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Author’s note: The cover photo is not of a dressage
master; instead it depicts a willing student who aspires to
learn from one of these distinguished trainers. The masters
in this book helped other riders to achieve success.
Dressage Masters takes the reader into four of the greatest training stables in the world. The master instructors express their philosophies and practices with regard to training horses and riders, preparing for and taking part in competitions, and the state of dressage in the United States and elsewhere in the world. They also share fascinating and enlightening stories about their own education and the triumphs and hurdles encountered along their paths to success. The trainers are:
– Klaus Balkenhol: Olympic individual bronze and twice team gold medal winner, who coached the German Olympic Gold Medal team and the USA Olympic Bronze Medal team;
– Ernst Hoyos: trained Ulla Salzgeber, winner of Olympic individual silver and bronze and two team gold medals, and Lisa Wilcox, member of the United States Equestrian Team bronze medal squad;
– Dr. Uwe Schulten-Baumer: trained Nicole Uphoff and Isabel Werth, each the winner of four Olympic gold medals. Isabel Werth also won two individual silver medals. These two riders are tied for the Olympic equestrian record of four gold medals. He also trained his son, Dr. Schulten-Baumer, Jr, winner of the Alternate Olympics individual silver and team gold, as well as an individual silver and team gold at the World Championships;
– George Theodorescu: trainer of many top international teams and riders, including his daughter Monica, three-time Olympic team gold medalist and twice World Cup champion. Each interview includes insightful descriptions and sequence photographs of exercises and other teaching and competition techniques. Already eagerly anticipated by the international dressage community, DRESSAGE MASTERS is destined to become both an instant and a perennial classic in the literature of classical horsemanship.
Dressage Masters, a new book by David Collins, copyright 2006
"...and he whispered to the horse, trust no man in whose eyes you do not see yourself reflected as an equal."
This book is dedicated to an animal to which we owe nothing less than our entire civilization:
Our rapid journey down the path to technological prowess is owed to speedy hoof prints which saved many trudging footprints. Through the horse’s spirit, honesty and strength our ancestors rode high on a sturdy back. The wings of the horse enabled mankind to fly well above a quagmire of lethal human frailty. In homage to this archetypal animal, may our dedication to understanding the art of dressage brighten the future of each young horse.
When envisioning the modern, stereotypical writer one sees a person in a self-inflicted state of solitary confinement; he is hunched over a keyboard, at odd hours, pecking letters onto a screen with nimble fingers. There is more than a grain of truth in this statement (except, in my case, the part about the nimble fingers). Writing is a solo task, but all writers owe thanks to many people who made their endeavor possible.
Accordingly, I would first like to thank my partner, Anni de Saint Phalle, for her dedicated help, encouragement and support. Judith Balkenhol planned and scheduled most of the interviews which was a most difficult task. She also lent a hand with the editing of Klaus Balkenhol’s chapter. Grace Lee assisted with the majority of the travel. She made this book possible. Daniela Domnick helped edit and select photos for the Ernst Hoyos chapter. Next, I owe much to author, Barbara Lang Stern, who encouraged and supported my efforts in this new undertaking. She and Liz Spiwack helped in forming the initial concept behind this book. Author, Scott Tilldman and my agent Susan Barry made getting a contract possible, and the staff at the Authors Guild was most helpful during negotiations. Magazine “Dressage Today” editor, Patricia Lasko, was very encouraging during my initial forays into writing articles which led to writing this book. I would also like to thank many people including my friends, students and business associates who have been understanding and accommodating during my absences. Last, but not least, I would like to thank my editor, Steven Price, whose suggestions helped to shape this book.
Of course, I also owe thanks to busy dressage masters who made time for interviews and discussions. Their names and stories follow.
The original objective of this book was to share a small amount of critical knowledge from 12 of the greatest dressage masters of our time. The good news is that the plan succumbed early to the sheer volume of useful material. The breadth and depth of interesting and valuable knowledge made further omissions by the first interviewees too painful---there was just too much good stuff. Additional inspiration came from the fact that each of these individuals stated his knowledge and understanding is constantly increasing---each remained committed to learning and evolving under the guidance of the best riding teacher of all, the horse. Two of these masters are still passionate and productive in dressage at the age of eighty; they are a true source of inspiration.
In the following pages (including 172 photographs), these masters shared a few of their key points of wisdom including a valuable glimpse into their philosophy and paradigms that evolved as they achieved their considerable success. These four trainers are responsible for significant contributions in the training and teaching of horses and riders which together won an incredible 90% of the Olympic dressage gold medals in the last four Olympic Games. During this period, the German dressage squads won 18 out of the 20 individual and team gold medals awarded. This is an unprecedented achievement in the history of equestrian sports---a 90% win record in a sport/art in which very few countries have even won one of these coveted prizes. These few masters have taught students who won more gold medals than entire nations---Sweden ranks behind Germany in the gold medal count with a total of seven, followed by USSR with four. Additional gold medal winning countries are France, Switzerland, The Netherlands and Austria (German jumper riders are also well known for a system of training that is based on dressage. This is a major contributing factor to their success. German jumping squads hold the record for most Olympic show jumping gold medals).
The most important aspect of the great master’s success, for the purposes of this dressage book, lies in their uncanny ability to produce successful horse and rider pairs---to communicate their knowledge to others. Great trainers, great instructors and great riders are three separate but related categories. As is often witnessed, success in one does not guarantee success in another. These masters are the people who stand behind the scenes at world-class competitions. They help others to achieve success.
Curious is the fact that these Great Masters, two native Germans, one Romanian and one Austrian, live within a small circle of the world; it has a radius of less than a hundred miles. As a successful restaurateur once said, “I always build my restaurants right next to successful restaurants. Together we create a dining district, a place for people to come. The worst scenario is to be in the middle of nowhere, alone”. This small area of the world is rich in equestrian tradition and knowledge. It possesses an unusual mixture of industrial and agricultural areas in close proximity which provide land and money for the breeding of quality horses. Perhaps most important, the culture respects and idolizes the horse.
Another curiosity is the gender of the dressage masters. They are all male. This seems odd in a sport that is increasingly dominated by females. However, this reflects a trend that started in the 1980s. Prior to this the top ranks of the dressage world were predominately men, which most likely was a result of the military tradition behind dressage. As the current cadre of riders matures, most of the great masters in the near future will be female, as can be observed with Kyra Kirkland.
Of course, a critic could search for and probably find faults with some of the riders pictured in this book. After all, most Grand Prix classes can be won with a 75%. In school this would only earn an average grade, so the difficult sport of dressage can always be performed better. However, judging by the success of these masters, they must be doing a lot of things right. Therefore, any mistakes of these students or horses must be judged in context to the level of excellence of the masters, the Yin and the Yang of their distinction. Therefore, analyzing faults would not be a good teaching tool, since these mistakes haven’t interfered with success. You can watch any rider if you want to see mistakes. If you ever have the pleasure of watching any of the people in these pictures ride, focus on what they do right. A person who looks solely for mistakes searches for a guiding image in a house of mirrors, a form of solidity in a myriad of refractions and reflections. A person who searches for positive aspects that contributed to a master’s success often finds a beacon to light the darkness.
There are many others who could have been included in this book, and their omission is not intended as disrespect
Dressage Masters by David Collins
Copyright © 2006 All rights reserved.