Appaloosa Dressage Horses

Chuck Grant with the Appaloosa stallion Billy Joe Freckles IMG SRC = cdg-bjf.jpg

Appaloosa News July 1979


Competitive dressage is a 20th centurydevelopment, whereas exhibition dressage dates from thepublication, 1552, of Grisone's pioneer work "Ordini deCavaleare."

Charles D. "Chuck" Grant is one offew trainer/riders in the United States to have marked success inboth fields. He performed in exhibitions before World War Two;judged the first U.S. civilian dressage show in 1948; was one ofthe founders of the Midwest Dressage Association. Chuck Grant hastrained many horses and riders in international dressage. He alsohas trained seven horses to the Grand Prix level - a featunmatched in the United States.

Early in the morning after driving down highway23, a busy freeway, and moving onto congested construction onM-59 near Hartland Michigan, we headed south through the farmland north of Brighton. On a gravel road south, in the calm ofthe countryside and almost hidden from the road, there appearedChuck Grant's Shine-A-Bit Farm and training facility with a sign"Whoa" placed at the end of the drive.

There was much activity - horses being washedand groomed, tack being cleaned, horses lunged and ridden in thefield, and a group class under instruction in the indoor arena.Amid all this we saw a tall, distinguished man, quiet in hismovements and patient of voice. We saw Chuck Grant at work.

The following interview evolved from ourmeeting.

A.W. : We were surprised to learn the Appaloosastallion Billie Joe Frecklesl was in your hands for dressagetraining. Does the standing of a stallion to mares in any wayinterfere with his necessary daily training.
C.G.: From my experience in training stallions while standing atstud, my answer would be no. However, this would depend, to somedegree, on the disposition of the horse and his past training.While you are training this stallion you, the trainer, will haveto spend some additional time on teaching manners so he will notbe preoccupied with mares working in the same vicinity. With moststallions, you will have to take additional warm-up time beforeentering the show ring so his entire concentration will be on hisanticipated ring entrance and not on any mares in the area.
A.W.: What breed, or breeds, have been most successful intraining and dressage competition?
C.G.: The most successful horses I have had in dressagecompetition have been Thoroughbreds, or have had a good infusionof Thoroughbred blood. Trakehners and Hanoverians, or a mixtureof these breeds, have been most successful in dressagecompetition. In my opinion, these are the most popular breeds.However, it is not the breed, but the individual that makes thegreat competitor.
The word dressage comes from the French. It means training, andtraining is what counts. No matter what the breed - theindividual that is impressive to look at, moves with true gaitsthat are very free, and has the proper psychological attitude isthe one to go forward with.
A.W.: Have European bloodlines been more successful incompetition? Have American-bred horses been coming along instatus?
C.G.: Yes, the European bloodlines have been much more successfulin competition than the American-bred horses. I do not think thisis due to the type of horses they have in Europe. It is becauseEuropeans have been engaged in this type of training for manymore years than we have in the United States. American-bredhorses have not come along in status as they should. I believethis is because we have so few dedicated trainers in thiscountry. We must develop an American style, and this can't bedone the way we are going. All three of the horse disciplines inthe Olympic games are now, and have been, coached and trained byEuropeans. We have had three or four American coaches for ourOlympic teams, and these for only a short period of time. Most ofthe horses used on our dressage team have been European-bred andtrained. However, American-bred horses are now begining to comealong to higher levels of dressage.
A.W.: What basic characteristics do you look for in judging thata horse is a candidate for dressage training?
C.G. I enjoy training any horse as long as he is sound, a fairlygood mover, and mentally normal. I have trained just about everybreed of horse we have in America for competitive dressage.
If you were to ask me to find a horse that would be a candidatefor the Olympic team, I would have to look for the individualthat I feel would be appealing to the dressage judges. This wouldbe a fairly good size horse, perhaps 16 hands or better. He wouldhave to be a long-moving horse. That is, at the walk he wouldhave to have an overstep of at least eight inches. This ismeasured from where the toe of the fore was to where the toe ofthe hind foot lands past the toe of the forefoot on the sameside. At the trot he also would have to overstep the forefoot.
I would look for a normal temperment in the horse. This issomething one cannot change in the horse. It is the manner inwhich the mind of the horse works. He must not be the kind ofhorse that resents normal handling. He should not be the kind ofhorse that is always looking for something to be afraid of.
He must show some natural elasticity in his strides and he shouldmove with a little more rounded action than the average horse. Ilike a young horse to start, say 2 or 3, but I also have hadgreat success with horses much older.
As for breed, I would have to say the horse I would pick wouldhave to have a good infusion of Thoroughbred. This could be aQuarter Horse. The top ten sires of the Quarter Horses in thiscountry are Thoroughbreds. I have had a number of great horsesthat were half Thoroughbred and half Saddlebred. I have had twogreat competitive horses that were registered Arabians, one amare and one a stallion. I have had Morgan horses that have donewell, especially the ones that looked more like Saddlebreds thanthe old true Morgan. Appaloosa's are on the way to becoming morepopular in the dressage show ring. No matter what the breed, theymust have to some degree, the qualities I have mentioned.
A.W.: In dressage training for the competition, does each horsehave limitations as to the level of achievement from traininglevel to Grand Prix level?
C.G.: If the horse is sound, physically and mentally, I wouldthink there would be no limit to his training to Grand Prix. Eachhorse may move differently. One may not be able to reach as farforward as another horse. But each horse is capable of doing allthe movements of the Grand Prix horse.
There is nothing new you are going to teach the horse. Ourproblem is being able to communicate with the horse so he will dosomething he already knows how to do. He knows how to do theextended trot, for we often see him do this when he is in thepasture. He knows how to do the piaffe and the passage, for weoften see the horse do this when he feels good or wants to showoff. He knows how to lay down and sit up, but the problem is howdo we communicate with him so he will respond with the movementswe want. We may find a horse that has a shorter time span forconcentration, and this horse will more time to get to the GrandPrix level.
A.W.: How long does it take to move a horse that is athleticallycapable through the various levels of training and competition?
C.G.: The answer to this question, by most European trainers,would be about four years. However, this is really not the trueanswer when one considers the thousands of horses that arestarted in dressage training, and the very few that reach theGrand Prix level used in the Olympic games.
Assuming the horse started in training is normal physically andmentally, and the trainer has spent a lifetime training dressagehorses, the answer would be two to three years In my opinion, ittakes many years for the trainer to learn how to go abouttraining the horse. I have known only two American trainers thathave trained more than one horse to the Grand Prix level ofdressage competition. You can count the fingers of both hands andyou have the number of American trainers that have trained onehorse to the Grand Prix level.
I have trained seven horses to the Grand Prix level, and each hascompeted in national dressage trials in this country. I was over45 years old before I was able to train my first horse to thistop level. After training my next three horses to the top level,I was able to train the last three horses to this level in abouttwo years.
When one knows the theory of training very well, he knows verylittle - for this theory then has to be applied to a live animal.It is the training and experience of the trainer that takes time.Once this is accomplished, the ability to communicate with thehorse can be practiced.
A.W.: How different or alike are some of the training proceduresused in dressage as compared to English and Western pleasure andreining?
C.G.: The training procedures all over the world, regardless whatthe horses are used for, are about the same. With the dressagehorses all over the world, they are the same. This comes aboutthrough the Federation Equestrian International, which sets upthe rule for international competition. This federationrecognizes just three disciplines used in internationalcompetition. They are dressage, the three day competition, andthe Prize of Nations jumping contest.
Through the exchange of army officers before the second WorldWar, American officers would spend years learning the trainingmethods used by the Italians in Palermo, Italy; the French inSaumur, France; the Germans in Hannover, Germany; the English inWeedon, England, ect. This exchange of training methods, breedsof horses, and the competitions led to a similarity of trainingmethods used to produce some of the top trained horses in theworld.
The Western trainer does not have a counterpart in any part ofthe world. The English pleasure horse would use the exacttraining of the dressage horse for the ordinary walk, trot andextended trot, as well as the collected gallop.
The dressage horse is the ballerina. The Western horse, properlytrained, is the most efficient horse, For instance, to do therein-back, the dressage horse has to back a prescribed number ofsteps. The cadence has to be the same as the cadence for the walkforward. The back movement must be in exact two-time, the leftforefoot and the right hind must leave the ground together andland together. On the last step back the horse must not hesitate,but move that foot forward which was the last to move back.
On the other hand, the Western horse must move to the rear fast;his form may change; and normally he is not penalized if he takesmore steps then required.
The half-pirouette at the canter and the rollback are just aboutthe same as far as the aids used. But, again, the dressage horsehas to do the half pirouette in three strides. His inside hindfoot should make a circle about three feet in diameter, and thecadence must be the same as the collected canter. The bend of thehorse must be around the riders inside leg, and the horse wellflexed to the inside of the turn, with the head staying the same.
The western horse, on the other hand, has to spin around fast. Hedoes not have to keep his head in any one position, nor does hehave to keep the canter behind. The aids for the dressage horseand the Western horse, for these two movements, should be thesame.
It is not for me to say which method is best to use for trainingthe horse. I do know the Western horse can do more spins in agiven time than the well schooled dressage horse. The wellschooled dressage horse has to do each spin in six strides, andthe inside hind foot must keep the same three-beat gait in whichthe spin was started. The Western horse does not have to keepthis same beat.
A.W.: Many Appaloosa owners are not interested in competitivedressage. Can this training help them in their Western or Englishperformance classes?
C.G.: The owners of Appaloosa horses interested in Western orEnglish performance classes have to be interested in dressage.Dressage is training of the horse for any purpose. Learning thetheory of training can only help the rider or trainer turn outbetter performing horses, no matter what their use.
The average rider knows how to perform about nine differentmovements with the horse. The horse is capable of doing about 135movements.
I would think the Appaloosa rider would have a much betterperforming horse if he would give some thought as to how thehorse learns to obey the aids when properly used. Unfortunately,the horse learns the bad as well as the good.
A.W.: Other than horses you have trained in dressage, have youtrained some Western performance horses?
C.G.: Yes, I have trained Western performance horses. I also havejudged Western performance classes in the he Chicago area. I haveused the same training methods for both the dressage horses andthe Western horses.
Just as an experiment, I used a Western saddle on all my dressagehorses a few summers ago. It was most interesting to find thatthe horses go equally well in either saddle once they becomeaccustomed to the extra weight and feel of the Western saddle.
A very good friend of mine shows his dressage horse in bothWestern classes and competitive dressage. He attributes placingconsistently higher in Western classes to the dressage schoolingof his horse.
A.W.: How important is hunting-jumping ability to dressagetraining?
C.G.: Hunting-jumping ability is not necessary in training thedressage horse. However, I have found if the horse is already agood hunter or jumper, his training in dressage may go a littlefaster.
A good performing horse generally is a well-schooled horse. Themore schooling the horse has, providing it is good schooling, theeasier it is to bring him on to higher levels.The power ofconcentration in the unschooled horse is very short. As schoolinggoes on, this power of concentration becomes longer. In order tolearn, the horse must concentrate well. The jumping horses usedin the Olympic games all receive a great deal of dressagetraining.
A.W.: When Billie Joe Freckles was brought to you for the firsttime in November 1977, what special characteristics did he have?
C.G.: First of all, he was a very pleasing horse to look at. Hehas kind eyes, he was alert, well-muscled and an exceptionallygood mover with long strides. His manners were excellent. Hisprevious training had been very good, and he was able toconcentrate for longer periods of time than most stallions.Billie Joe Freckles was a halter champion. The training hereceived as a halter horse had to be good. His manners, both inthe stall and under saddle were perfect. His dressage trainingdid not really start until January 1978.
A.W.: Since Billie Joe Freckles had no performance show training,did this affect your initial training procedures with him?
C.G.: I was very pleased Billie Joe Freckles had had not trainingunder saddle, for I then had no bad habits to undo. We were ableto go straight forward with the snaffle bridle. He acceptedtraining as if he liked it, and he was able to come along veryfast as is evident by his going so far in competitive showing insuch a short time.
So often horses come here for training in advanced dressage thathave had a good deal of schooling. Often, horses sent here have ahead problem, or want to lean into the bridle. These faults haveto be eradicated before one can go on with the higher levels ofdressage training.
A.W.: How long did it take to ready Billie Joe Freckles for hisfirst show competition, and how did he perform? C.G.: After threemonths of training he was first shown in the first and secondlevels. He was not in the ribbons at this show, but did gain inhis training by being in new surroundings. His rider for allshows was
Mari Zdunic, and this was her second year showing in competitivedressage.
His second show, after four months of training, was at the secondand third levels. He placed high in both classes, that is, in theribbons
. After five months of training, he was again shown at the secondand third levels. The first place score for the third level classwas 67.95 percent. Billie Joe Freckles was third, with a score of67.75 percent - only 20/100ths of a point out of first place.
After six months of training, he was shown at the third andfourth levels. And, in the Michigan Dressage Team competition,Billie Joe Freckles was a member of the winning team for thestate championship, scoring highest of the four-horse team.
All of these shows were very large in entries, and he wascompeting against some of the best horses in the country.
A.W.: From these first show experiences, were you encouraged thatBillie Joe Freckles could go on?
C.G.: Yes, Billie Joe Freckles should be able to go on to theGrand Prix level of dressage. By the time this horse has abouttwo years of training he should be able to do the Grand Prixtest. It may take a little more time to smooth out the passageand piaffe, but he will be trained to the degree of dressage thatis required for Olympic dressage. Of course, some of this successwill be due to the rider/trainer combination.
A.W.: How is he progressing in further training?
C.G.: Further training is coming along in an excellent manner. Wehave started flying changes of lead at every four strides and hisprogress is better than we hoped for. His ground training for thepassage is well started, and this winter we will be doing some ofthe passage work from the saddle.
A.W.: Is there a time when readying a horse for dressagecompetition should be stopped in order to pursue a moredeliberate training period not interrupted by show competition?
C.G.: Yes, there does come a time, in training and showing, whenthe trainer has to back off the training of more advancedmovements in order to show well at the lower level.
If we have a horse training well at the third level, and thishorse is ready for showing at the third level, we could confusehim by rigid training of more advanced movements.
For instance, in this third level, the horse is required to makea 66 foot circle at the counter-canter. For the fourth leveltest, the horse is required to perform the flying change of leadat the canter. The next movement, after the counter canter isconfirmed, would be the the flying change of lead. If we areteaching the flying change of lead, and also showing at the thirdlevel, it is possible the horse, while doing the counter-canter,will do the flying change of lead on his own. If this shouldhappen, the horse would be scored down - and rightly so.
Unless the horse is really confirmed at the counter-canter to thepoint where he will not make the flying change of lead on hisown, the best bet would be to back off, and not practice theflying changes.
I continue to practice the flying change of lead at least twoweeks before the next show where the horse will be shown at thethird level. I use the expression, "one has to tear down tobuild up." By that I mean, if one is to go forward with thetraining of the horse, there comes a time when the horse willescape into a movement the horse may think we want. If thisshould take place, the trainer has to back off the new movementuntil the one the horse escapes into has been confirmed.
A.W.: Does Billie Joe Freckles command unusual attention as acompetitive performer?
C.G.:Yes, he does command unusual attention as a competitivehorse. I attribute this to his color, his build, his way of goingand his general expression.
A.W.: At what age should a horse be brought to dressage training?
C.G.: The young foal, having the halter put on, is receivingtraining, or being "dressaged", and the training goeson from here until the horse finishes his work at whatever he isto be used for. The actual mounted training starts at about 2years of age.
A.W.: Do you prefer that a horse be brought to you without anyprior training - either ground training or under saddle?
C.G.: I like to receive a horse that has been broke to walk, trotand canter with a long frame.
A.W.: What special equipment do you use, if any, for ground andsaddle training?
C.G.: When starting the ground training one needs a snafflebridle, side reins, a saddle and a whip that is at least six feetlong.
After the horse has had some work in collection from the saddlewith the snaffle bridle, one must then go to full bridle. Thetime to introduce the full bridle will depend on the trainer andthe horse. In dressage competition one must use the snafflebridle up to the third level. Third level tests may be done ineither the snaffle or full bridle. Fourth level and tests abovethat level must be done in the full bridle.
A.W.: How much time is spent in ground training before a horsegoes under saddle?
C.G.: Again, this depends on the horse and the trainer doing thework. Generally, I like to spend at least a week of work on thelunge, leading, and teaching the horse to stand. During this timeI introduce the saddle without stirrups to the horse. After a dayor two of lunging without stirrups, I then attach the stirrupsand lunge the horse this way for another day or so. Then, afterthe ground work for that day, I mount the horse. I do not ask himto move. I like to just sit on his back. I dismount and thenmount in order to let the horse know he will not get hurt. One ofthe things that frightens the horse is seeing a person on hisback for the first time. A couple more days of work from theground and I will get on the horse and let him walk around. I dolittle in trying to guide him at this time.
A.W.: While we have talked much about the horse in dressagetraining and competition, does not the rider have much to do withthe horse's performance?
C.G.: The rider/trainer has just about everything to do with theperformance of the horse. The rider is the one that tells thehorse what to do and when to do it. A well-schooled horse waitsfor the rider, depends on the rider, and cooperates with therider.
A good trainer is not always a good competitive rider. A traineris always training his horse. There are many good competitiveriders that know little about training. But, the rider is the onethat has to use the aids to talk to the horse. The more the riderknows about the use and the accord of the aids, the better theperformance will be.
A.W.: In dressage, do you feel it is better to train the horsefirst and then the rider, or vice versa? Does it help to havehorse and rider trained together?
C.G.: I have found it best to train the horse and the ridertogether. This is good, however, only if the rider will let thetrainer keep the horse schooled a level ahead of the rider. Thetrainer should do most of the work on the horse. Gradually, therider must learn to use the same aids as the trainer.
In dressage, the aids are pretty much standard the world over.Influence is difficult to define, but the rider that understandsinfluence will have a much better performance than the one usingthe aids alone. There must be great feel in using the aids, andwe do not all have this feel.
A.W.: What do you look for in a rider interested in dressageriding instruction?
C.G.: A rider interested in dressage instruction must first ofall have a deep love for training the horse. Training must neverbe work; it must always be enjoyable. The rider must have greatpatience. He must also have a desire to learn the theory oftraining, for without that, he will never master the art oftraining. Every time the rider puts leg up, he is teaching thehorse - even when standing still. The rider could be of any agefrom 16 to 60. Most serious dressage riders are older people.
A.W.: How long does it take in riding instruction to move throughthe steps from novice, junior, etc.?
C.G.: Again, this will depend on the student and the teacher.Time is another important factor. I have known many Olympicriders who put in at least four hours a day working with theirinstructor.
A serious rider with a good teacher/trainer should be able toride a Grand Prix horse at the end of three years of schooling.But, to do this, the rider must have a horse that is wellconfirmed in all the movements of the Grand Prix. I have hadriders that have been able to do the Grand Prix test after twoyears of riding under good instruction.
A.W.: Is it all work and no play .... or are dressage horsesreally sounder when stretched and trained to their full athleticpotential?
C.G.: In my opinion, the dressage horse is the soundest of allhorses. He is supple, relaxed, flexible and never does the hardwork of polo, jumping, eventing, reining work, cutting, hunting,or racing.
One could go on and on talking about the easy life of thedressage horse. His fastest gallop is for about 200 feet and at16 miles an hour. almost always he is on very soft footing. Iwould say the dressage horse is the soundest horse in the world.Of course, there are exceptions. A dressage horse could develop asplint - but then who knows what causes a splint.
A.W.: What advice would you give to those interested in dressage?
C.G.: If you are interested in dressage, then "go forit." Read dressage books. Watch trainers of any horses. Talkto them. If you have access to a horse, school the horse insomething .... anything. You must understand the mind of thehorse. You are not going to teach him anything he does notalready know. All you have to do is learn the method ofcommunication between you and the horse. He is a very willinganimal and loves to work.
A.W.: I believe you have written many articles on dressage andhave recently written a book. Is this true?
C.G.: Yes. I not only enjoy riding, training and instructing, Ialso enjoy writing and talking dressage. Over the years I haveaccumulated copious notes, references and recorded experiencesfor my files. More than four years ago I assembled materials formy second book. It is now being readied for print and should bepublished by Christmas. It will be titled "An Essay ofDressage" and I hope it will be helpful and interesting toall riders and trainers.
A.W.: What advice do you have for someone selecting or buying ahorse for dressage training?
C.G.: In selecting a horse for dressage training, the buyershould first determine whether he wants to win ribbons or tolearn how to train and ride a dressage horse.
If you want to learn the art of training, then almost any horsethat is sound and mentally normal will do. If you are learning totrain the horse, and you find the best dressage prospect in theworld, you may end up with a horse that is fairly well-schooled,but never a top competition horse, for you are going to make yourmistakes on this horse.
If, on the other hand, you start with almost any horse, then asyou become a better trainer and rider you will be way ahead ifyou wait to find the good horse.
Almost all trainers go through a number of horses before theycome out with a good horse, one that is well schooled. Make yourmistakes on a horse that you don't have to put a lot of money in.Remember, very few trainers, with a lifetime of trainingexperience, have been able to train a horse to the top level,which is the Grand Prix horse.
A.W.: Would you like to see more Appaloosa horses and owners indressage?
C.G.: Yes, I would like to see more Appaloosa owners in dressage.The Appaloosa has the color that people like. If he has all thecharacteristics of a good horse, that is good movement and truegaits, he should be able to do well in dressage.
A.W.: What future plans are there for Billie Joe Freckles?
C.G.: I would like to see Billie Joe Freckles go all the way indressage. He is well on the way to becoming a Grand Prix horse.If he makes it all the way I am sure he will be the firstAppaloosa to make it to the top. He has the potential to be a topcontender.
A.W.: What else would you like to say to horse owners aboutdressage?
C.G.: Once you start training or dressaging a horse, you willfind it a very fascinating sport. It is fun, and I am sure if youonce start training you will love it. It is a very fast-growingdivision of the horse show world. Even if you don't show, I amsure you will be gratified by the results you will accomplish.All you have to have is patience and some knowledge of how thehorse learns.
I don't think you can teach the horse anything new. You can justlearn how to communicate with him.

Copyright 1996, 1997 by Shine-A-Bit Farm; Brighton, Michigan- ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of text and/or photos for commercial purposes is strictly prohibited