Space in the old ways is the fifth element. The other elements (earth, water, fire and air) were considered substantive and hence give preference in the minds of the ancients in western culture. In eastern culture, space was considered as more important because it is what unites the other elements.
In working with horses, especially in the higher levels, following the ancient’s beliefs, space performs an increasingly more and more important place in training. In the horse’s mind even from the very start of working with humans, space is everything.
Early training centers first around water and earth and then progresses to fire and air but space is what joins each of the element to each other. So in this, dressage bridges the gap between eastern and western cultures.
Of course, dressage, as one of the highest fruits of European culture did not fail to appreciate the importance of space. The lack of extensive literature on equitation was a result not just of a lack of or limited literacy in the nobility but also from a deep awareness of the difficulty in explaining in written and even verbal language the nature of this art.
All educated people (which were in former times, either the priests or the nobility) were educated in the elements as the science of those times. Dressage as an ancient science used the elements and was described through those terms and as we approached the modern era the development of the physical sciences caused a dismissal of these old ways as superstitious and this was especially so of the fifth element, space.
The fact that this most ancient way of viewing the world was a manifestation and reflection of the nature of the mind itself operating through time (either, human or equine) was only appreciated in very limited circles.
The important point here is not to suggest that to be successful in working with the horse is to fall into superstition beliefs (for which there is no lack of in modern dressage despite a cultural pretension of science) but instead to appreciate that the best dressage has an appreciation of space because the horse is fundamentally a space creature.
Time which is a natural byproduct of space which manifests throughout the other elements is thus the “substance” of good dressage because what is invisible (space) is what motivates the horse. So it is that the highest form of dressage, the greatest art of arts lives in nothing (space) while manifesting everything.
No common person can appreciate this art. Only those who can find their own nobility can be initiated into this high practice. Nineteenth century dressage which at once attempted to make dressage into a science and then proceeded to produce the competitive dressage of the twentieth century really totally missed the point.
We have lost the art of dressage as we have lost our connection to our own nobility. What remains then for those who love and serve the horse is to rediscover that which is our birth right; we are noble and always will be in the best and most generous sense of the term. This is the discovery and revelation of all of the great religions of the world and the best of science. We are made of star-dust and the goodness of dressage is the gentle appreciation of this shared with the horse.