Craig Stevens says….
Good dressage should be the process of simplifying the general relationship with the horse and eliminating unnecessary complications. In order to develop a genuine mental discipline which creates a common language between the horse and human., For the average horse person, it is first necessary to see how we continually burden ourselves with extraneous activities and preoccupations surrounding our riding.
In a more general context, it might just involve cultivating an attitude of simplicity towards one’s life in general. Such a view arises with a grounded heartfelt connection with the horse.
This was the intent of the old classical work, which centered around working with the horse as a fundamental cornerstone to all education of the best of the nobility. That this education was or was not successful is a matter of opinion and not relevant to the intent. The aspiration was there.
Further training with the horse was to come to an attitude of bare attention which is taken toward the various phenomena, including thoughts, feelings and sensations, that arise in your mind and body during practice of riding. One might call this dynamic simplicity. The point here is the elimination of aggression in our work with the horse and the cultivation of the awareness which enables the mindful trainer to be able to correctly read the horse.
These things are the way to a “true upper level” dressage, which is counter to the common attitude toward riding and the art of dressage in general. It does not need to be against competition but it is most certainly counter to it. ‘Find the art and then compete’ is a better model than ‘compete and hope one day to find the art’.
Good dressage will never be found in rules, but in the direct experience of the minds and bodies of human and horse. This does not negate the principles of dressage but instead puts them in their proper place.
What dressage is teaching us is how to relate more closely with our own experience with freshness, fullness and immediacy which makes us a better and more aware person. Yet many do not achieve any such thing with their dressage and that is, simply put, the result of our neuroses crafting our dressage rather than allowing the horse to craft us. The fundamental belief that we are superior to the horse is the untruth which permits our neurotic self to rule but the horse is faster, stronger and larger than us. In addition, the horse, barring human interference, is better psychologically adjusted to its life in general than the majority of us are.
The hope is that here some basic things are made clear. Most of what is done in the name of dressage misses the whole point of dressage. Great dressage is not a thing we impose on the horse as much as it a discipline we impose on ourselves with the assistance of the horse.