Dressage Principles Illuminated Hardcover – 1 Nov 2002
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Charles de Kunffy's belief that riding must have a therapeutic, life-and-health promoting value for the horse as well as the rider is his inspiration. With great lucidity, he explains the rationale for training the horse and the methodology for doing it correctly. Great emphasis is placed on the importance of suppleness and collection, which leads to athletic development. He categorically defends the classical tradition of horsemanship, which is grounded in pragmatic scientific facts of equestrian scholarship, and he supports the Baroque ideology that nature can be elevated to art through intelligent application. The author is much sought after as a lecturer and a riding teacher because of his cogent and passionate way of imparting information about a subject he knows so well: the education of riders and the training of horses. He represents that rare combination of scholastic depth, practice-born expertise, and impeccable communication abilities, all of which allow for an effortless transfer of his knowledge.
About the Author
Charles de Kunffy has been riding since childhood and had a privileged education in the theory and practice of classical horsemanship. He has competed successfully in three-day eventing, jumping and dressage. He has judged in America, Europe, Africa and Australia and has taught college courses and conducted seminars and courses for dressage judges and riding instructors on all these continents. This volume is his sixth published book.
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In this beautiful book de Kunffy sets out his philosophy: ‘Riding is a quest, not a conquest.’ The process is more significant than the result, important though the latter is; if the process is correct, so will the result be correct.
De Kunffy gives us a brief overview of the classical tradition, explaining what it is and who its present-day custodians are; he also ventures bravely into the controversy of ‘classical’ versus ‘competitive’ riding: ‘There is only one correct way of riding. That is, riding for the good of the horse and not for the expectations of judges.’ De Kunffy handles this thorny subject, the object of much passionate debate in recent decades, with great tact, while leaving the reader in no doubt where his own thoughts lie: ‘I believe that the rider who brings out the best gymnastic development of a meager horse is winning his own Olympic Gold medal based on exactly the same criteria as the actual winner of an Olympic Gold.’
De Kunffy sets out the most basic principles of training, explaining why they are essential. He describes what he refers to as ‘escape mechanisms’, i.e. the horse’s natural evasions (these are not ‘naughtiness’ but a natural desire for an easy life) and their remedies: Escape mechanism – Remedy – Task – Goal. He discusses the rehabilitative aspect of training, laying great emphasis on some principles that ought to be remembered far more often than they are in our equestrian culture: the contact is made by the horse and not the rider; it is the horse that will contact the bit; and – significantly, given what is so often taught these days – the rider may hold only the weight of the reins and the bit hanging on its end. De Kunffy encourages riders to think of contact as ‘a dialogue, in reciprocal and reciprocated signals.’ The author defines the term ‘on the bit’ in terms which should enable any rider to understand exactly what is – or should be – involved. He gives lucid explanations of what is involved in longitudinal flexion, engagement, balance and collection; defines impulsion, and states how and why bending and straightening of the horse’s torso is so vital to correct training.
In accordance with his philosophy, de Kunffy defines what it is to be a rider, reminding us that there is so much more to it than simply riding a horse. The rider has responsibilities over and above those of correct riding and training: ‘the horse should never become a mere vehicle for sport or recreation.’ The rider’s actual seat is given a great deal of attention, and I was pleased to see that de Kunffy is uncompromising in stating that the knee must be turned in – too often these days riders are advised to open the knee in a manner that not only destabilises the seat but makes effective use of the lower leg impossible. The photographs illustrating this chapter are very clear and explicit. Likewise, the role of the hands is clearly defined, with emphasis on the connection of the rider’s hand to their seat: ‘The seat is always defined to the horse by the position of the rider’s elbows’ – a concept defined, again, with great clarity.
The photographs illustrating the book are generally excellent and some of them – especially those showing First Chief Rider of the Spanish Riding School, Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg, and his daughter Caroline – quite beautiful.
This is not so much a ‘how to’ book on dressage principles, although much of it is immensely practical. It is rather a ‘why to’, because it describes not only what the rider/trainer should be doing, but why they should be doing it. Some people might find de Kunffy’s style a little too high-flown and wordy in places, but for me this is simply an expression of the man’s passionate love of the art of riding. The principles of training have seldom been defined and set out so eloquently; this book deserves a place in every equestrian’s library.
Famous in dressage and classical circles as he may be, his writing approach seems to be to sneer at the vast majority of those who are trying their best to learn and improve their riding. The strong message that comes over would appear to be that without a traditional and scholarly training at a renowned equestrian institution, truly classical and sympathetic riding can neither be understood or attained by the average rider. It strikes me that this book might appeal more to those who are competent and rather elitist regarding classical riding, but it works to crush the confidence of any aspiring rider.
It is disappointing really, since there is much to be gained from the information within the book. If you can tolerate the author's condescending tone and exhaggerated use of language, try to seperate the wood from the trees and you will find some useful information in there!