“A great barrier to finding good dressage is the barrier of self deception. The common collective assertion of ‘correctness’ in the work is a profound and powerful form of self deception, but it is not the only one. The other more subtle form of self deception is in the personal assertion of correctness. Sometimes these two are joined and sometimes not.
The problem is that correctness is always for the horse to present. It is not ever about our judgement. When we take it upon ourselves to judge the work of another, or to make our work correct or incorrect, we build a barrier. The barrier blocks us from seeing what is right in front of us “now”. It blocks us from the “now” and also blocks the relationship between people, as well as the human and the horse.
This is not an excuse for poor work, but there is no standard other than what appears. Working with a kind and open mind brings human and horse on a journey which changes both of them. In the horse the true connection leads to what looks like dressage and in the human to harmonious agreement. However, the point is not in the creation of a ‘correct’ appearance, but in the impulse to find a complete balance.
True connection is a state of body and mind which are joined in harmonious function. We call it balance but it is not a balance of single intention but rather a balance which permits any intention. Centered properly, change can manifest on the wind and flow like water. The earth knows its place and fire warms with delight. All the elements are placed in space properly and human and horse work together.
Dressage arises naturally from loving kindness and eventually looks as it should… but then, it always looks as it should.
Mary Anne says
This “illusion of correctness” traps riders into endlessly repeating things that “look” right but “feel” wrong. The habit of thinking you’re right when the feeling is stressful becomes normal, so that level of stress becomes where you look to see what’s “correct”. As in, “I must be dressed right for church because my collar is so tight.” or “I must be standing up straight because there’s tension in my upper back, neck, and chest.” or “I must be sitting right on my horse because those butterflies are so familiar.” We don’t think these things out loud, but the discordant feelings are associated with correctness.
Feeling good, balanced, calm, at peace are all hallmarks of balance. They’re also hallmarks of not making any changes, of sitting on a couch eating potato chips. A little stress is needed if we’re going to progress or achieve anything. But the good feelings have to guide the directions you choose. It’s kind of a catch-22 situation.
There’s a zen saying, “First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.”
In zen, and other meditative disciplines, the whole point is to calm the mind so that you can see reality without the smokescreen. When you calm the chatter and static in the mind, it becomes quietly clear that what you thought was perception of reality is only preconception- you don’t see a mountain, you see your mind’s endless ideas about mountains. So as you begin to calm the mind, the mountain you have always experienced disappears. As we let down what we believe, think, expect, have been taught, fear, etcetera about the mountain, we are finally seeing what’s there without the filter of the mind. So, “first there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.”
But don’t skip the steps! First, there has to be a mountain. In working our horses, we can’t skip the process and just decide we don’t need the rules or they don’t apply. The rules are a thin, left brained description of what the right brain “knows” when it’s right. They’re the opening that helps us begin to look for reality. That part when you try things and practice and make mistakes and figure things out shows you (if you’re really using it well) what is funky with your own thinking, and begins to show you what works in the connection you have with the horse. As you get to where it begins to work, and follow that still small voice into deeper and better work, then gradually you see that you’ve been asking of the horse exactly what the horse was giving you all along.
And then you can begin to ask better questions.
In some very fundamental way the “master” is no better than the “beginner”. The master is just very clear about what he or she is asking of the horse, and how to listen with an open heart for the still small “yes”.