Sunday, June 15, 2008

Lives in the Balance

Regarding the article posted below: I have had a gratifying number of responses to "Lives in the Balance." I am trying to answer them all, but if you have not heard from me yet, give me a few days, as I work through them. Thank you all.

I have posted an article about safety in our sport at It is entitled "Eventing Lives in the Balance," which is taken from a Jackson Browne song of the same name. You can find it on:
and also to the left in my recent articles section.

I have been thinking about this for quite some time, and this article is the result of my thinking so far. Due to space/time considerations, I left out far more material than I included in that article. Another title I thought about for the article might have been "Horses like to jump, too."
One of the many questions I am attempting to raise with this article is to bring out the perennial question of just how much the rider should guide/interfere in the approach to fence. This argument has been going on for almost a century now, almost as soon as Federico Caprilli's revolutionary new " forward seat" was adopted.

Wilhelm Museler was one of the most widely respected practioners of the art during the middle 20th century . One might suppose that a German dressage master would be in favor of controlling the stride to the fence.Think again. Here is what he has to say about it: "With increased experience, routine and practice, a horse will automatically correct his approach."(RIDING LOGIC, 1949 edition, pg. 163) Not the sort of statement one would expect from a German dressage rider, but there it is. I must say that Museler's experience and mine are one and the same.

When I first moved to the USET in the middle 60's, I had a difficult time adjusting to the USET 3DE training methods in use at the time. I had been brought up in the sort of system that Museler recommended, and I was unable to ride in the way that our coach, Maj. Stephan von Visy, wanted. My very first cross-country school ever with Kilkenny was not going AT ALL well using this new technique. Gen. John T. Cole was there watching that day. Gen. Cole had been the reserve on the 1932 Olympic show jumping team, when my father rode in Los Angeles, and our families had remained friends since then. Gen. Cole called me aside and delivered a pretty good ass-chewing, as only General officers in the Old Army could. I won't bore you with the details, which were many and various, but the gist of it was "Boy, leave the thinking to him, his head is bigger than yours!" That worked like a charm for me, and I made a career of it.Another Old Army family friend was Gen. Frank Henry. Gen. Henry remains the only US rider to ever win Olympic medals in two different disciplines at the same Olympics. He won the GP Dressage silver team medal, team gold in Eventing, and individual silver in Eventing in the 1948 Olympics in London,England. My point is, the man knew how to ride.I asked him about "finding a distance" one afternoon, and he replied "Oh, you mean hand riding. Col. Chamberlin would never let us hand ride." He went on to tell me a story about how the Old Army resolved the argument. Sometime in the late 1920's, a group of Cavalry officers were gathered in front of the fireplace at the Officer's Club at Ft. Riley, Kansas. Ft. Riley was the U. S. Army Cavalry School, where all the troopers and officers were brought to receive instruction. All the Advanced Officer's classes were taught there, and it was the Olympic Equestrian training center. (That was the reason my father and mother bought Rimrock Farm, which was just outside the military reservation, to be close to their friends after my father retired.) Apparently there was a fair amount of whiskey being passed around, and it did not take long for the same old argument about jumping to break out. The Colonel in charge suddenly pounded his fist on the table, and started issuing orders. The US Army would take 100 4-yo remounts who were just coming into service, and put them in a special six month program. Fifty recruits that had just passed their Basic Equitation course would be assigned one horse each. In addition, ten experienced First Lieutenants and Captains would be assigned to the program, and given five remounts apiece to ride. The program would culminate in a jumping test. The riders drew the horses out of a bowl, putting back any horse that they had ridden. The Col and two Majors were the judges while each horse went around a course at the old Hippodrome, just outside Ft. Riley proper. (The next time you see a photo of a U. S.Cavalry officer and there is a limestone formation running horizontally in the background, that was taken at the Hippodrome. The formation is called "the rimrock" hence my family farm's name.) I asked him which group of horses scored better, the ones that had been ridden by skillful riders, or the ones that had been forced to survive with out help. "Well" said Gen Henry, "it wasn't even close." The best and safest horses were the ones that had been allowed to figure it out for themselves.That is enough for one night...I will return to this topic soon, as this was of course not the final word. Related distances had yet to rear their head, and I will discuss that in later posts.

Kilkenny - Mexico Olympics

Kilkenny - Mexico Olympics
Now THAT'S Roads and Tracks