The Colonel’s Ill-fitting Gloves

20 May

Some fifteen years ago a friend of mine who was interested in horse friendly dressage riding found an association online which was dedicated to preserving lightness in dressage. She contacted the association and asked if there was anyone available to come to Finland and teach some ordinary amateur riders.

This is how Colonel Carde, then president of said association (Allege-Ideal), also former ecuyer in chief of the Cadre Noir, French National Team Coach and member of the French Olympic Team began to hold clinics in Finland.

They still continue: the Colonel will teach at two clinics in Mäntsälä, Southern Finland, in May and June 2017. I warmly recommend anyone who is interested in riding to be in the audience.

Colonel Carde in 2016.
[joke]Now let’s talk about me[/joke]

A few words about my background when I first started auditing Colonel Carde’s clinics. I’ve been riding from the mid-seventies when I was a kid and have been interested in dressage more or less since then. In the 1980’s I saw Kyra Kyrklund training a young Matador and I still remember clearly a mare called Tosca, ridden by Eeva Holmström, because she had the best extended trot I had ever seen. I watched a lot of training and competitions in dressage, working as a freelance equestrian journalist and photographer.

I also had the opportunity to watch and photograph international shows, among others the Hamburg Derby where an 8 year old Rubinstein II debuted at Grand Prix level and Dr. Reiner Klimke showed Biotop. I also followed the World Championship dressage with interest and conflicting emotions in 1998, when rollkur was already on the scene and horses like Donnerhall competed against the new wave.

So I had watched a lot of dressage and tried to learn as much as I could.

The Ill-fitting Gloves

When Colonel Carde came to give clinics in Finland he still often rode the horses himself to train them and give the rider the correct feeling. I was in the audience at the first clinic, watching with interest. The first ten minutes I saw him riding I remember thinking that he had very badly fitting gloves on as he seemed to lose his grip on the reins all the time and take a new grip.

The horse was of the kind which easily hollowed, put his head up and chewed the bit while leaning on the reins. Was for a while longer, but then he changed. He flexed at the poll, rounded his neck and back, stepped softer and moved more flexibly. His mouth quietened and relaxed. He became calmer, and more content. All in those ten minutes.

I don’t remember the exact moment I realised that there was nothing wrong with the fit of the Colonel’s gloves. Probably someone wiser than me mentioned it. This was not my best moment as a spectator, but I did realise how little I knew.

Colonel Carde relaxed his fingers to reward the horse as soon as the contact improved. At the beginning every few seconds. It was just a topic I’d hardly heard mentioned before this and certainly not often enough. The horse was allowed to try different things, but when it stopped resisting the contact for a second, it was rewarded by giving the reins. Repeated that often and with such skill, the change was obvious and quick. This is operant conditioning at it’s best: The horse was allowed to learn from the consequences of his own actions.

”As soon as the horse yields, you give”
I have had the opportunity to watch enough of Colonel Carde’s riding and training and he truly has an exceptional understanding of both horses and dressage. The kind of classical dressage (I hesitate to use the word classical because of some of the odder riding having that name added to it) where ordinary horses are trained to move better and better all the time. I’ve seen the best riders in the world but in my opinion Colonel Carde is still in a class of his own as a rider.

I also hadn’t previously seen working on collection without at the same time holding the horse back; horses finding a peaceful cadence while keeping active. I also got to hear the perfect answer to the question of whether raising the horse’s neck will help with collection: “Yes, but only if the horse is round.” Round meaning flexed at the poll, withers up, not nose behind the vertical.

Round horse. Four beat walk. Colonel Carde and Junker in 2005.

“Horses are nice creatures. If they understand, they do.”

How can this knowledge be transferred so that it isn’t lost? The secret to good dressage training isn’t complicated but it certainly isn’t easy either. It is a combination of tradition and feel, knowledge of the horse and practical application.

I once read a book, where biologist Mark Carwardine and author Douglas Adams chronicled their search for what were then the most endangered species of the planet. It was aptly named Last Chance to See.

I hope that Colonel Carde will continue to share his knowledge for fifteen years more. I hope his students are able to preserve what he has been showing them all these years.

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Posted by on May 20, 2017 in Uncategorized


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