What Breed of Horse for AmericanDressage? - Chuck Grant

by Chuck Grant

25 years ago, I was having dinner with AlexMace-Smith, and he asked me what kind of horse I thought weshould go with for dressage. At the time, the Warm bloods werewell on their way to popularity. My answer was the Thoroughbred,and I felt we had an ample number of them. We both thought thatthe Warmblood was just a passing fancy. Today, they are stillvery much entrenched here, and the European economy is muchbetter off, due to the constant advertising of the Warmblood.

We have so many more horses to choose from thanEurope does. What we don't have is someone to organize theAmerican breeding program. Innovation is one of the great thingsin life. One has to be bold to innovate, and we tend to followthe leader. The Thoroughbred horse is conceded to be the greatestfor so many things it is pointless to take the space to mentionthem all here. The Warmblood is an excellent horse for what hewas bred to do: pull heavy guns for warfare.

lWe had them in America, but they were thelocal farm horse bred to Thoroughbreds. The American governmentencouraged people to breed this way, for they wanted a goodsupply of horses as much as the European governments did. Thatway, they could enlist perhaps millions of horses for militaryuse if needed. The Thoroughbred infused with the cold blood ofthe draft horses made ideal cavalry and artillery horses. The USgovernment stood stallions at various stations for breedingpurposes, for just $10 a breeding. The Thoroughbred was a littlehot for the average army man, but when mixed with the Warmblood,it made the ideal horse for both riding and pulling heavy loads.To quote Bert de Nemethy, "When the Thoroughbred runs out ofgas, you just switch tanks." If the other reason for buyingso l many European Warmbloods is that we want trained horses, itis a good one, for America lacks trainers. At this time, we aredoing nothing to remedy the situation. I know of no program inthis country that is helping young trainers. As a matter of fact,I think we discourage young trainers from venturing out into newfields to train for more advanced work.

I can understand the European judges sayingthat the horse has to move a certain way to be considered fordressage. Naturally, they see the way the Warmblood moves as apart of the horse's training. But that really has nothing to dowith dressage; he moves as he was bred to move. The Thoroughbredmoves like a Thoroughbred; he has been bred to run for over 250years. But no horse is more handy than a Thoroughbred, which iswhy he is bred for polo. The Thoroughbred is as handy as thepocket on your shirt. He is the greatest of all at jumping and atop event horse; this is a horse where all you have to do isswitch tanks, and he is .ready to go on. He is also a great cowhorse, and not too many years ago, the 10 leading sires of theAmerican Quarter Horse Three Barrs were Thoroughbreds. ThreeBarrs was a registered Thoroughbred sire and raced in Michigan.He was owned by Frank Farral. Remember, judges and trainers arethe ones that convince people which horses will win. Not longago, I asked Bill Coester why he liked Warmbloods. He said theyhave so much more rhythm. This could be true, for the Warmbloodsare quieter and much more relaxed, and relaxation makes forrhythm. But again, this is partly bred in the horse. If we are tobecome competitive, we have to find American trainers who knowthe Thoroughbred. Watch the great reining horses slide, spin, runto the rear, and then stand quiet as a "mouse in thebelfry."

Then we have another breed, made in America inthe early colonial days: the American Saddlebred. In my opinion,he has everything one would want for a great dressage horse. He'sbeautiful. He has the grace of a great athlete and the mind ofone who wants to work in a relaxed state and is easier to trainbecause of this. He uses himself in a much more refined manner.He has not been around long, only 260 years.

I have played polo on registered Saddlebreds. Ihave also had a few who were outstanding jumpers. I have riddenthem in brush races at Oak Brook, in Chicago, but listed them asbreeding unknown, for the Saddlebred was not known for takingpart in those events. In 1948, I finished 12th out of 21 horses,in a mile and a half over brush.

The horse's early training, like a child's,leaves a mark that will remain for a lifetime. It is hard for meto imagine a Saddlebred that has spent a year in a typicalSaddlehorse barn being reoriented to a dressage training stable.The Saddlebred is taught to be up on his toes all the time, to beexcited and look excited. A year of just being in this atmospheremight remain with a horse for years. A child raised in suchsurroundings will not be normal for a long time, and then onlyunder the care or training of someone who knows what he is doing.The Saddlehorse people see beauty in this animation. I do notblame or criticize them for this. We are all a product of ourenvironment; they just live differently than we do in thedressage world.

In the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, ourdressage bronze medal team consisted of Capt. H.L. Tuttle on aThoroughbred, Olympic Capt. Len Kitts on a Thoroughbred mareAmerican Lady and Capt. Moore on a cavalry how with a goodinfusion of Thoroughbred blood. It is not often that America hasplaced well against the best the world has to offer. The FrenchThoroughbred Taine was the winner of those Games.

In 1936, Kitts and Tuttle were on the samehorses, this time in Berlin. The Germans were the winners inevery division of the horse disciplines. The next games, due tothe war, were in England. The 1948 American team finished 3rd,but on German horses, all trained by the immortal Otto Lorke. Thewinner there was Kronos, world famous for elegance and lightpiaffe, as was the French horse Taine. Both of these had the headelevated to the point that the nose was about even with thewithers. Has dressage regressed since then? Yes; gradually thetests have been made easier for riders and trainers. Gradually,over the years, judging has changed from judging training (thatis, dressage) to more emphasis on the way the horse moves. I haveeven heard judges say the most important thing is the transitionfrom one movement to another. Not long ago, one of the Europeanjudges asked me if I thought judging was about the same now as itwas years ago. He told me the important thing was not the trickbut how the horse moved from trick to trick.

Col. Len Kitts, father of Col. Bud Kitts,retired to the Chicago area right after the war. Major Paul St.Jernhold was in Chicago at the time. He bought the Thoroughbredmare Duar Girl off the racetrack as a six year-old. She was in mybarn from December 1945 to 1950, when she was shown in a GrandPrix exhibition at the Bloomfield Open Hunt Show in June. At thetime, I owned the Plush Horse Stables in the inner city ofChicago.

In 1947, Col. Kitts and I met several times andtalked about dressage and its future in America now that thehorses were gone from the army. He decided to take over asdirector of riding at Culver Military Academy in Culver, IN. TheAmerican Saddlehorse Breeders' Association presented him with aSaddlebred stallion, a beautiful chestnut horse that stood about16.3 hh. He was massively built, and if you looked at him, youjust had to look again. He was perhaps the most majestic horse Ihad ever seen. His quarters were massive, and the topline toldyou the breed, for no horse has the beauty of the Saddlebred. Hishead was fine, and his ears and eyes were the picture of a horsethat might have been sculpted in bronze.

American Lady died at Culver and was buriedthere. Col. Kitts was not a well man after that, and he gave uphis training. One thing he did do was revitalize Culver's jumpingteam. He had the Culver Boys show on barefoot horses against thebest the midwest could produce. It was a great thrill to watchthose high school boys gallop against the stopwatch in a timedopen jumper class. The grass was slippery in the morning, but thekids had guts as they raced around, sliding their $300 horsesbought from Wiley Jones of El Reno, OK Major St Jernhold was Col.Kitts' assistant for about a year, then left with his horses DuarGirl and Peter Pan for Morgan Park Military Academy. Shortlyafter that, he was killed in a car/train crash. Both horses weresold to a French of officer.

In dressage, let us take a bold new approachand start over. Not just for the next Olympics; let us plan forten years down the road. Let's do it the American way. We may nothave the dressage trainers (that is, competitive trainers), butAmerica does have trainers. We should ferret them out fromwherever they are. Let us solicit their help.

No one breed is the best for dressage. Let uswork with a few talented horses and riders. The masses will notbe interested in the discipline necessary for dressage. Let ustake just a few dedicated people who have the genes to betrainers. We can work and encourage them. We have riders andhorses. What we need is trainers, and those trainers need yourhelp.

Copyright 1996 by Shine-A-Bit Farm; Brighton,Michigan - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of text and/orphotos for commercial purposes is strictly prohibited