How does one get it? Where does great dressage come from? We could say, practice, practice and practice and there is some truth to that but there are many very dedicated people who practice a lot and do not seem to get anywhere. Of course there is, purchase, purchase and purchase and there are people who do buy level after level but without an amazing bank account and the selection of an equally amazing horse this does not always succeed either. The there is lesson, lesson and lesson but does not do it either. We all know people who invest in lessons with the best instructors and still do not seem to get anywhere.
So then, how is it done? A simple strategy of all of the above seems to work best, but does it really? Being rich and a bit insane may seem to work but it really is not about that either. It is really about being able to go deeper rather than to do more. All horses are capable of upper level works (assuming a certain level of soundness) and it is my personal belief that all riders are also able to do upper level work. The best plan for us mere mortals is in practice, awareness and study. The tricky part of this trio is that two of the three parts presents unique difficulties.
Practice is some ways is the easiest part. In the end, it is a matter of showing up but what you practice (your education) and how you practice (your awareness) are the two difficulties which present themselves. The education of a rider is about the study of the classics and obtaining sufficient background .
A good instructor is a great facilitator because they can summarize extensive texts in a succinct way and help by drawing your attention to aspects of your performance. Such an instructor has had to spend a lot of their time studying and so what one looks for in a good instructor is someone who is a very good student. The pitfall in this is that instructor or student may get lost in the complexities and technicalities of dressage.
A good instructor, who has an “eye” can report to you what they see and in that way make you conscious of what you are doing rather than having your working on what you think you are doing. This can be very useful.
The problem is there are far too few “good” instructors and so it is that up to you, whether your instructor is good or not to take on the role of observer and teacher. In the end all good riders teach themselves and while I do not want to discourage seeking out an instructor, one must still take responsibility for your own education.
Good dressage is always self education done with the help of the horse. It is wise, to seek the council of educated and kind professional. One who is the best student of dressage you can find but regardless, you are in charge of your own education. Each of us starts and takes our education through a middle and then completion.
The start is always simple because one knows so little. The middle is complicated because one knows too much but does not see the forest for the trees. Only when the great view is assembled one can understand that dressage must always be simple because the horse is. Complications always are a reflection of the human mind. In the end dressage is always simple because one knows what is important and what to do or not do and we have connected with the horse; a simple being. It is a matter of learning how to be more than learning how to do.
What moves us from start to middle to end? Awareness and that is the hard part. In an instructor this is the “eye” but in you it is attention. When attention, knowledge and experience are mixed sufficiently to produce the simple mind we can connect properly.
Awareness and horses both move and because they do move and actually need to move, there is in practice a moment which is too soon, one which is too late and one that is just right. Always awareness follows and between every transition there are gaps.
Awareness is always about seeing the gaps. To find the gaps is to slow down but slowing down is not always about physical speed but rather psychological time. To see a movement or a moment with gaps enables one to find the right time and cadence for action.
This is how one gets it. Whether you have found an instructor or not do not be discouraged. You are always invited to come and visit us. One would be surprised how a simple intensive can set you on course. Once you can clear the fog created by a lot of dressage and see the simplicity, you can find your own course and improve your practice. Kindness, lightness and gentleness; The three “ness” should be part of the dressage you share with your horse.