I have used the word “gentle,” a lot in reference to dressage. Certainly, in my experience, gentle is not what I see in common practice in working with horses. There is, also, a perception held by some that the word “gentle” has some connotation of weakness. In woking with horses, all too often, there is a concern that being gentle is ineffective. As common as these beliefs may be, they are very far from true.
Let’s look deeper into this idea of being gentle by first consulting the dictionary to understand the term itself. Gentle is from Middle English: from Old French gentil ‘high-born, noble’, from Latin gentilis ‘of the same clan.’ The original sense was ‘nobly born’, hence ‘courteous, chivalrous’, later ‘mild, moderate in action or disposition’ (mid 16th cent.).
Interesting? If we seek to cultivate a relationship with the horse, what higher standard can we hope for than to be considered by the horse to be of the same clan. How can we achieve this unless we can conduct ourselves as those who are high born?
It would seem then that the only way to advance our dressage is in finding a singularity of being with the horse based on a harmony of mind and behavior. By demonstrating our best (noble) behavior we draw out the horse’s best behavior. So it is only by kind and gentle means that we can advance our way on the path of dressage.
We let our best and the horse’s best intentions to clarify any and all confusion which arises along the journey of dressage and through this we find wisdom. How can we do this in any other way? We first find in our nobility an authentic way to relate to the horse and from this good dressage follows.
Not only is there no weakness in this, but it is the only way to find true strength. We put the relationship first by extending kindness. Kindness is what arise from a noble heart and gentleness is what lights up our way.
It would seem to me that this is an idea which is easily sold to people who love the horse and yet it is not. Where is this gentle dressage in the world today? How do we find it? It certainly appears hidden, but where is it hidden? The answer is in the last place you might look for it; It is in your own heart.
Find your noble heart and teach yourself the ways of kindness. If kindness does not further your goals, then either change you goals or find the noble education which allows success.
There is no level dressage which can be attained without the horse. No horse can truly and fully be had without gentleness which is the core of this art. Without gentleness, it is all cheap tricks and grotesque. Pretending otherwise is very sad, despite its popularity.