To be properly with a horse can be a matter of how we act. However, good dressage is rather a matter of how, we are behaving rather than acting with the horse.
Acting is what we try to do when we show a horse. We do things just for the sake of display, whereas in the day to day training it is more a matter of consistently behaving correctly. This correct behaving is a matter of how you feel with and interact with the horse.
Education in dressage first attempts to look at the way we acting is the way something looks when we are with the horse but behaving is the way we are without thought or concern for who is looking.
In training it is important that you are being genuine. The horse instinctively knows your level of working as does an educated instructor. When I watch a rider handle a horse, I usually know their level before they even mount the horse.
It is sad that what is perceived upper level work is based on how we act but when you are acting, you are concerned with other people’s possible reactions. Genuine dressage is really only about how you are behaving.
The moment to moment actions and their tone, and the way you are just behaving when nobody is watching is what matters the most. There is no absolute visual of your behavior and your acting is nothing but the visual.
Working with the horse is always a private concern, so there is a quality of genuineness in good dressage, and your manner of working is actually a part of you. All good work unites your mind and body with the horse’s mind and body. It is always genuine work.
We certainly tame the horse in the early work but what should not be overlooked is that we also need to tame ourselves. This is a matter of practice and education and from this we find the meaning of taming yourself.
Becoming a good horse/dressage person means that anytime you are handling a horse, that you are not trying to kid anybody. We allow ourselves to be open to the horse and the horse, then, if we are genuine the horse opens to us.
Working horses is not a constant horse show. Training is not a display but rather a heart connection and this has serious implications in the manner things are done with the horse.
Each step and each moment with the horse is precious and sacred and good education in dressage makes you aware of this. There is no room for anything other than genuine tenderness which arises from making a friend with the horse. This is not about bribery or display but honest affection and respect which we (horse and human) find in each other.