Peter Maddison-Greenwell is one of the country’s foremost authorities on the Spanish horse and classical riding as an art. His shows and exhibitions have, for the last thirty years, promoted the Spanish horse and classical dressage, demonstrating and explaining the history and the art form that is still valid today.

Peter says, “We have used Animalife products for a number of years now and are proud to be Ambassadors for the brand.

"Three of our older Spanish Stallions, Ciro (grey), Alamillo (bay), and Elegante (dark bay) have all benefitted greatly from the maintenance that Animalife Vetroflex and Vetrofen Healthy provides and receive the special boost of ‘Intense’ for their public performances and demonstrations. Now into their twenties the horses all step out like youngsters.

“A year or two ago, we were bringing 16-year-old Ciro back slowly from hind suspensory ligament problems. With no promise of a total recovery, it took a little time but following the success of his treatment, and with steady rehabilitation through progressive dressage we put him back into shows. We were recommended Animlife Vetroflex and he grew from strength to strength, performing frequently at Bolsover Castle as the mount of The Duke of Newcastle.

“We were so pleased with results on our other horses we decided to put Alamillo on Animlife Vetroflex as well. Alamillo is now 23. We think with more collection and weight carrying behind with the higher level of movements expected this will help him enjoy his work for longer.”

Below you can read an excerpt from the book he is currently working on, regarding the approach to classical training of horses and how far back in history it goes.

Understanding Training

The systematic approach to classical training can be found in the writings of the great horsemen of our past: Xenophon, Pluvinel, William Cavendish, Francois Robichon de la Guérinière, Francois Baucher, and Nuno Oliviera to name but a few. Many may question the relevance of some of their work for modern-day dressage competition, but you cannot question the contribution these and other masters of equitation made to the development of horsemanship.

If we look at one or two of these masters briefly, it will show how much of their work is still influencing us today.

Xenophon (431– 355 BC) wrote the first treaties covering the health, wellbeing, and training of the horse. His approach was that of reward, kindness and caring, an approach that millennia later we still recognize and practice. But there have been periods in between when horse training was barbaric, the Dark Ages for example, but considering it was a time when people were publicly hanged, drawn, and quartered, this would, no doubt, have been in keeping with the era.

Francois Robichon de la Guérinière (1688-1751) is believed to be the father of the shoulder-in, or shoulders-in depending on your view on angles. Guérinière stated that the shoulder-in was the alpha and omega of all exercises. His work was so profound and thorough that the Riding School in Vienna have based their training system on his work as outlined in Ecole de Cavalerie (School of Horsemanship).

In this book there are thorough descriptions of the airs above the ground including those two lesser-known movements: the terre-à-terre and the mézair. The former is a two-beat form of canter on two tracks, when the horse raises his front legs at the same instant and places them on the ground, again at the same instant. The hind legs follow the same action as the front. In effect it is a succession of small jumps, executed in a rocking-horse movement that can be used to build up to the higher airs above the ground. In Guérinière’s day it would have been done sideways (on two tracks); today the terre-à-terre is seldom seen and when it is, for example at the Royal Andalusian School in Jerez, it is performed in a straight line, and usually within the sequence: piaffe, terre-à-terre, and capriole.

Strictly, the mézair is a half-air when, again, the forehand is elevated. It is a leap, which, although included in the airs above the ground, is but a little higher than the terre-à-terre and was often referred to as a half-courbette. This describes it well because, unlike the full courbette, the forelegs return to the ground before the horse moves forward a short distance and the next mézair is performed. As with all classical movements like these, the picture must be graceful and when the legs are brought up, they must be held together. The mézair should be poised and not a stumble back into a rear with the forelegs flapping like a dog begging for a titbit, which describes the movement (purportedly a mézair) I once saw in a poor attempt to emulate a performance by The Riding School of Vienna.

Francois Baucher (1796-1873) was the first to perform the tempi changes, the change of leg at each canter stride, which ranks amongst the most difficult movements in dressage. He was also famous for his work in-hand; he was by no means the first to work a horse in-hand, but one of the best-known people at that time for his development of 'supplings'. His methods of suppling a horse from the ground both at the halt and in movement, were then, and still are, a matter of controversy. He did prove without question, however, that the principles of his horsemanship were effective. It is well recorded that he had a number of the most difficult and dangerous mounts – some destined for the slaughterhouse – presented to him. After just eight to ten weeks he would perform high-school displays with these horses; an astounding feat, without doubt.

Peter Maddison-Greenwell is one of the countries foremost authorities on the Spanish Horse and classical riding as an art. His shows and exhibition have, for the last thirty years, promoted the Spanish horse and classical dressage, demonstrating and explaining the history and the art form that is still valid today.