Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dr. Heuschmann and the Icelandic Horse

Dr. Gerd Heuschmann wrote Tug of War: Classical Versus "Modern" Dressage.  As both a dressage rider and equine veterinarian, Dr. Heuschmann examines what is classical riding principles.  He presents an overview of equine anatomy and discusses how proper dressage training can enhance the long term working career of a horse and how improper, over-flexion can cause unnecessary pain and stress. 

As the home page of FEIF (International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations) states, "One of the missions of FEIF is to focus on horse welfare" and hyperflexion is not acceptable in training, presenting, or showing the Icelandic horse.  In fact, FEIF has declared 2012 as the "Year of Good and Harmonious Riding"  (which sounds more like the name given to year by a Chinese emperor).   As part of FEIF's mission of consulting equine experts in horse welfare, Dr. Heuschmann, a world recognized expert on equine biomechanics, was invited to work with FEIF to educate members about equine biomechanics and also to review current FEIF performance judging rules.  FEIF videotaped the presentation and put it on the Internet.  Below are some highlights.

An audience member, who I think was a judge, asked something like "Would riding a
competition tolt with a free, and loose back result in a certain amount of loss of front leg lift?" The answer was yes. And you could see and hear the judges in the background buzzing as they started to discuss the implications for FEIF competition rules. I am only superficially familiar with FEIF competition rules but I have been impressed by the changes over the years--banning of certain bits, tracking of oral wounds and associated warnings and disqualifications, etc., that FEIF has made to promote the welfare of the horse.

2. Competition ridden tolt is a "real" and natural gait. Dr. Heuschmann flat out made this statement. It is very positive to have someone of Dr. Heuschmann's stature,who is outside of the traditional Icelandic world, make such a statement.

3. A well bred Icelandic horse, if ridden correctly and with a saddle that fits, can have fluid, expressive, gaits in the classical dressage sense. Several times, Dr. Heuschmann talked about specific Icelandic horses whose gaits he had been impressed by. He talked about one Icelandic whose walk the average warm blood rider would have killed for. So nobody is saying the Icelandics are going to replace warmbloods in the dressage world--just that Icelandics can
express impulsion, suppleness, rhythm, and the other aspects of the classical
training scale.

4. Positive tension (but never negative tension) in an Icelandic competition environment can enhance the performance of the horse. Dr. Heuschmann compared his son who goes to discos and dances freely but disjointedly with a ballroom dancer who is elegant and athletic due to the positive tension, conditioning, and practice required by the discipline. So an Icelandic competition horse with the proper training and ability can move with brio and flash. (See statement 2.)

So I hope many of you can find the time to view this series of presentations.  By the way, Blessi bought me this book.  He and Dannelle won two blue ribbons at a local dressage event.  My share of the loot was a $25 gift certificate at a local tack store--so I bought this book.

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