William Micklem: Lost in translation *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    There is a real element of the “emperor’s new clothes” about certain dressage terms and training tenets. Oh how I’m longing for that little boy to shout out: “This is nonsense, this is not good enough, this is not good for horses!”

    The FEI rulebook says “the object of dressage is the development of the horse into a happy athlete through harmonious education”, and there is no doubt the majority of horse enthusiasts also want to see happy horses as a priority. But despite the wonderful world-beating example of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, and others like them, it would appear there are some taking a less happy training route in both pure and eventing dressage.

    There are two commonly-used words in dressage that encourage this route and hinder our effort to produce happy athletes. They also help to justify and encourage rollkur, gadgets, cranked nosebands, and what could be described as the darker side of dressage. These two words are “submission” and “losgelassenheit”.


    This appears at the bottom of every dressage sheet as one of the collective marks, but it is the wrong word. Instead we should use “acceptance”.

    To some this may be appear a minor difference, but it makes a huge difference to the attitude of many riders, with those looking for submission often going on too long and too strong, down a route that is mechanical. But the horse is not a machine and a rider who is just a mechanic will make a poor trainer and an unhappy horse.

    Acceptance leads to trust, mutual respect, partnership, and agreement. It requires a rider with feel and for the horse to understand what is expected, while submission produces an unquestioning dominated follower. The difference between acceptance and submission is the difference between a horse that knows he could react differently but chooses not to, and a horse that knows there is no other option.

    Those riders who are very competitive by nature often go down this “submission” route, but it is acceptance that will usually lead to a horse working more willingly and to a higher standard — and, in the case of event horses, more safely.


    There is also a huge problem with the translation of the word losgelassenheit, listed as the second part of the German scales of dressage training.

    It is now usually translated as looseness or suppleness, but in German looseness is “lockerheit”, and suppleness is “geschmeidigkeit”. So why was the specific term losgelassenheit used? It’s a noun that’s been created from the verb loslassen, meaning “to let go”, therefore losgelassen “to have let go” or “be comfortable mentally”.

    The key point is that losgelassenheit should primarily refer to a mental not physical state. This makes much more sense as otherwise there would be no part of the training scale with a specific mental dimension, which would be ridiculous, as it is vital to have calmness and mental ease as a basic prerequisite for good physical performance.

    But this component is neglected as riders are led astray chasing suppleness or looseness instead of mental ease.

    Truly classical

    We’re often told that the scales of training are classical, but they only came to prominence in the 1950s and are widely misunderstood and misrepresented.

    The three fundamental classical principles dating from Xenophon, 2,400 years ago, are: 1, that the horse should be developed naturally; 2, that force should not be used; and 3, that the result should be beautiful and beautifully easy — in short, happy athletes.

    Trainers who follow these principles have more common threads than knots and using them will allow dressage to thrive.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 15 June 2017