By Susan Sellers
Roz Moskovits is well known throughout Atlantic Canada and beyond for her dedicated twenty-eight year involvement in the horse industry: as teacher, rider, and judge. About four years ago, a student in the Equine Health and Fitness course which she teaches at Nova Scotia Agricultural College showed her the video If Horses Could Speak by veterinarian, Gerd Heuschmann. Although his findings that certain practices in competitive, modern dressage are detrimental to the horse were not a revelation to Roz, Dr. Heuschmann’s ground breaking research made her want to learn more. Here was the science written by an expert that supported her own practices aiming to develop the equine athlete while safeguarding care, compassion and responsibility. Roz wondered who, then, exemplified these principles riding in pure classical dressage — the centuries old system which above all respects the horse’s well being? It did not take her long to find out about Anja Beran.
After reading Beran’s seminal book, In Deference, Roz initiated contact and was invited to attend the Second International Workshop on Classical Dressage. Along with several other trainers and riders from all over the world, Roz participated in the week long intensive workshop at Gut Rosenhof, headquarters of the Anja Beran Foundation this past July. “My experience there was even greater than I had imagined?Anja has the patience and insight of a Zen master with her horses and her students,” says Roz. “There is an overwhelming sense of tranquility and discipline at Gut Rosenhof. During our time there, upwards of fifteen to twenty horses daily came into the arena for schooling. Most were stallions; many with conformational weaknesses. Others had been lame or had behavioral problems resulting from previous harsh or improper training,” she continued. Yet, as Roz observed, these horses had all been strengthened and suppled through the gentle and incremental schooling following Anja’s rule: “little by little is best.” Since every horse in training at Gut Rosenhof is considered unique, appropriate schooling exercises are adapted to suit individual needs. Training there is not “one shoe fits all.” The work, according to Roz’s educated eye, was gentle, progressive and positively reinforced “always maintaining the highest expectations for each horse.”
After schooling sessions, whether intensive or not, horses walked out of the arena barely sweating. “The quality of fitness, condition and muscle tone was hard to believe, especially on the mature horses schooling at and above a Grand Prix level. They were positively brilliant!” enthused Roz. Traveling around her home province of Nova Scotia and in other parts of Canada as judge and clinician, Roz has been struck by the ever increasing number of repetitive stress injuries, chronic lameness and soft tissue strain among dressage horses. “We’re getting better at breeding performance horses but not necessarily at their training. I did not see any lame or injured horses at Gut Rosenhof,” she reported. “The horses were happy and focused in their work.” They are schooled carefully and with intention -and always with an awareness of safeguarding joints, ligaments and muscles. Sometimes a session lasted only 12 minutes; others were considerably longer. Unnecessary repetition is not a part of the schooling. “I never saw drilling of a particular movement,” remarks Roz. One day, Anja reminded workshop participants that the sport of dressage emanates from the art of dressage and that the real work of the art is in the “process” leading towards presentation. Modern dressage tests have become the “presentation” of our work. But unfortunately, many of the classic exercises that create the art while respecting the horse have been lost.
Roz agrees with Anja that too many dressage riders are looking only to their tests for information on what they need to school in preparation for their competition. Anja looks to the work of the old masters — and to the work of modern practitioners like her mentor, Manuel Jorge de Oliveira, and the renowned Nuno Oliveira (1925-1989) for guidance. As practiced at Gut Rosenhof, the classic exercises based on natural laws of harmony and balance that progressively lead to presentation of pure dressage, do not force the horse; they do not rely on draw reins, severe bits or any other gadgets that will have a negative impact on the horse. After being with Anja Beran for a week and watching her skilled and inspiring rides on horse after horse outside the regimented framework of competitive dressage, Roz adds: “Although I received a solid foundation in the fundamentals of dressage in Canada, it hasn’t always been easy in my tiny corner of Nova Scotia to find like minded riders and trainers who believe dressage is more than preparing for competition tests. Learning from this gifted equestrienne made the long journey all worthwhile.” In the end, Roz couldn’t help but feel validated; that she is on the right track to help riders attain the very best both for themselves and their equine partners. Always open to increasing her skill and knowledge base, for the past several years Roz has been incorporating the principles and classical dressage practices into her equestrian toolkit.
From her own experience and after the workshop at Gut Rosenhof, she is convinced that overall fitness and ability of today’s competition dressage horses would be greatly enhanced if riders followed a more classical approach to dressage. She would like to see a rapprochement; not a widening of the chasm between the two forms. Classical dressage is, after all, the foundation for modern, competitive dressage; the two are not mutually exclusive. Classical dressage may have its roots in the past but it is still relevant today. Says Roz: “I came away from the workshop with a real sense that what is being preserved by Anja Beran and her Foundation at Gut Rosenhof is less about our past and more about the future of dressage.”