On the surface, superficial and fast suffice and so it is in the world of dressage. There is the sport. Centered on appearance and speed, it gives satisfaction to a human population that is in need of both entertainment and distractions.
Competition creates it own special world. Creating a world of gods and demi-gods is not an easy job. It takes great resources and a lot of effort to maintain, but it also needs a certain distance for with any genuine connection to the horse, a sense of dissatisfaction and something being amiss arises.
In contrast, the world of art cannot survive in this world. Art requires and intimacy with its medium; the horse. There must be no distance between the art and the artist. Art vanishes with gods and demi-gods for them there needs to be a distance from the art and arts for they risk exposure when measured by authenticity.
The drama unfolds in this world of pseudo-gods and the public catches glimpses of horses and riders that they never will know. The distance is set. A standard is fixed and with it the excuses for why it is not quite right. As long as enough excitement through extreme movements with costumes called elegant the public can be pleased.
A noble history surrounds the sport and the allure of wealth and power bring these public displays into a pretense justified by technical jargon and just enough difficulty in execution to seal the deal and propel the deception to a level beyond reproach. The public lines up to testify to the reality of a view which is as true as the earth is flat.
Dressage, that elusive art, rarely seen today, requires modesty. The sport requires the opposite. A modest competitive test will only ensure an equally modest score. A winning test must stand out and be outrageous.
So what is this required modesty? What is modest? How can modesty bring us to a deeper level? Slow and deep are the path to all that is authentic. What is dressage if it is not an authentic connection with the horse? How do we measure here and what is real?
Keeping due measure is not just the point of the proper use and understanding of the aids but it is also about a sense of standards that are not absolute for every horse but are a measure that grows and changes with every horse’s individual development.
A competitive situation requires fixed standards to judge but an art always takes the freedom to step beyond what is fixed because what touches the heart in a display of true art defies measurement. So too, a measure is only a point between two other points affected by time and the eye which perceives. Its value is always relative and not absolute.
We also see our own development as horse people not as absolute or a right or wrong situation but rather one of keeping to that measure which is seen as possible. And so the idea of keeping due measure is to see a gradual progress on the path to good dressage.
Here is the funny part: the word modesty is from the Latin, “modestus” which means, “keeping due measure”. So the importance of modesty for the practitioner of dressage is fundamental to learning how to work with the horse but with modesty, there would be no sport as it exists today.
We could say the whole art turn around the modest mind. Because we are modest we can afford kindness to ourselves and our horses. A dressage of goodness is born in a modesty which keeps the due measure of what is possible for the horse and the human.
Sadly this is not the dressage the public knows. Modest, the horseman keeps the wise council of the heart; gentle and kind. One who would take the title of an equestrian artist keeps close to the horse, for meek and modest is the journey of a dressage based on basic goodness.