Thursday, August 18, 2016

16th c. dressage trivia: Why we can't talk to our horses during dressage tests

If you're like me, you talk to your horse while you're riding. Lesson videos are often interspersed with "Good Boys!" and clucks, not to mention pats on the neck or wither scratches. But this is nothing new. The voice was considered to be a "help," a "cherishing," and a "correction" by the 16th century riding masters:
“[The voice,] which soundeth sharply and cheerfully, crying via, how, hey, and such like, adding a spirit and liveliness to the horse and lending a great help to all his motions.” Markham, p. 20
“... which being delivered smoothly and lovingly, as crying holla, so boy, there boy there, and such like, gives the Horse both cheerfulness of Spirit and a knowledge that he hath done well.” Markham p. 22 
“[or which] being delivered sharply and roughly, as ha villain, carridro, diablo, and such like threatenings, terrifieth the Horse and maketh him afraid to disobey.” Markham p. 21
Note to self: I shall be calling Taran "diablo" from here on out when he does something naughty, instead of "you little sh!t" or some other colorful modern term.

Also if you're like me, you find it difficult not to talk to your horse during tests. I often tell Taran "good boy!" under my breath down by A, where I'm sure I can't be heard by the judge - because I've gotten that awful -2 for "use of voice" on my test. Grrr.
“… and cherish him, laieng your hand upon his necke, and uttering some courteous voice.” Bedingfield p. 71
But why can't we use our voice in the test? I think that the reason may have actually originated as far back as the mid 1500s, or even earlier. Consider this little gem from Bedingfield's 1584 English translation of an Italian book written in 1560:

“And albeit the helps of the voice and spurre ought to be used at the beginning, when the horse learneth… both the one and the other may afterwards be discontinued. For… it is not seemelie thing in the presence of lookers on, to use so manie artificiall motions and affectatations…” Bedingfield p. 50
 
Cesare Fiaschi riding before an audience, 1564.

Using the voice and the spur was not seemly in the presence of onlookers. But even more important, if you were riding before an esteemed audience:
“…this help of the voice may not be used much, if you ride in presence of the Prince, or other great persons; chieflie when the horse is redie: for at such times and in such places it were unseemelie to open your mouth, and utter voices of diverse sounds and meaning.” Bedingfield p. 61
Obviously a dressage judge is not a prince, but the purpose of riding before each is the same - to show off your horse to the best of his ability. So if riders were not supposed to use their voice while riding for an audience almost 500 years ago, it is not surprising that we have this tradition in modern sport dressage.

Kinda cool, huh?

Bedingfield, Thomas. The Art of Riding. London, 1584.
Markham, Gervase. The Compleat Horseman. London, 1593.

31 comments:

  1. Totally going to start using diablo and villain when my pony is being naughty! My biggest problem is that my mare responds to me saying "canter" when asking her to canter. That has been a bit tough for us now that we are showing canter tests.

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    1. Ah yes, voice cues are hard to cut out!

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  2. I wish we could use our voice! After all, it is the most gentle of aids! But it's dressage and tradition is not going anywhere soon. And like you, I often whisper to my horse. Or I will hum quietly when I need him to whoa a little bit. Pretty sure I have mistakenly clucked in the ring a few times but got away with it. lol

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    1. Yeah I'm constantly saying "good boy!" under my breath in tests. Haven't tried humming though!

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  3. oh my those quotes are amazing!! Very cool.

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  4. I wish could terrifieth the horse and maketh him afraid fo disobey.

    That doesn't work on mine.

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    1. Ha meeee too. That would help me immensely with that naughty pony lol

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    2. Yeah, yelling at mine doesn't do anything either. Le sigh.

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  5. This was a super interesting read; thanks for writing about it! I am always talking to my horse while riding, so yeah, it does feel weird to have to shut up in front of the judge! I'm sure one day I'm going to forget I'm not allowed to speak... :S

    bonita of A Riding Habit

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    1. Oh, you can, just not where the judge can hear you or see your lips moving!

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  6. Actually - during a driven dressage test you can use your voice ;)

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  7. Oh man I talk so much when I ride, it's like a run-on monologue!
    If I competed I'd be in serious trouble 😅

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    1. Talking helps me remember to breathe, so I'm with you!

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  8. this is REALLY interesting, i never thought about WHY i wasn't allowed to talk (or cluck, or smooch...) just lamented the fact that I couldn't.

    i like when i have to do all my canter transitions down at A, then they cant hear me :D

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    1. Yeah, you gotta sneak in those little helps down at the far end of the arena for sure!

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  9. I totally talk under my breath to my horse all the time even at shows. Usually when I'm not facing the judge so they can't see my mouth moving lol... But yea. The judges might not be princes any more but I can definitely understand why it's still verboten. The talking does help and therefore totally counts as an artificial aid!

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    1. Yeah, too bad because it is the gentlest of aids!

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  10. Add "Ha Villain" to the list of show names I distressingly missed out on when registering Bobby. Damn it.

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  11. Ha Villain! New name for all my naughty ponikins. I love these posts!

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    1. And it's so much more family friendly than some of the modern four-letter alternatives. :D

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  12. Holla is now going to be my new form of praise. God help me if someone hears me say that lol

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  13. Villain and Diablo.... Poor Kacey... ;-)

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    1. Aww, Kacey NEVER deserves being called those things, I'm sure of it!

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