Chatting with a friend recently about training methods, I was asked a curious question - whatever happens to all the knowledge of the old classic dressage "Masters" as they are collectively known? Why are we not training in quite the same way as they did? It is an interesting question - especially when you consider the huge Rollkur drama of recent years, and the ongoing confusion between judging methods and riders all over the world.
The Masters of old stuck to one 'system'. One that worked and that was tried and tested over and over again. So where does this knowledge go over the years? Does it just happen slowly over time - that people just don't want to take the time any more - do they rather prefer to do their own thing, and take shortcuts?
Founded in the military in most countries, what began as supreme methods to increase obedience and stamina, dressage morphed into a glorious art form, available more or less exclusively to those with enough money to enjoy it. Dressage back then was really honored as an art form. With the ever-increasing availability of good horses and access to shows and trainers now, much less emphasis is put on actually getting the basics correct and more put on which show to aim for next.
These days society is sub-consciously and consciously supporting a sense of relaxed discipline - everything is geared up so we don't have to put as much effort into things in order to achieve success. Companies spend millions of dollars to come up with new ways of providing us with fantastic new quicker, simpler ways of getting things done in a hurry. No longer do we go get our camera, put film in, take the photo, get it developed and hang the final picture on the wall - now we just point our I-phones, click and post. But can we really do that with our horses?
In reality, one can still achieve huge success with the right horse and the right help, even while employing shortcuts and avoiding all the little steps the Masters would have surely not left out. But if this is working, and everyone is happy, what's the harm? If the horse is kept well, and the rider is feeling good, is it really at all a bad thing? No. Not in the overall scheme of things. But whenever a shortcut is taken by a rider, some knowledge of the old ways is dispensed with. And over time, this valuable knowledge is eroded until important things eventually will be completely forgotten, and that will be a true disaster for us all!
There are many, many books and videos of some of the old dressage greats doing their invaluable work - pick one up, read it - study it - and try to understand the why behind the methods - it is actually a quicker way to success in the long run, and anyway, wasn't there something really satisfying and exciting about going to pick up your packet of photos from the chemist??