Tradition and classicism will always be front and center in the verbiage of dressage trainers but what does it all really mean. Sport versus art, art versus sport. The same difference?
The year of 2020 has heralded changes that almost no-one saw coming to the world of dressage. Cancellation of iconic events such as Hickstead, UK, currently being re-birthed; Olympics in Tokyo re-scheduled for 2021; the Paris 2014 announced location at the grand palace at Versailles; the USEF's decision to negate recognition of one of the largest U.S. equestrian facilities recently constructed in Ocala by denying recognized competition dates to the venue. The list is endless.
Clinicians, coaches and competitors all found themselves in transition. Previously constantly on the move literally, whether it was riding or walking circles in an arena giving or receiving instruction, to flying the not so open skies, professionals found their income severely depleted with the inability to reach their clients and further their competitive goals and had to pivot their tall boots on their heels.
All of a sudden the non-savvy I.T. dressage trainer floundered in a sea of virtual training options that took away the all important one on one in person interaction with their students and were forced to view the horses' progress through a lens.
Trainers that diligently masked up when teaching were quickly exhausted when a 10 hour day of instruction became longer than ever before with soggy masks and hoarse voices.
The dynamics of dressage training have altered and frankly were changing without the Covid-19 pandemic accelerating the process.
DVDs had already slipped into oblivion to be replaced by tablets and online courses that are handheld and and shareable.
No necessity for a colleague to video your ride, the machinations of technology now do it for you. Not with any grace of course, or compassion. There will be no gliding across the frame by the camera operator to ensure the lens does not catch the errant horse head toss or bit grinding moments of angst from the equine in shot, or a miss of the slip of a stirrup iron from the foot or a harsh half-halt on the rein. Technology does not read what is coming. Just like an inexperienced or untalented trainer, it will read just what is happening in real time, not preempt the 'poor moment' with knowledge of what the next few steps will illustrate to the viewer. But these new electronics dokeep it real.
The auditors at clinics are now film directors themselves, sharing trainers tricks and tips with the world in real time. The commentary and critique from the audience of such material rife with comments, all anxious to impart their 'two penny worth' to those who follow along.
The dressage industry within each country became saturated with top level competitors suddenly available to train anyone via virtual means that would listen, as their show tours were limited geographically and the availability of valuable point-gaining events diminished. For those trainers who were not tech-savvy, the rush to garner some IT help and advice was palpable.
Competitions without spectators were perfect for horses new to the show world, as the environment offered less tension and excitement. But for those more experienced equine performers the tangible energy missing from the stands and in-gates sometimes provoked a lackluster showing.
Sponsors were left bereft of branding opportunities as competition hosts were forced to eliminate event access for non-essential personnel.
2020 has provided a focus as never before, on how much of the dressage world has become wrapped up in competition.
The trainer who does not show, but instead directs their acumen solely to the development of the horse for the 'art of dressage' sake, would barely have noticed the blip in the competition schedule, had it not been for the influx of a band of virtual trainers that appeared as if from nowhere.
High profile names quickly sated the appetite of online dressage aficionados, while the earnest activities of the lesser known but equally ardent masters went along as they always have. Quietly, sincerely and happily - working one horse/student at a time with dedication to task.
|International Grand Prix competitor/coach/clinician Paul Alvin-Smith at work|
When the competition markets open up properly will the dynamics of the dressage world have changed forever?
Yes. I believe they will. The dressage market will continue to evolve, and the opportunities now discovered will not be given up easily. Armchair dressage training without the necessity for nights spent alone in hotel rooms, dining disasters, travel expenses and missed flights will continue to have a following. But the weary clinicians that toil for 8-10 hours per day giving in-person instruction to whoever pops up in front of them will always be part of the program. Students will continue to migrate to broadband access of multiple trainers and skip training methods in their quest to reach the biggest and best name available to them in the virtual world.
Loyalty of students will be questioned, as they question their trainers methods more rigorously based on the huge base of information that blasts through the digital platforms.
There are things that will never change.
The fact that you cannot buy a good seat when it comes to riding abilities and even if you buy a correctly trained horse it will only be as good as the rider that regularly works with it, and that you must have that seat firmly in the saddle when it comes to horse training. You simply cannot learn feel (yet!) from your couch.
Thankfully, horses cannot read a screen and will not be joining the seemingly insatiable appetite for electronic instruction.