The FEI has failed to comply with the dressage rule book in deciding against eliminating a rider using an illegal bit in competition.
While it is a tragedy, it is about time that attention is called to blatant disregard of the rules that has been happening for far too long. The rules are in place for the protection and well-being of the horse and the FEI is duty-bound to uphold them without exception.
To learn more about the FEI rules and how the history of dressage has changed into what we see as modern competition, order your copy of Broken or Beautiful: The Struggle of Modern Dressage (written by Dominique Barbier and Liz Conrod).
The team at Barbier Farm enjoyed a conversation with the co-author of Dominique’s upcoming book, Liz Conrod, to find out more behind the motivation for researching and writing Broken or Beautiful: The Struggle of Modern Dressage.
Tell us about the title: Broken or Beautiful
Ironically we had completed the book before we chose the title. After finishing the manuscript, we wondered “What do we call it?” The entire premise of our book is that Dressage is supposed to bring out the beauty, balance, harmony, lightness and joy.
It feels that what we see now in competition is mostly broken. Disconnected, unhappy horses and riders too for that matter. We are struggling now with what the future of dressage competition will be. We are seeing a tremendous divergence in the horse show world away from what dressage is meant to be, which is to allow the horse to be at his most beautiful, which we contend is relaxed and happy to dance with us.
Will modern competitive dressage be driven by financial success for a few or the pursuit and preservation of the Art of Dressage? Can we have competition and still preserve principles meant to protect horses?
What is the main point to convey to readers, the biggest takeaway?
The FEI rules were established by very knowledgeable horsemen, and they were written to protect horses. We are calling for those rules to be honored and enforced. Competitive Dressage and the Art of Dressage have become fractured, and are more and more worlds apart.
The tense, rigid, unhappy horses we see winning so often in competition now, are in large part because we have ceased to understand and enforce the rules. There is even pressure to change the rules to accommodate competitors and judges that no longer have the knowledge of classical principles or even why they are important to horses’ well being. This trend is leading to very unhappy horses, often to the point of true abuse. This does not have to be the way competition is conducted. If we can simply return to enforcing the rules we have, then art and competition can be preserved together, as they should be.
I hope that this book will lead to critical thinking. It is a matter of education, and remembering what competition rules are and why they were put into place to begin with.
In your research where did you find that the FEI stopped keeping the horses’ welfare in mind and in the rule book?
Well to start, the FEI is a governing body, made up of individuals, and I would not presume that individuals mean to hurt horses; I do not think that the FEI ever set out to intentionally hurt horses. The FEI is responding to pressure, indeed as is the entire horse industry, mostly financial. Trainers, riders, judges are not very educated anymore. Young riders and trainers are getting their education at horse shows, not schools.
I think that a few things have changed the focus. The first of which is the interjection of massive amounts of money that the horse industry is run by and with. If you are a 23 year old rider showing at Grand Prix, you will take the judge’s opinion as gospel, you will emulate the riding and attitudes of those you see “winning” at the shows.
Much of what is “winning” right now across international and national competition is riding that is not in the horses’ best interest, it is in the interest of owners and sponsors that want to see a return on their financial investment, and quickly. Few Grand Prix riders own or have even trained their horses from the ground up. Horses are commodities and a vehicle to financial and social gain. It is no wonder that they’re now often lost in the mix.
In large part the reason is that education takes TIME, and these days, time is money. We are steadily losing trainers throughout the world that have studied with knowledgeable trainers themselves. That is a process that takes time, years often. These days competitors study what will make them successful in the show arena, not how and why we train horses to be our partners. While not all older methods are good, we have squandered the rules in order to obtain seemingly quicker results which compromise the horses’ well-being.
What surprised you in your finding if anything?
The rules contain much of what we need to preserve Dressage in the competitive arena. Happy, light, round, sound, confident horses can be successfully competed if we honor the resource that is the FEI rulebook. In reading the original rules I realized that the authors knew, perhaps even predicted the pitfalls of riders with different values, and that we needed the rules to keep an even playing field amongst both horses of different breeding but also trainers with a different emphasis
Why is writing this book so important to you personally and in your view collectively for the equestrian world?
The culture of Competitive Dressage is more and more destructive to our horses, and to educating riders, judges, trainers and owners.If we don’t stop, think, assess and practice the knowledge that has existed for over 200 years we truly run the risk of losing the knowledge. I don’t believe that anyone (or very few anyway) mean to compromise horses’ well being. Pushing, forcing, and driving a horse into heavy contact, usually overbent with his spine compromised, has become the status quo.
Dressage is meant to facilitate the communication and understanding between a horse and his rider, for the enjoyment of BOTH. We see very little of either in competition today.
Why should everyone read this book?
We do need to understand WHY what we see rewarded in competition today is so often wrong, and so often destructive to our horses.We already have this very valuable resource and yet it is being ignored, squandered. If we can understand and honor the rules, we can protect horses and help preserve the knowledge that led to the rules in the first place.
It is my sincere hope that reading this will encourage riders, trainers, judges, and the show organizers to just ask themselves, are the training methods and ideals really fair to our horses? Listen to the terminology you hear in your lessons, listen to yourself teach, listen to yourself as you ride. Then ask yourself, how does my horse FEEL when I am with him? Ask yourself if I were a horse, how would I like to be ridden? If you were trying to teach your best friend something new would you treat them as you do your horse? We need to remember our horse is our dearest friend and act accordingly.
Broken or Beautiful: The Struggle of Modern Dressage will be available to purchase in 2021.
Make your plans for the spring, and join us in beautiful Dry Creek Valley for the 20th Classical Series, hosted by Dominique and Debra Barbier.
Symposiums are designed for auditors’ learning benefit, with the addition of twice daily lectures delivered by the Mestre himself. This is a fantastic introduction to the principles of French Classical Training, with the opportunity to have questions answered by Dominique personally.
If high hotel prices have you hesitating to book your trip, get in contact with Debra and she will help you find more economical options. Send your inquiries to email@example.com.
Space is limited, do not delay! We look forward to seeing you.
As horsemen and women a saddle is one of the most important tools we have to work with. A proper fitting saddle is a great asset for both horse and rider, while an improper fit or balance not only inhibits correct riding, it can lead to injury. The saddle industry brings in millions of dollars in saddle fitting and there are now countless options for flocking, panels, and blocks for your knee and thigh. It can feel overwhelming to find the correct fit with so many options. Here we have broken down the DBarbier saddle design to illustrate the real essential criteria when looking for one of your own.
THE LOST ART OF FLOCKING
Dominique fashioned his own saddle design after the original tree used by Mestre Oliveira, a design that is 400 years old. While training mules in the French military (a story for another day), Dominique delivered horses to the Republican Guard in Paris, where he met the man who would one day become the head of Forestier saddlery. With a tree-maker (arconier in French) in the factory itself- the only saddlemaker to design his own tree and not buy mass-produced trees- the Barbier custom-crafted saddle was born.
With a bit of ingenuity and a little help from the modern age, he has been able to update the materials from wool taken from army socks to advanced padding with the same material used to pad satellites (yes, you read that right. We are waiting for our NASA endorsement) that does not shrink with age. That means no “re-flocking necessary.” Today’s saddles feature leather cut by laser for the cleanest lines and computer-designed balance to ensure accuracy for each saddle.
DBarbier Bison Deluxe model – notice where the lowest part of the seat is
WHAT IS PROPER BALANCE IN A SADDLE?
A saddle tree’s purpose is to help a rider find their position. Let us return to Dressage for the New Age for a moment; a rider’s center of gravity is below their navel, while a horse’s center of gravity is between the knees of the rider. Your saddle should, in theory, bring the two centers of gravity as close together as possible. If you cut your saddle into three equal segments, the lowest part of your seat should be in the front third while your leg hangs underneath you, thanks to your stirrup bars sitting underneath your hip.
Most models today place the balance in the second third, further towards the back, while keeping stirrup bars forward to prevent breakage, forcing riders to either sit in a “chair” seat, or to perch on their horse’s backs. With the knee and thigh blocks, riders legs are forced into “correct” position, though they have no knee mobility, which contracts riders’ bodies, and therefore their horses’ bodies on top of it.
Comfort for your horse is also vitally important. They are, after all, carrying us. Aside from being in correct position with our center of gravity as close to their own as possible, we want to think of how the saddle fits the horse. True to form, Dominique kept things very simple in his design, with the “flexible” tree, available in narrow (for the high-withered horses), medium and wide, a wide gullet for the horses’ back comfort, and the same padding used for the rider’s seat for the horse’s back. The lack of metal in the front allows for extra freedom of the shoulder. By using a single-panel design and foregoing knee blocks (removable blocks are available for the new Working Equitation design), he maintained closer contact to the horse. The end result? Unparalleled comfort for horse and rider.
DBarbier Working Equitation Saddle
Each saddle is handcrafted and made to your specifications using highly-durable, beautiful Bison leather, making each one a work of art in of itself. Functional can be fashionable, too! Our newly released Deluxe in chocolate has been a hit with crowds, and the hand-tooled seats of the working equitation model in chocolate and camel are so beautiful you *almost* don’t want to sit on top of them.
When you buy a saddle, you are investing in your horse and in yourself. It is important to make the right choice. Dominique is happy to answer questions personally about his saddles and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone, +1707.480.5598.