Working through the intellect can be a constant discovery of a freshness in the work with the horse. The teachings which come to us from masters from the past and the attempts to discover them in the living experience we have the the horse in daily training sessions is exciting. Working of this scholarly level means understanding the whole process is like viewing the teachings from the top of the mountain.
What is new and modern is not so bewildered and you come to realize that rarely is there anything which is a new approach or new wisdom. Generally when you think something is new, it only means you have not studied the literature enough yet.
How we approach learning is not a matter of just collecting information for the sake of creating a solid perspective, or developing our individual sense of vanity. Always the horse remains in the center of our view. So we find that there are other ways for one to be highly scholastic, highly intellectual in this work. Our work, to have value must be connected both physically and emotionally with real horses.
We do not work the horse’s of our mind only nor do we throw out the mind and emote toward a horse. We connect and we find certain ground in our daily experience with the horse. In this way, whatever comes up in relation to the working with the horse becomes very simple, very easy and workable.
The bedrock of training is always simplicity and what is found in the daily work is always the ultimate determination of the value of dressage. Public acclaim and fashion has never been a reliable measure for any art. Many times popularity is destructive of the aesthetic sense. Admittedly, what is popular is also not automatically bad but in dressage the flowering and cultivation of the individual aesthetic sense is most important because dressage, unlike most of the arts, is a collective collaborative experience between two sentient beings; horse and human. While it is closer to dance than perhaps anything else the fact that there is another species involved makes the whole process unique.
Test scores at FEI level have gone through the roof and the breeding, buying and selling of outstanding equine athletes has created a very public and very destructive force in the dressage world. This might lead one to believe that we have improved on or in the work but while we most certainly have bred better horses, the quality of the actual training has not improved.
A few years back one of the top FEI judges created a video based on just such a theme. He used video footage to support his contention of the advances in modern dressage. Showing footage from the twenties and thirties, he offered positive visual proof that dressage has gotten better but what he failed to mention is that the Olympic footage from the twenties and thirties showed military riders working military horses at the Olympic level.
The problem is that the video of Olympic military riding from the twenties and thirties used the military horse and not high-bred modern sport horses. So, he was presenting an apple and an orange for comparison. The horses the military owned were generally very common horses and by comparison were horses well under 10K in today’s market and the average Olympic horse of today costing well over 100K.
The simple facts that most people are dealing with is that they will not nor cannot ever afford the modern sport horse. They are generally happily stuck with horses which are not elite and yet they are being instructed or follow riders who work the elite equine athlete. We need to ground our work in the ordinary and in fact the majority of us need to seek and find the extraordinary in these common horses. Such a view and path is certainly possible but to follow it requires an aesthetic sense combined with a discriminating intellect which is emotionally healthy. Our horses become the path to finding a sacredness and joy in our lives. Such a fresh perspective takes us horse sports to horse arts and to a love affair with what is unique and common at once.
The dressage we need today is one which is genuine, touches us, heals us, ground us, and give a sense of the sacredness in life. It is not an elite and complex dressage which draws the masses or is competitive. It is a simple, eloquent dressage which is both intelligent and kind. The proof here is not an intellectual theory but a personal experience which one need to seek and find. So, don’t give up the quest, such a thing does exist. I work with it every day.