Recently, I had a potential client ask me what level a horse I had been riding was at. While a simple enough questions, what it brought to mind was just how far from modern dressage my work has come.
My answer was simple and direct. The horse I was on was simply a good riding horse and that was all. The horse worked on the draft of the boot and the weight of the reins.
On further reflection and in an attempt to orient the horse to a meaningful scale for the potential client, I had to admit the horse to be FEI level because it would happily do all of the movements, but somehow that made me a bit uncomfortable, not because it was untrue but because it seemed a pointless question and a pointless answer.
What is a level? What was it for? What was the whole point of having a level? Did my horses have levels?
I suppose to value something, it is useful to place its value on a scale of some sort but the horses I train are not for sale and their only purpose is in the pleasure of the life they generously share with us.
It is hard for someone who comes to see the work we do not to weigh and measure by some imagined scale what they are seeing, but I think we have gone beyond that. It is hard to point to just being as the whole point and relationship to be something which is beyond any level.
In this same encounter, I was also asked, “So what do you do with your horses? Exhibition?” Knowing that we did not “show” our horses in competitions, there had to be some use we made of the horse. I was struck by how odd the question was to me.
It seemed to me like asking an artist to explain their art. “So you put different pigments on a canvas in various patterns? Why would you do that?” Can one explain in any manner what the creative point is?
Look, I can talk to the horse and dance in harmony with it. It feels lovely and is very addictive but what’s the point? Damned if I know but the horse seems to enjoy it and for some reason I do too and I suppose that is the only point.
The point in equestrian art is a bit selfish I suppose because the spectator is totally irrelevant. We are immersed, the horse and I, in a living, evolving relationship which gives us both a sense of harmony with life itself. Isn’t that enough?
So, does the work look good? Seems like it to most people who watch. They always wonder why the horse is so calm and relaxed, but how else should an artist who involved in a living art be? What level is my horse at? The level of sublime happiness and isn’t that the best dressage?