As one of 19 official judges for the 2019 All American Quarter Horse Congress recently held in Columbus, Ohio, St. Andrews Carla Wennberg was among the elite and nationally recognized equestrian judges to be part of the largest single breed-horse show in the world.
With over 25,000 horse show entries in various
events with 9,000 horses competing and an estimated 650,000 attending the
October 5-26 competition, Wennberg was involved with some 13 days of judging
without a day off — and says she and loved every minute.
Littauer’s teaching style had a dramatic impact on riding at the college level particularly at women’s colleges such as Mount Holyoke, Smith and Sweet Briar colleges. The system and its application became part of the American academic system from about 1950 – 1970. Without Littauer there would not be the outstanding equestrian programs that many schools have today.
Littauer was an advisor to the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD). The Affiliated National Riding Commission which became the American National Riding Commission (ANRC) grew out of AAHPERD and exists today to promote and the American System of Forward Riding through its rider certification program and annual National Championships.
Littauer’s legacy lives on in the many books he wrote documenting and explaining the mechanics of equine movement, the ideal design of position for a rider, the use of controls to communicate with a horse and the systematic development of the equine athlete through correct schooling methodically using the three levels of the American System of Forward Riding. His most well-known title Common Sense Horsemanship (1951) has long been considered the ultimate text for students of the system. Paul Cronin’s book Riding and Schooling the Sport Horse (2004) takes a more modern approach to presenting the system that Cronin learned from his long time mentor Littauer.
Littauer wrote a pamphlet titled “The Rigid Back” in which he suggested that the horse did not bend its spine. He came to this conclusion having used a movie camera to analyze movement. At the time of its publication (1980) the pamphlet was controversial as the prevailing thought was, “of course the spine moves.” Since that time modern technology has proven that the spine is rigid from the withers to the croup.
Mention the name “George Morris” to a group of equestrians and inevitably there is eye rolling, references to his inexorable pursuit of excellence and probably at least one story demonstrating how he humbles and humiliates his students. I have heard the “he made this rider dismount and roll in the dirt because she was not paying attention to him” tale at least twice.
Personal experience from brief encounters never tell the whole story. In his autobiography “Unrelenting” George Morris reveals to Karen Robertson Terry the “rest of the story”. This is a must read for anyone interested in the history of American showjumping since 1950. The story reveals George’s insecurities, his struggles as a gay man, his relationships with both men and women, his needs and desires as a competitor, coach and educator and above all his influence in the national and international show jumping scene.
The story is illustrated with wonderful photographs and stories and tributes from the Who’s Who of international show jumping. Readers will understand how the USET came to dominance in the 1970s and 1980s and why that dominance finally came to an end. The impact of the change in rules allowing professionals to compete in the Olympic Games is explained and discussed from the perspective of someone who lived through the process. The politics of international show jumping is exposed as are the multiple blunders and mistakes made by many or our equestrian icons of yesterday and today.
This book is a must read for any serious student of the horse. You will know what the Chef d’Equipe’s responsibilities are if you did not know before. You will come away with a deep appreciation for someone who is often unfairly criticized but who has done more for the sport of International Show Jumping than any other single individual. A dedicated horseman who continues to serve and influence at an age where many are happy to hang up their boots.
Littauer enjoyed debating and would often offer controversial opinions and ideas. He wanted people to engage in the thought process. He was a great thinker who loved the horse and what was best for the horse. He strongly believed that the forward system of riding (that he was integral in developing) was superior to the high level of manage riding that was very popular in his time. This opinion was based in facts not just biases.
Littauer wanted to make his students think. His lessons and discussions were designed to stimulate deeper exploration into theories and reasoning. What we now know as the American System of Forward Riding is the result of the initial work done by Caprilli and Santini and the thoughts, research and reasoning of Litteaur. Wisdom shared by the many students of the system are part of the equitation lexicon. “Forward and straight, semi-loose reins, connect from the hind end without using reins.” These could be statements made by Paul Cronin, Jane Marshall Dillion, Joe Fargis, Kathy Kusner, Lendon Gray, Ann Kursinski, Melanie Smith, Bernie Traurig or George Morris just some of Littauer’s students.
Littauer had strong ideas when it came to developing a program of work for a horse. Elementary control (defined as quick and definite authority over the horse and characterized by extensive use of the voice, tapping legs and check and release rein aids) was imperative to all riding sessions. He advocated spending 40 minutes riding circles at walk, trot and canter and incorporating jumps into the work, all at the elementary level of control. This should be followed by a ten minute rest break and then five more minutes on a loose rein before going to the intermediate level of control with varying degrees of rein contact.
If you were riding a school horse you would be permitted to ride at the middle, intermediate level of control but you were not permitted to make any higher demands of your equine partner. Those with their own horses may be permitted to advance through the intermediate levels of control towards the advanced level of control if they had sufficient mastery of the lower levels.
All students were expected to easily list five things that they had accomplished and all were expected to ride off of their eye. Riding without stirrups was not as popular as it is now because the horses were lighter in type than today’s warmbloods and the riders rode outside of the arena a lot more than many people do today.
Next time Littauer – Influence on Higher Education
Vladimir Littauer’s Contribution to Educated Riding
Part Two of our Excellence in Equitation series.
Show jumper, hunter, dressage, equitation and pleasure riders from all disciplines may not have heard of Vladimir Littauer but it is likely that they have learned and practiced at least some of the system that he developed. Littauer’s contribution to educated riding is significant and far reaching. To understand the development of the American Forward System of Riding we must look back to the developer of the forward seat Frederico Caprilli 1868 – 1907.
Little formal education but an intense curiosity led Caprilli to propose what is considered today to be the standard style over fences. Prior to his work, photographing a free jumping horse equipped with a straw stuffed mannequin, riders were taught to lean backward as their horses landed over fences. There was much fear that the horse’s fragile front legs would buckle or break on landing over a fence. Riders were taught to shift their weight back and raise their horse’s head with the reins to prevent this tragic occurrence. Today we find this method foolish and abusive, but until it was proven and tested it was standard practice.
The military was slow to adopt Caprilli’s ideas but over time the results in competitive riding clearly favored the riders who rode in a forward seat rather than the standard “backward” seat. Major Piero Santini documented Caprilli’s theories and promoted the system after Caprilli’s untimely early death.
Littauer and his colleagues had studied Caprilli’s techniques and adopted this system of riding at Boots and Saddles. The system was still new and controversial but perhaps the combination of a new system presented to a new consumer was part of its success. A thinker and theoretical analyst Littauer created and documented the levels of control, described the rein and leg aids and developed the system that today we call the American System of Forward Riding. The three levels of control as described in Commonsense Horsemanship have set a standard and created a road map for riding instructors and horse trainers to follow.
Today we start a new series looking into the roots of educated riding and its impact on riders, instructors and trainers today.
Vladimir Stanislavotich Littauer 1892 – 1989
Son of an engineer who owned gold mines in the Ural mountains, Littauer spent his childhood in St. Petersburg. In 1911 he attended the Nicholas Cavalry School and by 1913 was a Lieutenant with the 1st Sumoky Hussars becoming a Captain in 1917. Littauer fought in World War One and in 1920 the Russian Civil War on the side of the whites (vs reds).
Instability in Russia in 1921 forced the family to flee their homeland to avoid persecution. They made their way through Siberia, onto Canada finally settling in New York City. The journey itself was just the beginning of a difficult time for the Littauer family. In Russia they were well off and lived a comfortable life. In the U.S. they became part of the working class. They did not speak English and the only possessions they had were what they could carry with them. Littauer worked to learn the language and secured a job as a house painter. His Engineer father became a factory laborer while his mother learned very little English. The transition from upper class Russian family to working class American family combined with the many cultural differences must have made for many adjustments and challenges for the Littauers.
An entrepreneur before the term was popular, Littauer partnered with two former Russian officers who had also immigrated to New York to open a riding school called Boots and Saddles. The year was 1921 and the world was still recovering from the aftermath of World War One. Civilians did not ride for pleasure and women did not participate in equestrian sports. Boots and Saddles was located near to Central Park and offered trail rides through the park. During the years of the Great Depression the riding school became a recreational outlet for many. Bartering services or products for rides was common practice at the time which led to a business that was so profitable that a second location was added.
Next time: Littauer’s Contribution to Educated Riding