On Classical Equitation
Commentary on French Classical Riding
The Living Art of DressageDressage should not be a dead thing. It is not a matter of worshiping at the mausoleum of dressage. Correctness should not a be grave you dig and throw the horse in and yet… Dressage means training. And all over the world, in every training discipline, the horse and the rider both are sacrificed to what is believed to be correct. Why is correctness seen as being so important? One reason is that it is a very human way to hold people to a dressage which controls not just the horse but the student. Always there is a fear that without dressage rules and dressage instructors you and the horse are doomed. That fear of ruining your horse is a sword hanging over your head. Yet, the seeking and forcing of correctness is the path to doing exactly that; ruining the horse. And destroying the instinctive, feeling brilliance of the rider as well. But there is a correctness that is kind, forgiving, curious, and alive. Correct dressage is not the imposition of an outside force to “make” the horse take on an appearance. Rather, correctness is a guideline to gently lead a horse to find mechanical efficiency and comfort in its work. Correctness is the awakening of an inner force which leads to happiness and comfort. The result of correctness is increased sanity and durability made over whatever time a horse needs to take to find its own best position. The point of educated riding is to gently lead the horse and trainer in the discovery of the joy of the relationship. Correctness is not a visual appearance though...
Simple, but not Easy
Sometimes working as co-director of the school here along with Craig Stevens can be a bit daunting. I’m good at what I do, but I’m not Craig, and it’s hard not to feel shaky sometimes. One of the most powerful things he’s taught us is to learn where to read what is real, to learn how to authenticate the work. Here’s thoughts from me as a wife on the topic of being both irritated at the intransigence, and astonished at the beauty of my husband’s mind, and finding balance with the work. Learning to measure myself in the reality of the outcomes with horses, students, and my own growth as a rider day by day.
Inside out not outside in
Distracted by the flash and glamour of competitive dressage, we seek refuge in an objectivity which few can afford. We seek outer solutions for our inner problems and hold the horse hostage to our existential crisis.
Naked and aliveThere is a certain willingness to be naked which is essential to dressage. We must be willing to drop the garments created by our minds to be able to “see” the horse. The force we generate by our thoughts “dress” the horse and then we can only see the costumes we create. Some of us dress the horse in a loose fit others seek tight garments but lose or tight, we cannot see the horse and then horse cannot see us either. This amor we create, at its best, only adds a layer of confusion. Drop all contrived devices. Only a simple bit, because only the bit can let us deeply penetrate the horse’s mind. A whip is required because our arms are not long enough to love the horse fully. A saddle with a tree is required, because our seat bones create discomfort and/or our legs block the horse’s movements. These requirements are debated by those who follow the fashions, but never by those whose education and experience really can see the horse. If you do not understand the use of equipment, you will not understand the choice involved. The “dressing” of the horse in your version of what your personally see as natural does not mean that you are encountering the natural horse. It only means that you have dressed the horse in the outfit of your dream. To get beyond this is first to stop and find the meaning of the zero state. Once you are at zero, then the bit is added first and then the whip and finally the...
Two viewsMethod or Relationship Based Dressage “Method is everything.” There are many trainers who believe that there is no need for anything more than the application of method to the problem of training the horse. The relationship becomes balanced once the horse accepts the imposition of the method on its behavior. This is modern dressage. It is really a very impoverished manner of looking at the horse and human relationship. Of course, to people who have no other reference points, this poverty mind is not obvious. If instead, the relationship is placed before the method, then the method must deal with, and allow itself to be modified by, the relationship with the horse. The complexities of the horse and human individualities start to prevail rather than a black and white approach to training found in a method. When the relationship is put first then there arises a beautiful texture in the work. It is not that without a guiding method the wheel needs to be reinvented, but instead a kind of playful delight starts to come into the work. A richness is present and for those who appreciate and value the individuality of relationships, they and the horse find a sense of excitement and discovery in the work. The noble rider of the 18th century had the time to play, and little need of a rigid method. Instead they had the luxury to relish the texture of the work. The military equitation of the 19th century, upon which modern dressage is founded, had no room for anything other than method. After the destruction of the royal schools in the French revolution, and the transfer...
Instructor trainingOver the years, on many occasions, I have been asked to certify riding instructors. We have done a number of “instructor” courses over the years, but I have never felt comfortable certifying anyone. I have always felt like certification is something you get from the horse. Understand that my intent here is only to speak for myself and not others, but it has always seemed that certification courses always seemed to be to be a deception and a commercial exploitation of people by someone pretending to be an expert or by an institution or individual seeking power and this never seemed to have anything to do with the equitation I practice at all. Expertise and extensive experience does not need to result in acclaiming oneself to be expert. It would seem, rather than claim expertise, that expertise is a quality which seems self evident in working with the horse and that experience, too, brings its own proofs to the situation with a horse. What we should acclaim is the status of being a student and that senior students become such from experience and reflection rather than the blessing of anyone else. There are students and then there are students. The depth and clarity of the study/work is more important than the amount of time though the amount of time one spends does seem to be a factor, it is not conclusive at all. What seems most important is to learn how to study rather than amassing a bunch of facts. All senior students and teachers have serious long term students they like and approve of and others...
Empathy and compassion are the emotional version of gravity and contribute to the subjective balance.
How can it be done?
Our dressage consists of making these disconnections justified by invocation of traditions and habits devoid of reason.
I thought understanding this “cloud of rapport” to be the most important thing to learn and so I entered into a lifetime of seeking mastery.
Finding the mind
Good dressage places the mind somewhere else.
Working from nothing
All training/dressage is a manifestation of a human dream. There is no solid “this and that.” There is only tender connection…
Our dressage functions as a kind of moderator principle.
Calm is never sacrificed. Step deeply into such calm and find forwardness which is beyond whips, legs and spurs. Forward comes from the generosity of the horse’s heart and straightness is that is a gentle freedom, shared between human and horse who know goodness.
Starting at the begining
Without calm, suppleness vanishes. When suppleness is blocked or lost, movement becomes destructive. The body is worn out. This is counter to good dressage.
Five energies; grown at home
the five energies which help restore sanity. When they are balanced and circulate true a great joy is present in the horse and human.
The nature of it all
This art is beyond words. It is not “clever,” rather it is “connected.”
“Science” has no words for this way of working or understanding, but this exploration is very powerful in its effects on the horse.
Is now the time?
The sun rises as you give up your doubts and start to find simple pleasure in a simple truth which is about harmony.