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.