The first ever Global Dressage Forum, which took place this week in Hooge Mierde, Holland, attracted delegates from around the world.

The audience were attracted by the opportunity to listen to some of the greatest authorities and some of the most controversial figures in international dressage over the two days.

Organised by the Bartels family, Joep Bartels chaired proceedings and set the tone that could lead to big changes in dressage as he said: “The thinking behind this forum is the will to understand each other and not be a kind of war.”

The Dalai Lama’s well known words were quoted and captured the approach that developed out of the two days that we should look for similarities not differences within training techniques.

Theory sessions and demonstrations were taken by exponents of the conflicting training methods of “deep and low” (Sjef Janssen) and the “long and low” (Johann Hinnemann), as well asrepresentatives of the Andalusian school (Rafael Soto), who some believe are over-marked in competitive dressage.

Although there were potential ingredients here for conflict, delegates agreed that we all learnt much about alternative approaches and reached a greater understanding of their benefits.

Eric Lette, the former chairman of the FEI, summed this up well: “It is not what is done, but how; bad riding kills the horse whether he is deep or high.”

The sessions

The sessions began with Dutch national coach Jorgen Koschel demonstrating work in hand, and like most German trainers, he emphasised the “training scales” of rhythm, submission/relaxations, contact, impulsion, straightness and collection.

Sjef Janssen took the next session, but called in the physiotherapist Solange Schrijer to put the scientific case for working deep, round, low and behind the vertical.

Sjef gave a wonderful demonstration with the 18-year-old Bonfire and Anky van Grunsven to demonstrate how they varied the positioning from very deep and low to high and up to bring out the talents of their Olympic champion.

Kyra Kyrklund focused on juniors and young riders and the importance of getting them balanced and aware of their weight distribution before they develop bad habits that are so difficult to break.

Eric Lette gave an excellent demonstration on training the trot, making constant reference to the called the scales of training, which he called “education”. Rafael Soto from the Jerez School held the audience captive with his account of how the Andalusians progressed from”high school” exponents to realistic competitors over just a few years.

He said they learnt from many people, were humble about their naivety concerning the basics and said the competitions were one step beyond the classical dressage of the school.

Johann Hinnemann focused on the training of the canter and impressed with his sound knowledge of the German school combined with his wealth of experience as a high-class horseman.

All those lucky enough to attend left the forum with much more open minds, as well as knowledge.