The Right To Choose

It is interesting to follow the rumblings throughout the dressage world regarding Totalis, Rath and Janssen, and the possibility of the three working together.  However, it is not my intention in this post to discuss training methods, personalities or the controversy.  I am thinking instead about the right of a rider to choose his trainer/instructor without interference from others, especially organizations.  I will surely interject an opinion here and there, but will try to remain on the topic of  “choice”.

I will never forget the statement made to me by the owner of a barn where I shared space with another trainer of another discipline.  For the most part his students rarely spoke to me.  But on one occasion a student of his, who was having serious, almost dangerous difficulties with her horse, did approach me.  Her trainer was trying to convince her that this horse was finished and she needed to buy another one.  Since the horse had previously been a dressage horse in Germany, she asked me to look at it to determine if I thought it could be sold to a dressage rider, which I did.  Before I could even render an opinion, there was a major explosion., which took me completely by surprise.  After I received my lecture from the owner of the barn, she finished with a comment permanently etched in my mind: “I will also tell ______ that he needs to get his students under control.”  I think that was the first time I realized (how naive I was) that we had ownership of our students…..that they were our property.

This concept is what has raised my interest in the Totalis issue.  Clearly, there are problems with Rath and Totalis.  There is plenty of speculation everywhere as to why, but that is not the topic of this post.  The issue at hand is whether he should have the right to go to Sjef Janssen for training.

While I definitely disagree with his choice  for many reasons, I have to defend his right to make it (though I personally doubt it is his choice).  The German Federation of Professional Riders (BBR) has made the statement that it “cannot accept that an A-team rider joins a flawed system and considers it a widening of his horizon” (St. Georg).  Also the Xenophone society issued  a statement which said in part “we deeply regret that ……Rath……will pursue this controversial road” (Xenophon Board of Directors).  On the other hand, Schockemohle has stated “he has never witnessed Sjef using rollkur at any ……coompetition” (Interview)  (Let’s try to remember when we last saw Sjef on a horse at a competition).  I guess Schockemohle missed out on all the pictures and videos of Sjef’s students at those “competition” warm-up arenas.  And, more recently Jo Hinnemann has issued a statement defending Janssen as a trainer and coach, including his methods.  (Sjef must be loving this, for the first time in years he and his methods are being defended instead of condemned.)

Possibly this will be a moot point as the rumors abound of  a possible sale of Totalis to Glock and a return to Gal.  However, the stir this has caused really brings the issue of selecting a trainer to the forefront.  The Americans, until recently used European trainers to officially train their international competitors.  Germany is a melting pot of riders from all around the world, training of course with German trainers.  Dutch and German trainers travel to many countries around the world to conduct training and coaching sessions, all without controversy.  However, it takes a high profile horse and rider to raise the thought that this could be a “bad idea“.  Unfortunately I believe the lines between condemnation of a system and the right to choose this system have become blurred, resulting in much unnecessary finger pointing.

Finally, I am strongly of the opinion that making any selection, be it hiring a plumber or a trainer/coach, should be based on research, referral and an effort to match your goals and morals with an appropriate “service provider“.  For in the end we are providing a service, which is our education, experience and skill.  As such, we should endeavor to satisfy our clients and produce good results for them,not assert ownership or dictatorship. Clients should not be pressured by us, the service provider, peers,  outside individuals or organizations to pursue or continue against their wishes.

Therefore, while I disagree totally from a training perspective with the decision made by Team Rath, I support in every way their right to make it.