VOLUME 51 ē © HORSES For LIFEô Magazine
CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUNG PROFESSIONALS:
The problems that we have today, reflected in the past, in this window into the Equestrian World of 1977.
photo by Francine Halkin
A Young Dominique Barbier
This is the first in a series of conversations with young, professional dressage trainers in America. With the many established professionals in the country to choose from, we found ourselves in a quandry over whom to pick first. Our solution was to begin the series with a relatively unknown professional who has just immigrated to the United States, Dominique Barbier.
Dominique Barbier grew up in Poitiers, a town in France not far from Saumur. He started riding as a youth on weekends and after school. His first regular riding ďjobĒ was for a man who imported green Irish hunters to France. He would put young Dominique on one of the new arrivals, close the doors to the arena, and come back twenty minutes later. If Dominique were still on, well and good; if not, a torrent of invective was rained on him. It was an effective if not conventional way to develop a secure seat.
Dominiqueís first more orthodox studies were with John Lasseter, B.H.S.I., and Brian Young, F.B.H.S., at Crab bett Park in England, where he received his B.H.S.A.L in 1967. He then went back to France to get the equivalent French qualification, the moniteur, in 1968, and also to take a short course for young professionals at Saumur. For the next year and a half, he traveled through France (and occasionally to Germany) learning the horse business in the method of cornpagnons, or what we would call short apprenticeships, working at race stables, three-day stables, hunt stables, learning all phases of equine endeavor.
He spent 1970 in the Veterinary and Biological Service of the French Army training remounts, and then continued his equestrian education back in England at the Talland School of Equitation, where he was both student and instructor. He received his B.H.S.L there in 1972. At Talland, Dominique had a lot of experience with three-day eventing and also worked with Mrs. Charles Sivewright, F.B.H.S., D.B.H.S., whose primary interest is dressage and who has made several Grand Prix horses. Then, from 1973 through 1975, he studied with Nuno Oliveira in Portugal and started the training of his two horses, Dom Pasquale and Dom Giovanni.
Dominique now lives in Illinois and is associated with Dressage Centre Ltd. in Chicago Heights.
[DRESSAGE & CT]: What is your approach to training? When youíre training a horse, what are you trying to produce? What are your goals? Have you a method?
[Dominique Barbier]: Before I start to answer any technical questions, I want to make sure that you understand that my approach is very different from other professionalsí or any approach that has ever been done. My background is the classical school, the French classical school, when dressage was an art, and I feel that I in a very small way have a different approach to it, in that most of my emphasis is on the mind, and thatís never been done before. The ability to communicate with another being with your brain, a lot of people think about it, but itís never been done as a direct approach to training of the horse and training of the rider. What I say here is not the same thing said differently, itís a completely different concept of approaching life and approaching your horse. My whole idea in life, my whole goal in life is to try to train my horse and have my horse happy, and be able to give to the people the same feeling that I have towards my horses.
Now, the first thing to establish is that we are all looking for perfection, okay? Perfection is riding with your mind, that is very, very important, with your mind, with your seat, with very little leg, light leg (We have the French expression, ďThe leg must breath with the horse.Ē), and no hands, the contact just the weight of the reins: that is perfection. And when I say the horse is light, of course I donít mean light to start with. I mean the horse must be first relaxed, then on the bit, and then he must become both active and light.
Now, when I think about my goal in training horses, I think first of all you must establish a mental relationship with your horse. That means he has to know what you expect him to do, as simple as it might be, and you must know that you are going to have it, without force, with a calm determination. Training of horses is to have a good understanding of their mental and physical difficulties and to try to ease those difficulties. To a very high degree itís psychology of the horses, knowing what horses need, and just helping them through the movement you ask for.
Something you have to remember all the time is that the horse is performing, you are not. You prepare the horse, build the impulsion, you position the horse, you ask for the movement, and he must produce it. That can be as simple as going from the halt to the walk or a turn to the right. What we must realize is that ninety- something percent is straight mental.
Now, of course, if we are thinking about such refined aids, we have to put the horse in the condition that he is able to understand them. If your position is not good, if you donít have a good understanding of the length of the rein and the correct overall position, you are not going to be able to communicate brain to brain. But if you are correct in your body and especially in your mind, that means complete relaxation of the whole body, then you are able to make the horse realize exactly what you want, and I think that can be done by everybody, and done every day without force, and the horse is happy and moving as if he were free. Thatís the name of the game, letting the horse move. A lot of people want to train their horses, but they themselves create their own problems. First of all, you must sit on the horse without upsetting him, then try to help him; that is called training. But most people have not achieved the first step, they still upset the horse.
How do you teach people to do this? As you said, you not only train horses yourself, you want to teach others to train horses in this way. Is it not difficult?
No, actually itís very simple. We are very lucky in this profession in that most of the riders are women, and women are very sensitive individuals, most of them. And what is very important to me, most of them are very small, refined, and light. They donít have great strength, and thus you must find an approach that is going to allow them to work with the horse and dominate that tremendous power without any fight, because they simply cannot physically overpower the horse.
Everybody has the feel through their fingers and through their brain, the only thing they must do is use their brain and try to understand what they are feeling.
And that can be done every day under good instruction. The people can develop their feel, and by developing their feel work with their horses without any force.
For example, a lot of my teaching, clinic teaching, is putting the horse on the bit without any effort, and that is no effort, any horse.
When you say putting the horse on the bit with no effort, you mean with no force, no physical effort, do you not? Obviously, one must make an effort.
Yes, certainly, but mental. You have to put the horse in a certain situation, mental and physical, that he is able to be on the bit and he understands it, and he likes it better on the bit. The horse on the bit is a horse who is happy, because he is able to balance himself. Now, there is a lot of misunderstanding about being on the bit. The horse on the bit is with you 100%, mentally and physically, and the horse can be on the bit in a long frame, not only in collection.
Looking at your own learning experience, you studied with Nuno Oliveira in Portugal. Now, heís been around a long time, and he has often been accused of being circus. By association, then, if his kind of riding is circus, then the same people will accuse you of being circus.
Now, I love good circus. I donít know why to supposedly classical dressage riders circus is a bad word. They donít know, perhaps, enough about what dressage was, that all the top ecuyers, all the people whose books they read, went in the circus and actually performed in the circus, because at that time the people had a certain appreciation of beauty, and also in the last century, the circus was the only place dressage was displayed.
Of course, you have a bad aspect of circus, as you have a bad aspect of dressage, that is very showy, and the routine of showing is unnatural and bad. But I would like the people who criticize the circus people, the good circus people, to try to be circus for a month, and make their horses, for example, canter backwards on three legs. And if they achieve canter backwards on three legs, then they can say, ďOh, that is circus, but now Iím going to be classical and not be circus.Ē Itís a very easy way out to say that a person is circus because you cannot do what he can do.
I have the greatest respect for the Mestre Nuno Oliveira, because he has trained so many horses to the highest level that he cannot count them any more, there are too many. And that man has such respect for his art that he does not bother answering the accusations, because he knows ; I believe nobody knows half of what he knows. He is a very gifted individual and has done a lot of work, nobody can know how much work he has and does put into it.
And thatís the answer of training, itís work. You can be gifted, but if you donít work, you go nowhere. And as far as being accused of circus, when the horse is light, you drop the rein. What is a better feeling than to have the horse performing passage or piaffe or high collection movements or levade with a loop in the rein, what is a better feeling? And it is possible, I see it, I do it every day, and I make my people do it so they can feel that riding is not drive on a retaining hand, restraining hands. Collection is not compression, no force is involved.
How do you regard competition, its uses, its purposes, its consequences?
I think competition is very good. Competition can be a great help to many people, especially when they get interested in competition. Now, I would like to see the people compete with their horses, not against their horses. By that I mean that the person who goes showing should have a good time and want the horse to have a good time, to have a happy horse, and not care so much about a number of points. For me, the art of riding is not a number of points. If my horse enjoys, if I think he has been correct, thatís my pleasure. For a lot of people, competition is very serious business that has nothing to do with the love of their animal, and I think that is very, very, very bad.
The primary interest is trying to have the horse trained and happy. The horse must be happy, the rider must be happy. We compete to know where we stand compared to other people, if we are interested in it. For example, I am not. I am the least competitive person in the world, but I do agree that some people are competitive, and I help them in that matter. But, I want competition to serve the horse, that the horse would be better afterwards.
Going from that, then, what do you think of competition standards as they are today, the FEI and AHSA tests, what they call for and the way they are judged?
Itís a very difficult question to answer. I am very disappointed in the standards in international competition, not mentioning the lower levels. To my knowledge, right now in America we have better lower standards, better lower tests, as far as quality, than at international levels.
International level standards I think are a disaster. Why? Because, and I am not the only one thinking this, we think that
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