Dressage can express itself in many ways. It is at once a matter of training the horse and the rider. There are three levels to be considered in its practice. All three contribute to the “perfection” of the art of dressage.
The three levels are intertwined and are not a linear progression. We can all to some degree be at all three levels at once. These levels are outer, inner and secret.
Modern dressage tends to only consider the outer though there is a certain romantic attraction to the secret level. In common understanding the secret part is the magic of certain people considered masters or to some just a simple fable believed by some.
The inner level is to a great measure what I write about. It is the consideration of the subjective aspects of the art. The inner level at once considers both the psychological conditions of the horse and the horse person. This is the atmosphere in the daily work.
The outer uses language and the physical mechanical and biomechanical aspects of the work. It is the rules and practices which are observable through science and the eyes. To some, sadly there is nothing more but that is a poverty mindset.
The inner uses language but is tends to be more poetic. Metaphor is common and the ideas that are used need not always be logical but it is of course much clearer and better when inner and outer considerations are, if not in alignment at least close to being aligned.
The key to the inner is the heart and feeling side to the work. The inner side is what makes the experience of the work feel real or right. The relationship is central to this inner side whereas the outer only concerns itself with the form.
From the horse’s side the inner is all that counts because the horse does not apply its reason to the outer with any depth, even though good outer work may give the horse greater comfort in the work. The equestrian artist is primarily concerned with the inner but great efforts are made to align the inner and outer.
The outcome of inner and outer work coming into alignment is when the secret level slowly dawns. Secret work is hard to discuss because it is beyond linguistic considerations. Moving in the level of secret is where the centaur appears. The mind and heart of both human and horse mix.
This secret level is not a matter of someone through concealing or deception hiding some truth. To those who engage in deception though the secret level is obscured. The secret level is a self protecting. Each artist earns the right through dedication to the horse and pristine exertion to experience this level. The only point of mentioning it is to lend promise or clarity to those who seek it or discover the edges or get glimpses of this secret world.
We can aspire to the level of secret work through kindness, gentleness and lightness but one cannot push the door open by aggression or ambition. Invisibility in the aids and flow in the movements suggest the entry into this level of work. It is at this level that correct aids exist. This is the fullness of the art. It is not just good dressage at this level, it is sublime.
All secret work is self taught through harmony with the horse. The work is magical and sacred. Some may not believe this is possible but it is possible but it is only found by great love and compassion. Hence it is most noble.
This secret level is the source of the myth of the old masters which has come to us over centuries (perfect horseman of old). It is important for this magical belief be maintained in the equestrian culture in order to illumine the path to a higher and better levels of work. Let us aspire to this golden sun of dressage. The light in the lightness and the prayer of every horse; be kind, be generous, be free from fear and doubt.