As with most things, there are two aspects to working with the horse; subjective and objective. It is important to keep in mind that the real value in dressage is always subjective and about a personal experience with the horse. The denial of the subjective realm does not make it vanish.
All because in modern times we are lost in a seeming self righteous objectivity does not remove the importance of the cultivation of a personal and subjective dressage. The simple fact that unity between the horse and rider must start from the human side and that this starts from the inside out does not mean that the willing acceptance of the horse can be avoided.
We like to think of human superiority creating a dressage which as the dictation of the horse’s surrender, but in fact it is the other way around. Our true superiority is in the acceptance of our need to surrender to the horse and good dressage are the terms of the deal.
In the “deal” we do not have to give up our ego, but we do learn of the terms the horse would have for the ego to exist. In this compromise we learn of the importance of the exchange of another (the horse) with our self. In service to the horse, we can find the value of our own humanity.
We are at our best when we put the welfare of another before our own. This is where the nobility of dressage is found and the place where the birth of sanity occurs. At this point, dressage is personal and subjective and objective dressage is understood to be only a dream that we created in our own nightmare. Certainly, as part of our awakening, we can eventually see that this objective dressage is nothing which we want to subject any horse to.
Coming to terms with this surrender is a long slow process for most of us. This is the realization of need to train our minds before we work with the horse, but in practice, the training of the horse is conducted concurrently with our own mind training. This is the source of much of the confusion found in the horse world.
Distracted by the flash and glamour of competitive dressage, we seek refuge in an objectivity which few can afford. We seek outer solutions for our inner problems and hold the horse hostage to our existential crisis.
There is no pill or recipe which can solve this. Blaming the instructor, the dressage judge, the FEI or the horse brings no long term solution. We cannot buy our way out of this, though some of us make a valiant effort, but it a very expensive solution.
However, a solution does exist and when we soothe the horse’s fear and start to find a gentleness and lightness in our approach, the process of our healing can begin. Here is where a personal dressage is born and in our attempts to conquer the horse, we conquer our own selves. Is it any wonder why the best of the nobility sought dressage as the center of the education of their children?
We can argue whether in fact the nobility really knew this subjective aspect. If they did not, then there was a intuitive sense of where their own healing might be found. I suspect there have always been true horse people, who where conscious of the process, throughout the course of history and a greater mass who were just along for the ride. Regardless, we each get to choose to find inside of ourselves a true horse person or be part of the greater mass being drawn along.
The art of dressage has always been about being authentic, noble and kind. Now, we each choose the path we will take, while the horse tries to teach and show us the way. The problem that all teacher have is to find a way to get our students to listen.