PATRICIA SMITH: American Hunter Seat Style Close To Extinction?
Call me old-fashioned but I don't think that disciplines should mix, just like I don't think different foods on my plate should touch -- not that one might contaminate the other, mind you, but each should be savored for what it has to offer.
If you're going to enter a hunter class, then ride the horse like a hunter.
If you're going to enter a Dressage class, then ride the horse in a Dressage frame.
Use the corresponding aids for the corresponding discipline. That is not to say that Dressage does not play a part in the training of a horse. So don't write me to tell me that technically Dressage is the basis for all training. I'm talking about extremes.
The classic style of riding in a two-point position over fences seems to be a thing of the past. And so does riding with less hand and more leg. Does the name George Morris ring a bell? Read his book, "Hunter Seat Equitation" if you don't know who he is and the style of riding he represents.
It's our American style of riding (by way of Italy) and it may be close to extinction. At the turn of the 20th century, Captain Federico Caprilli, an Italian cavalry instructor revolutionized the established system of jumping by innovating the forward seat, a position and style of riding in which the rider's weight is centered forward in the saddle, over the horse's withers.
I think it's great that we all try different disciplines but give the discipline you are riding the respect it deserves by knowing the rules (i.e. no martingales in an under saddle class). Whatever happened to riding a hunter class under saddle with a looped rein?
At a recent show, I saw only one person riding with a looped rein in a flat class. The point is to see a horse go nicely without a straight-jacket hold on his or her mouth. At least make an attempt to ride in the style of the discipline.
Hey, I once had my Dressage teacher look at some photographs of me riding a Dressage test. Her comment was, "You look like a hunter rider from the waist down." She was referring to my leg position and it wasn't meant as a compliment.
I said, "Thank you. It took me 12 years of hunter lessons to achieve that leg." The point being -- you don't have to look the part, but you should make an attempt to ride the part.
I wish I could see a horse go with its nose out happily keeping a hunter pace around the ring. It would be so nice to go back to that pleasant picture.
These days it's either horses zooming around the course full-tilt or riders sitting on the horse's back with the horse in a vice grip and the rider getting left in the rumble seat over fences.
I wish I had a tape of something I heard once a long time ago at the Lake Placid Horse Show. A well-known rider/trainer was watching her student ride an over-fences hunter class. Before every fence, I heard her say (in a very low sing-song voice) "Release him, release your horse over the fence."
The horses are singing the old Sixties lyric, "Release me. Please release me. Let me go"
Turn up the volume so you can hear them loud and clear.
Patricia Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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