So what IS Classical Equitation? I understand it to be a system of riding characterized by the systematic and progressive collection of the horse from the hindquarters forward, not the inverse. This back-to-front connection with the hand of the rider is accomplished by a generous and willing acquiescence to the rider's wishes by the horse, not a surrender of power and balance to a dictatorial superior. Classical Equitation is founded upon sound biomechanical principles, and places great emphasis on the position of the rider, without which the ability to correctly influence the horse remains illusory. Classical Equitation eschews “hand riding”, Rollkur, riding deep and rolled over, and instead, espouses dynamic stretching and suppling of the entire horse, the lowering of the hindquarters to achieve an impulsive connection with the hand, the balance of the horse shifting progressively toward the haunches as collection increases, and the relative, not absolute, elevation of the neck, the horse's head being slightly in front of the vertical, never forced behind it.
My show results, and those of my students, indicate that it is possible to ride according to the tried and true principles of La Gueriniere, Steinbrecht, Podhajsky, and Oliveira, enjoying the beneficial aspects of competition without surrendering our principles to the rapacious desire to win. Our horses ALWAYS suffer when we compromise ourselves, and we, too, are diminished by the betrayal of our values. Most of us began out riding careers inspired by the beauty and grace of a rider whose aids communicated his/her wishes to the horse with astonishing invisibility. Some of us have been puzzled, then horrified by the abuses we have witnessed by sometimes very famous and well-thought-of trainers, promising results through violent, intimidating and coercive practices that seemed to ignore the suffering of our animals. It is hard now, and was doubly hard then, to speak out against what was, and continues to be, a unified and very staunchly defended front. Still, more and more voices are being raised, and speak out we must.