Dominance should not be the goal.

Random thought:  We wish the powers that be would make one small change to the dressage score sheets.

In regards to the third collective mark; instead of calling it submission, could it not be called co-operation instead?

We know it’s largely semantics, but it would hopefully lead to a shift in mindset.  We’ve just seen so many riders lately (like this one!) who seem to be focusing so much on making the horse “submit”, they completely lose sight of what the word actually means in relation to the discipline.

Submission in dressage is characterized by suppleness, looseness/fluidity of gaits (or “lightness and ease of the movements”, if you prefer), the horse is responsive to rider aids and moves forward into a proper contact (not leaning on the reins, not behind or above the bit).  It should mean a horse that is relaxed and highly responsive; it has nothing to do with how well you can force you horse into highly unnatural positions.  To ask for submission you DO NOT need to crank the horse’s nose in to his chest!  Notice we used the word “ask” for submission – this is accomplished through soft, steady contact with the horse’s mouth, correct leg aids encouraging (not nagging) the horse forward into the contact and an independent seat.  Too often we see riders using obvious shortcuts to force the horse into a parody of what submission should be.

While an open mouth is typically a sign of resistance, cranking the horse’s jaw closed does not fix the problem; it simply masks it.  Similarily, a horse going around with his nose in the air is usually moving heavily on the forehand and is hollow through the back.  Forcing his nose in does nothing to fix the actual quality of movement, but it’s how many riders choose to deal with the issue.  We found an excellent article on how to develop “submission” here.  It emphasizes many times the importance of keeping the horse relaxed through the process, and to reward progress with release.  The end result should be a horse who is happy to respond to every signal his rider gives him.  Not a horse who simply has no other choice.


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Posted on November 23, 2011, in Bad Riders, Misc Horsies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. The problem really is that ‘submission’ has come to mean ‘beat the crap out of it’ when what it is supposed to mean is ‘the rider leads the dance and the horse follows’.

    Also. I do not like riding a horse who’s previous rider SET ITS FREAKING HEAD. A horse should not be dipping its nose and arching its neck when there is no contact. The barn has one who sets himself into a poor approximation of a dressage frame the second you get on and nothing, so far, has convinced him that he’s allowed to warm himself up properly and stretch. He’ll stretch at the end of the ride, but not at the beginning – clearly whoever had him before was of the ‘get on and grab mouth in death grip until horse submits’ school.

    Too many people ride the wrong end of the horse.

  2. As a kid, I never learned about submission. I rode hunters and eventers, and submission does not save your butt when you take a bad spot. It wasn’t until my horse had to retire from jumping and we began a second career as a dressage horse. Submission was never a bright shining star on our score sheets- our partnership was a true parternership, i.e, we discussed everything, and he had opinions. At one show, his opinion about the canter circle to the right was, “check out me striking while cantering!” I think my point is, submission is a word with a bad connotation, and I agree that it should be changed. I don’t think I really want to ride a submissive horse, just one that cooperates…and I certainly want one that will save my butt.

  3. I wish they changed the word submission to “stop being a fucktard and learn to ride properly!”

    I was always taught that the horse should be responsive to the bit, not put in any sort of frame. You ask for some bend on the poll, to help the horse accept the bit. As soon as the horse gives in, you release. If i can get the horse to respond to my aids, that’s great. More often than not, the horses are trying to evade the bit. The horses I ride are not mine, they are school horses, they go through many different riders, they pick up some bad habits, one of them is trying to evade “submitting” to the bit. Well, I’d rather keep asking for hem to co-operate than to keep a horse’s neck cranked for a long period of time. Still working on suppleness and impulsion but I know that forcing a horse into a frame is not the way to create anything, except maybe a pissy and unbalanced horse.

    I’d rather work my ass off to one day become a rider who is able to ask for true suppleness and to get a horse to move forward into he contact, then to take shortcuts to force a horse into submission.

    Regarding that picture: how fucking tight does a noseband have to be that you would need a pad that huge to hide it?! I guess they don’t call it a crank noseband for nothing…

  4. Heh. Try riding one who has just fully grasped forward, is close on rhythm, and is just now picking up suppleness ;). And my trainer keeps trying to give him to me. (For real, if I had the money to keep him, I could sign the papers tomorrow if I wanted to ;)).

    To be honest, it’s SO refreshing to ride a horse with no long-term bad habits.

    • There one old schoolmaster I ride at times, who has got it all: suppleness, balance, impulsion. He also has a mind of his own when i comes to who should be in charge, meaning sometimes he wants to grab the bit and the be one the leading instead haha. He will get behind the bit to escape he rider’s control and ride on full power. But boy, is he an amazing ride when you manage to sit his huge trot and make sure he understands you’re the on in charge! 😀

  5. I have to say though, dominance isn’t really what we’re going for. It’s control. I watched a clinic by Buck Branamen (before that documentary hit) and that’s actually what he started it with. What do we want? Control. And it’s become a taboo word… We don’t need it to mean supreme dominance with abusive tendencies, or being some sort of vicious dictator to the horse, but we are still relying on control. That when we say ‘do this’ the horse will.

    Now like it was said above, some sports desire the horse to have more say to get them out of trouble. I actually event and damned if you don’t want a horse that can think for himself in a tight spot. And we all know good school horses do half the work for their charges anyhow. But the idea is that when the aid is placed correctly the horse says ‘yes, I can do that’ not ‘yes master, please don’t beat me master, I’ll do it!’.

    So I don’t really see ‘submission’ as bad of a word as you guys seem to. I agree with the above reference to dancing. The horse has the choice to follow or not, and the reward for submission is the reward for being a good rider that he does follow. Now, yes, modern quick fixes make that become ‘or you’re so forceful he can’t help but do so to avoid pain’ but that’s not what submission meant when it was written.

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