I am not a dressage person (yet), but follow a couple sites for training purposes and because the dressage folks in my life are starting to rub off on me. (Karen...)
One of the posts that popped up in my blog roll was this one from Behind the Bit and it hits on a theme near and dear to the heart of this OTTB owner--harsh, even abusive, training methods with the only goal being the blue ribbon or prestige or whatever high it is that rider/trainer/owner needs.
We hear a lot about the Thoroughbred racing industry because it is very public and very flashy, but it's not the only offender out there. Nor is Dressage the next worse on the list.
Whenever a horse breaks down on the track, the cries of horror are loud and sometimes uninformed. I've had several people tell me how horrible it was to watch a horse being euthanized "right there on the track," not realizing it is the safest and most humane thing for that horse. No, the racing industry is not perfect. Yes, looking at why horses break down is absolutely necessary. But racing is not the only offender out there and not every trainer is the devil incarnate. In fact, I personally know some very caring trainers who didn't toss a particular TB in the trash just because he had a bowed tendon. They found him a pretty nice home, as a matter of fact.
But, yes, there are bad things that happen in the racing industry. I don't know if the Dressage industry is more public now, or if I'm just noticing it more, but Stacey Kimmel-Smith's comment in response to the furor over this one particular incident compares it to another high level Dressage competition, perhaps to widen the focus for the rest of us:
"I was at Devon today and saw some moments of riding that, if caught in a still shot, would look pretty abusive. Nope, not rollkur, but still unpleasant to see, and surely uncomfortable for the horse."
If we look at the human element involved in any competition, it becomes easier to see how these things could happen. Not acceptable, no, but if we understand it, maybe we can start to come up with better strategies to fix it.
Some human athletes are competitive enough--so focused on the win versus the journey--that they damage their own bodies with steroids, etc., just for that moment of victory. For someone that driven in any discipline, the win is the only thing that matters. Not the process, not the learning and improving that comes along the way. Just the winning.
That it translates into showing and competition on horses is not surprising, it just means those personalities now have to do whatever they think it takes to get cooperation from 1,200 pounds. Actually, probably not cooperation as much as capitulation. They don't want a relationship--even if they say they do--they want the horse to carry them obligingly onto the next victory without giving the horse any reason besides, "Because I said so." Being a parent, I can tell you how well that line works with other sentient beings. Not so well most of the time.
There are people who have to win no matter what. It's not about anything else, certainly not the relationship with and welfare of the horse. Dressage and racing are more public, but I have heard the same basic stories from friends in the cutting and even Western Pleasure disciplines, too.
As I said in my comment on Kimmel-Smith's post, this is an important conversation to have. We won't be able to eliminate it completely, but shedding a little light on the dark and ugly can go a long way.