Linda Tellington-Jones in 1995 riding Gershwin,
at the time one of British Olympian Carl Hester’s mounts, bridleless.
There is a common analogy that compares a horse wearing a tight noseband or girth, or a poorly fitting saddle, to a person wearing a pair of shoes that are too small—perhaps trying to walk all day or dance all night in them.
“But this analogy has been around a long time,” says Linda Tellington-Jones in her thoughtful and provocative book Dressage with Mind, Body and Soul, “and has inspired little change that I can see.”
(Perhaps because many of us sacrifice comfort for fashion—at least when it comes to footwear!)
So with the particularly prevalent issue of too-tight nosebands and ill-fitting tack of any sort in mind (and this applies to all equestrian disciplines), take a moment to think about your own athletic body and how you ensure its ability to perform as you need it.
How you dress for a training session, riding lesson, or show?
Do you show up to ride your best in the brand new pair of riding boots you just purchased and have worn only once before?
Not likely, as you know the top edge of the stiff new boots might bite into the back of your legs behind your knees when your feet are in the stirrups. This will be annoying and potentially painful after warming up, proving a distraction during your test and maybe causing you to hold your legs tensely in a way that eases your discomfort, sacrificing your position and ability to aid.
Do you wear the breeches from three years ago that perhaps are too tight in the waist, digging into the flesh there, possibly leaving a mark on the skin when you unbutton them?
Again, the discomfort caused would certainly prove problematic, inhibiting your ability to focus and to aid your horse correctly.
Do you wear the too-small sports bra that makes it difficult for you to breathe? Do you wear the helmet that is too tight and causes a headache?
“I feel confident saying that given the above, all of you would choose clothing and equipment for yourself that is the most comfortable and least distracting during your time in the saddle,” says Linda.
Linda presenting at the 2011 Xenophon Society Seminar at Klaus Balkenhol’s stable in Rosendahl, Germany.
In fact, millions of dollars are spent each year by manufacturers to develop such apparel—boots and breeches and undergarments that promise comfort and freedom of movement as you ask your body to perform its athletic best, both in obvious and subtle manners.
It is then most egregious that we expect differently of our horses. We wrap them tightly, constrict their tender flesh, bind their middle…then warm them up and tighten it all some more, sometimes with the help of mechanical cranks.
After all this, we ask them to extend and collect smoothly, bound lightly over the ground, focus on our most subtle of aids, and perform difficult collected movements for extended periods of time.
This is the equivalent of dressing you in stiff new boots, breeches that are too tight, a too-small sports bra, and a helmet that doesn’t fit, and then asking you to sit the trot for 45 minutes (without sacrificing proper position) while reciting the alphabet backward. To add to the stress of the scenario, someone will poke you in the ribs with a piece of metal every time you start to slouch or lose track of which letter you last stated aloud.
Sounds a little like a refined form of torture, doesn’t it?
“I have said it many times, in many places before, and I will say it again here,” emphasizes Linda, “The trend that insists that horses must be trained and competed in tight nosebands and saddles ‘clamped’ in place with extremely tightened girths is unnecessary and cruel. [In Dressage with Mind, Body and Soul] I demonstrate that these practices go against the recommendation of veterinary science and your own common sense as an athlete. It is your responsibility as a rider to develop your horse from the ground, and develop your seat through proper training, in order to control your horse from the saddle. When properly done…there is absolutely no need for constrictive devices in an attempt to achieve submission.”
Dressage with Mind, Body and Soul has been called “wonderful” and “a very, very good read” by reviewers. It is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.