Regularly I have to bear surprised or even uncomprehending looks from my work colleagues at school when holidays are approaching. My colleague teachers are happily escaping to the US, the Maldives or Italy while to them I prepare travels to apparently totally boring and rather unknown places.
For a few years I've spent a considerable time of my holidays in the archives of generous equestrian personalities or libraries of national riding schools with the only aim to find out "where did we come from in dressage?"
More than a few ask why on earth do we need to know what happened 30, 60 or even more years ago? Do is really bear relevance? Of course one can enjoy dressage as a rider or onlooker without knowing anything about the history of this sport, but to get to know the roots and the long way dressage has come in many aspects means to really try to understand why dressage is what it is today: its achievements as well as its problems. To know where dressage came from means to know where it is now. Finding out is an ongoing task.
My aspiration are not only to reproduce common knowledge, but to go beyond. Wherever it was possible I asked witnesses to write down their own impressions as far as this still was possible. The more something belongs to the past, naturally the more difficult, sometimes impossible, the process became. Still there is an incredible thrill discovering material you haven't seen before, taking long looks at old photos hidden in leather framed photo books, each telling a story of their own.
Sometimes places add an additional fascination to things just discovered. One of my fondest memories of the journey down history lane is me sitting in rance's magnificent Cavalry School in Saumur in the early spring sunshine and battling through the French written biography of French O-judge Colonel Margot, who rode exactly there many decades ago. Talk of inspiration!
However there have also been hours of grind work: searching for photos in an archive of 10,000 dressage pictures, dating back to the pre-digital age of slides and contact copies which need to be scanned. Digging into books in three different languages, not counting articles and original riders' reports, putting them together for the parts of the series like a puzzle of a perceived 10,000 pieces. To me there is no grind work more fun!
I am extraordinarily grateful to all people who helped me along the path of history in the past years. All riders, trainers, journalists and judges who contributed their memories and experiences and produced own texts. They generously opened their private photo archives.
My special thanks go to the German retired I-judge and history expert Angelika Frömming who was most supportive and beyond all measure generous in every way during my time in Warendorf.
Another special thanks goes out to the late Georg Wahl who sparked my interest for dressage history in my late teenage years and kept the fire burning until his death in 2013. He was never short of anecdotes from 80 years amongst horses. Colonel Christian Carde from France introduced me to the French school of dressage which played such an important part in the history of the sport and he has supported my research in his country. The staffers of the Documentation Centre at France's National Riding School are very patient when I overheated their copy maching. Thank you also to Ruth Klimke who generously opened her huge private archive several times and last not least I send a big thanks to former Danish I-judge and equestrian journalist Jytte Lemkow who provided material on the Danish topics.
I have to give ultimate credit to Swiss photographer Elisabeth Weiland who offered her extensive archive for our use and enabled us to illustrate the history from the 1960s onwards. Without the help of all these people it wouldn't have been possible to do this journey down the history lane.
by Silke Rottermann for Eurodressage
Eurodressage's HISTORY section