Method 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 of equitation to military control, dressage had to change to suit a mindset of method over a practice of principles which favored the appreciation of the texture. There were noble riders developing the new military methods, but the appreciation of texture that had been central to their work was no longer needed. They understood that common soldiers would never have the education to appreciate the texture of the high equitation.
Modern riding in all disciplines is based on thus military inheritance.
Now, we have mainstream dressage divided into two major groups; the methodist (elite trainers, usually formally military, or institutionally connected) and those who pretend to the method, but have not taken the time or effort needed to apply the method properly. This is pretty much mainstream dressage.
There is a third group; relationalists. This group sees the problem with methodology and are aware of the damage produced by the blind use of method. Either their horses or their own sensitivity is such that they are unable and unwilling to apply the force needed to impose a method. Aggression is always the default setting of those who use a method, and there are many people who find aggression unpalatable.
They glimpse the textural aspects and put the relationship first. Many times they lack the education or vocabulary to understand the texture, but there is a sense of something missing in the use of a method.
This group is looked down upon by those who work at the imposition of method. The relationalist seems to be irrational and permissive with the horse because they do not seem to follow rules.
Methodists have a rigid sense of right and wrong and the maintenance of correctness is everything.
Relationalists are concerned with the free flow of energy which eventually leads to correctness as almost an afterthought, because the relationship is everything.
In either group, there are problems caused by an irrationality born of ignorance. Being too permissive or having too rigid rules creates a problem. The educated relationalist and the educated methodist do not suffer this irrationality, but only the relationalist sees harmony and kindness as the foundation of the work. While the methodist may personally disdain the use of aggression, in the end, either they have to impose aggression or limit their work to those horses whose natural talent makes such aggression unnecessary.
To be a relationalist is to refuse the imposition of any method other than what is gentle, kind and in harmony and while it takes a greater education than to be a methodist, the result is always better and far reaching.