Classical Dressage definition from Walter

January 14, 2014

I would like to address all equestrian riders, not just dressage riders. We need people that are thinking about classical training. Not only for the longevity of the sport but mainly for the well-being of our horses. I want to congratulate all who keep thinking, learning, and promoting the idea of true classical training.

Classical Dressage was developed for military purposes and goes back as far as Xenophon 430 BC who wrote, “Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby, to be picked up and laid down like a game of Solitaire. It is a grand passion.”

Through a thousand years of development, dressage was refined as a necessity of military purpose. For the soldier, a well-trained horse was extremely valuable. Any measure that could preserve the horse both mentally and physically was taken seriously as a matter of life or death. Thus, techniques of training were developed so the horse would be preserved for many years. Collectively, those training methods are now known as Classical Dressage.

For example, the cavalry sometimes traveled hundreds of kilometers a day. Keeping the horses sound, both in body and mind was of utmost importance. This was done by training methods. Also, The riders benefitted from this classical training by minimizing accidences due to frightened, tense horses, and fatigue. Any added stress for the horse or rider was detrimental to the cavalry as well as to their military success.

The advancing ideas of Classical training culminated with Frederick II, the Great (1712-86): King of Prussia. Classical Dressage principles meant having a cultured horse and mounted military.  Being cavalry trained with Classical Dressage techniques became prestigious and highly honored, fulfilling for horse and rider. The basic principles of Classical Dressage training allowed horses to be more relaxed, and preserved their soundness for many years, creating trust between rider and mount.  Under Frederick’s rule, riders who were cruel to their horse suffered severe punishment as horses were regarded with the utmost respect.

I was originally trained for the cavalry using classical principles. The goal of my training was to develop an athletic horse while at the same time preserving his mental, physical and emotional well-being. This created a life long partnership with my horse. It also created the life-long desire to share my experience and knowledge with today’s dressage riders and trainers. Over the years I have expanded this to reach all types of disciplines. I have developed a great compassion for the horse, it runs deep, and it defines who I am.

My goal of dressage training is to inspire the horse’s confidence in the rider while developing the horse’s natural athletic ability. One should only ask as much from the horse as is exhibited in turnout or at play or when he shows off like a great stallion.  All of these movements are natural and the horse enjoys doing them. These movements are found in horseplay and are part of all exercises in our dressage tests.

The horse should have flexible gymnastic like qualities. They should be allowed the proper time to develop physically and mentally, progressing slowly up the training pyramid. When done this way we can be assured that our horses will have many quality years as our partners and that they will trust us, as well as we trusting them.

For me this is Classical Dressage. These are the ideas and philosophy I would like to share with everyone who loves their horses.  That we should all try to do everything possible for the well being of the horse

Yours Truly

Walter A. Zettl

Premier Equestrian Congratulates Classical Dressage Master Walter Zettl on Induction into Hall of Fame

Sandy, UT (January 7, 2011) – Premier Equestrian, LLC, a leading supplier of dressage arenas, horse jumps, and stable accessories, is pleased to congratulate classical dressage master Walter Zettl on his induction into the Toronto CADORA Dressage Association Hall of Fame. Zettl has been a long-time advisor to Premier Equestrian and is also the technical advisor for Dressage Today Magazine.

“Walter is one of the true classical dressage masters left on the planet and we are so happy that he was recognized for being a contributor to the evolution of the sport of dressage,” said Heidi Zorn, President of Premier Equestrian. “Walter has lived in Canada since 1981 and has had a big impact on the Canadian dressage community. He has also had a big impact on our company and has advised and directed Premier on our products over the years.”

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Letter sent to the editor of the German Georg Magazine

Letter sent to the editor of the German St. Georg Magazine
(In response to the recent article entitled, “Dressage Perverse”)


Translated from German

We can indeed be happy and grateful for having your Magazine and a chief editor like Gabriele Pochhammer who have dedicated themselves unreservedly to the wellbeing of our magnificent horses.

Should this not be the case also for every single rider? Is it not our duty to make the unnatural lives of our horses as tolerable as humanly possible? This does not only include correct boarding and regular exercise but also turn out and work. The objective of dressage should be to strengthen and “ennoble” the horse in its natural gaits through gymnasticizing, to obtain a constraint-free control and to enable us to “access” any exercises and transitions at any given time and at any given place. We should strive for a harmonious partnership, based on equal rights and mutual respect.

What we see and read about what happens in some arenas and warm-up paddocks is tantamount to enslaving and raping our magnificent animal partners. That we can even get close to them, in spite of their strength, we owe exclusively to their infinite patience and utmost devotion to us.

One is often prompted to ask why some riders exercise this sport as if they hated their equine partners, by torturing them with all kinds of artificial means, showing horses with their heads forcefully pulled down below the bit, to the point of touching their chests.

Without doubt, these riders are having great results. However, whoever has a heart for animals cannot condone this type of training, which must be condemned and rejected.

As long as show managers, judges, the National Federations and the FEI do nothing to stop these practices, this torture and abuse will only increase.

It is sad indeed that spectators are getting so upset about this type of riding and warm-up that they threaten show organizers with filing complaints with the SPCA.

How could we ever reach a point where dressage riding is being rejected even in the “prudish” North America?

Indeed, Sjef Janssen asked what on earth got into the heads of these “prudish Americans”. I will gladly answer that question. It is perfectly normal for people in North America to tackle anything that is directed against the moral values and the well-being of human beings and animals, and to rebel against such practices.

In this instance, the subject of criticism was the Show Steward whose duty it is to talk to and potentially admonish riders in cases of ugly and excessively long and harsh warm-ups.

That Steward has shown great courage in criticizing a most successful rider such as Anky. Sjef’s answer was that they did not fly 10,000 km just to see his long researched and finally found training method being torn to pieces by a Steward.

Sjef does not consider this type of long and excessive overbending in the neck to be animal abuse, as has been repeatedly observed. Sjef, Anky as well as their students and fans must surely hold a totally different view of what constitutes animal abuse.

Why is it then that he repeatedly had to defend his training method and to threaten legal action, such as prohibiting any video showing Anky during warm-up or banning photos and comments from a website? He has even gone so far as to seek a temporary injunction against parts of the article “Dressage Perverse?” published in the St. Georg Magazine.

Furthermore, Sjef has repeatedly stated that all horses that are ridden according to his method are happy and like to work for him. This was recently confirmed by some very influential, hand picked Ladies and Gentleman from the equestrian world. However, how can horses be deemed happy when they are pulled together and enslaved with mere force and all kinds of instruments?

Riders like Anky who are constantly in the limelight, should not only enjoy the notoriety but must also be able to accept criticism in the spirit of good sportsmanship. In the so called “prudish” America, we still enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which allows us to criticize even the President.

Unfortunately, our poor horses are unable to scream out their pain. Otherwise, we would have to endure a lot of loud screaming and crying in many indoor and outdoor arenas and warm-up rings. It is a pity that Nature has cruelly neglected to equip our horses with the ability to voice their pain. Their lot is to continue to endure all pain and abuse quietly.

Our former “Grand Masters” would turn in their graves if they could see what our beautiful dressage sport has come to.

We can only hope that our sport finds its way back to what it should be: A sport that we can enjoy watching, not only in the show arena but also in the warm-up rings, as well as at home, in the absence of any spectators.

I wish with all my heart that Frau Pochhammer and the St.Georg continue to advocate a humane dressage training.