DVD Review: Klaus Balkenhol Trilogy, From Foal to Grand Prix Horse - Dressage Today

DVD Review: Klaus Balkenhol Trilogy, From Foal to Grand Prix Horse

In this three-DVD set, we see dressage Olympian Klaus Balkenhol working with many horses, from foalhood to maturity, and learn about his contemporary approach to horse training based on classical methods.
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Klaus Balkenhol Trilogy From Foal to Grand Prix Horse
Produced by Roland Blum (blumfilm.de)
3-DVD set, 90 minutes each in English. Available at HorseBooksEtc.com
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Reviewed by Mary Daniels
The secret of Klaus Balkenhol's inimitable success--Olympic gold medalist and former coach of the successful German and U.S. dressage teams--is never to find fault with the horse. And this three-DVD set is a tour de force by the tireless videographer and author Roland Blum, who has been producing the singular "Horses of the World" series of which this set is a part.

The original idea came from the late and legendary Egon von Neindorff, also the subject of a Blum documentary. Von Neindorff told Blum that in Balkenol one could find a true representative of classical riding and training. That sent Blum off on dozens of trips during which he spent hundreds of hours watching Balkenhol in the saddle and on the ground and with a variety of horses and riders. His goal was to open new perspectives and a better understanding of contemporary horse training based on classical methods.

"A Grand Prix horse is made, not born," says Balkenhol in Part 1. A healthy upbringing and responsible handling of a youngster begins the foundation of a good riding horse. Even if destined for competitive dressage, Balkenol's young horses are also ridden cross-country and over jumps. His rule is, "Make demands on the horse but never demand too much."

In Part 2, we see how Balkenhol's systematic schooling achieves what he calls "sensitizing the horse," that is, achieving the effects he wants with sensitive signals. The result is a horse that focuses on the rider and his aids.

In Part 3, we see the individual schooling methods by which famous horse-and-rider combinations were brought along. These include his daughter, Anabel, Debbie McDonald and Guenter Seidel. While each combination needs an individual approach, the training methods are always connected to the basics of horsemanship.

"Horses are big and strong," says Balkenol, "but they are also extremely social and highly sensitive. Dressage becomes attractive when we recognize these characteristics and combine them, using them to enable rather than inhibit. If a performance exudes ease, then riding becomes an art." That seems to encapsulate what dressage should be about. What I always found amazing about the Balkenhol story of success was that he went to the Olympics on an ordinary police horse and achieved what would be inconceivable for most riders then and now.

Fortunately, we have DVDs like these from which to learn, even if we live in the most remote part of the country. If you don't get valuable insights and guidance from these films, you just are not paying attention.