Dressage Letters Mystery

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I am the only Western/team penner rider (not to mention the only male) rider in a stable of dressage riders. We get along just fine. They kind of tolerate my style and choice of riding excitement, and I love watching their particular art form. But one thing has been driving me crazy!

No one can explain the rationale behind the crazy lettering system used in a dressage arena. It makes no sense to me and seems to have no logical pattern. I presume it comes from some sort of ancient French historical background.

The dressage folks just memorize the letters and get on with riding their patterns. But I guess that is to be expected from folks who are content to ride without some cattle out in front of them. Can you explain the dressage letter system so this old cowboy can understand it'

Associate Editor Margaret Freeman Responds:

We wish we could. Unfortunately, the answer seems lost in the mists of time. There are theories but no firm facts.

The most popular theory is that the perimeter letters (K, E, H, C, M, B, F, A plus R, S, V, P) seem to correspond to positions around the old German royal courtyard (K=Kaiser, F=First Prince, etc.), and this theory was enhanced by the dimensions of the courtyard itself, the same 20 x 60 meters used today in a standard arena. That theory doesn't explain the letters that run up the center of the arena (G, I , X, L, D). Nor does it explain how the intermediate letters form the French abbreviation RSVP, unless it's just a coincidence. And, some Brits will tell you the stable yard in question was that of the first Duke of Newcastle in the 17th century.

The German courtyard theory conflicts with our own theory about the establishment of the 20 x 60-meter arena, which we talked about in a www.myhorse.com blog on April 16, and with the size of the arenas originally used in the Olympics. Letters first popped up in 1920 in the Antwerp Olympics, but the arena then was 20 x 50 m. The 1912 arena was only 20 x 40m (no letters) and was finally set at 20 x 60m in 1924. Our own theory is that some anonymous Olympic official in 1920 decided letters would help sort out the complicated test movements and assigned them randomly.

We wish someone could come up with a rationale for the letters, if only because it would make them easier to remember. There are dozens of pneumonic devices that people use when setting up an arena (i.e. All Kind Elephants Have Cute Mothers Bad Fathers) but, in the heat of battle when riding a test, those devices don't do any good. Given our druthers, we'd also pick letters that don't sound so much alike and further confuse the heck out of everyone (Gee, was that Cee or Dee').

that's probably more than you want to know on the subject, although the minutiae is typical of any dressage topic.

Too Many Supplements

I'm keeping my 22-year-old mare sound on MSM, B-L Solution pellets and Corta-Flx pellets. She has a history of suspensory damage and recently fractured a splint bone, secondary to suspensory swelling. I've been advised to ride her ?at a stroll,? although she often comes in from the pasture at a canter. Since her fracture, now healed, I've been giving her loading/double doses of all three of these supplements. SHe's doing well. Is this too much of a good thing'

Veterinary Editor Eleanor Kellon, VMD Responds:There is no long-term supplementation information available. While it is safe to say that both MSM and devil?s claw are much safer than NSAIDs in terms of recognized toxicity states, that doesn't mean they are 100% safe long term. We just don't know. MSM and devil?s claw (the active ingredient in B-L Solution) have very similar mechanisms of action. You may want to consider using a full therapeutic dose of one or the other. ?Loading dose? does not really apply here because these supplements do not build up in the horse's system, like glucosamine. it's more a matter of minimum dose versus optimum therapeutic dose.

The Corta-Flx addresses joint cartilage issues, so it may not be doing much in the scenario you described, although at her age she may well have joint issues also. The risk of arthritis also increases with age as the cartilage cells, chondrocytes, become fewer in number.

Unless you have known arthritic issues beyond the problems you described, you may want to drop down to the usual dose of Corta-Flx as a first step. If sHe's fine with this after two to three weeks, try her on ?double? dose B-L or MSM at 20 grams/day, dropping the other supplement.

Pelletized Bedding

Your November 2008 article on pelletized bedding piqued my interest. I tried Equine Pine over mats in my stalls and loved the ease of picking and the reduced amount of waste.

However, I have two major concerns: One is the need to moisten it if you want it to be soft and fluffy. Not an issue in the summer, but when the temperature?s in the single digits, it's a messy problem.

My other concern kills any advantages for me. The air becomes filled with lots of fine dust while picking the stall and irritates my own airway. I hate to think of my horses breathing it after moving around or just while recumbent with their noses in it. Since dust problems weren?t mentioned in the article, I wonder if my problem is brand-specific.

Performance Editor John Strassburger Responds:The short answer to both of your questions is that, as you suggest, it depends on the brand.

The manufacturers of several of the brands we surveyed assured us that extreme cold weather isn?t an issue with their products, even if it's too cold to use a hose or turn on a faucet to wet down the pelletized bedding. Their assertion, backed up by our observation, is that you can take three steps to ameliorate the temperature issue. But you may have to experiment with different brands to see which works best.

First, in the winter you'll have to plan ahead more than you do in milder weather. You can't allow the amount of bedding in your horses? stalls to decrease to such a low level that they immediately need a great deal of bedding. You must stay attentive to the level of bedding so that you can add to it incrementally, a bag at a time.

That will allow the second remedy to occur. Over a day or two, the horse's urine will dampen the pelletized bedding enough to soften it comfortably. In warm weather, it takes less than a day to soften the bedding if you just open the bag and dump the pellets in the stall.

The third thing you could do would be to use a cup or something similar to scoop some water out of a bucket onto the pellets, to start the softening process before letting the urine take over.

The dust issue seems to depend on the brand. The quality of the wood products and the quality of the manufacturing process varies from brand to brand. The three brands with which we're most familiar Mallard Creek, Woody Pet and Best Pine do not have a dust issue.

The factors in deciding which brand to use will most likely be availability and cost as bedding brands are not universally available across the country. Woody Pet and Best Pine are two of the more widely distributed brands, though.