Good and progressive training is effective if it promotes physical well-being and long-term sound of the horse.
It follows that veterinarians are and have been instrumental in the development of civilized training techniques, and not just famous modern vets like Gerd Heuschmann, but the different vets who have influenced the history of the sport horse and its training in the centuries of evolution.
Leaving aside the events of antiquity, starting from the famous treaty of Senofonte of 350 BC, we find the first steps of the modern conception of the training of the horse in the treaties of François Robichon de la Guérinière, who published École de Cavalerie in 1733, a work that underlined three key points:
1 - Knowledge of the horse,
2 - Adequate training, stabling and grooming and
3 - Maintenance and promotion of health.
This new attitude went hand-in-hand with the establishment of the first schools of veterinary medicine: the Riding-Institute of Göttingen opened in 1734, followed by the Écoles Nationale Veterinaire of Lyon (1761) and d’Alfort (1765), then the Rossarzneischule Hannoer in 1778. Horses had become valuable so veterinary schools sprung up to keep them sound…
Professor Stadler, a renowned German equine veterinary surgeon, in a recent seminar during the German FN's Bundeschampionate recalled that, in the nineteenth century, there were contradictory positions regarding the training of the horse: the riding masters of the 19th century proposed very different approaches, from the very horse-friendly to positive torture. By the beginning of the twentieth century, this debate had crystallized in Otto de la Croix’s Natural Equestrianism (1901). He pointed to the extremes, Paul Pfinzner’s hyper-flexion and Fillis’ high elevation: the time has seldom been more favorable for a detailed evaluation of the natural basics of the art of riding. Almost simultaneously we have hyperflexion and high elevation, and the riding world remains clueless who is right.
It was not just the veterinarians who tried to keep horses healthy, the military had also gained interest in their welfare, as testified by the Heeres-Dienst-Vorschrift or HDV 12, the 1912 Cavalry Regulations which became the basis for the modern school of German training. The goal was now: by preserving and promoting its natural abilities, the horse will be brought into a shape and carriage that allows full development of his strength.
Thanks also to the work of the veterinarians of the Hannover school emerged those principles:
cadence (rhythm), suppleness and rein contact – the 1st stage of training – and impulsion, straightness and collection, the 2nd (advanced) stage of training. The goal of all these principles is the maintenance of equine health.
This approach is enshrined in the 1997 FN resolution: Dressage means gymnastic schooling and careful education of the horse to develop its natural talents, to improve its performance, to maintain its health and to achieve harmony between horse and rider.
Very often, however, the need to force time for competitive or economic purposes can cause serious problems to animals.
A study reported in The Veterinary Journal (April 2010), Identification of Risk Factors in Dressage Horses by Rachel Murray founded that lameness was the most common disease or wound in the dressage horse and that elite horses tended to do not work very long. The work indicated that 24% of dressage horses can become lame over a two-year period. The most common problem was the suspensive ligament and tarsal joint disease, while 20% of dressage horses suffered from back pain.
Furthermore it has been noted that extravagant moving young horses prepared for sale or young horse classes have a high incidence of hind proximal suspensory desmitis. During the stance phase of the stride, the hind limb is loaded, with the tarsal joint in flexion and metatarsophalangeal joint (MTPJ) in extension, resulting in loading of the suspensory ligament; in the mid stance of the extended trot, if the movement is not correctly supported by the horse’s back, then the suspensory ligament is loaded, but the same problem can also occur in the collected movements.
The solution to this problem is in the training program: