the kind of charisma that captivates people in the show ring. The foundation of what connects us to our horses every day is affection and respect. It helps us see through all phases of doubt.

Read more of Werth’s personal thoughts on the world of international dressage, including the Totilas controversy and her long rivalry with Dutch Olympian Anky van Grunsven in FOUR LEGS MOVE MY SOUL, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE. 

CLICK HERE to find out more.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.