There is a Renaissance movement in the dressage world, which involves adding the word classical to everything dressage related. Personally, I have experienced a lot of historical equitation and have been yelled at by some of the best trainers of Germany, Spain, Portugal, and France! At the time, I suffered gladly this strong training reserved for students hungry for the Art.
Yet, what were the best moments in my riding career? They were the silent ones, where the horse did most of the teaching. And times when I was able to fully immerse myself in a horse culture – learning far more than the monkey skills of riding, I learned about myself through the eyes and actions of others.
Take the time that I was stranded at one of the most notorious horse festivals in the world – Golega, Portugal. I had not slept in days, though I had tried on park benches and hay bales tucked away in every corner of this small town. My light coat did little to keep the cold rain out and my meals were mostly roasted chestnuts, served in piping hot cones of newspaper. My Portuguese language ability was tested to the limit as I tried to order food, ask questions amidst the hundreds of riders in the central square, and find those whom I had lost, amidst the thousands of spectators. The highlights were the times that someone would offer me a fine stallion to ride around the central track – they did not know me, but they trusted me with fine horses in the midst of celebratory chaos.
These moments of awe at the horse and culture stood out and would keep me going back to Portugal for years to gain some of the classical brilliance that was displayed by these riders. The way they sat perfectly still on the horses, no visible aids, silent hands and legs. The horses round and more ‘on the bit’ that I had ever seen in a show in Germany. Total power combined with partnership and art – more of a dance than a ride. The riders smiled, too.
Understanding the effect of culture on both the rider and horse is essential, in order to use the techniques from classical roots. The combination of the land, wine, cattle, colors, music, and the people – these all form the story of the training, the riding posture, and the use of saddlery and dress. Without this historical understanding, riders cannot truly claim a connection to the classical.
Most riders cannot immerse themselves in a classical riding culture to learn the feel and techniques of dressage. That is why I teach ‘practical’ dressage, which is rooted in the classical and includes the theory behind the exercises – the link of why a movement was done, but also why it should be used today in our modern culture.
Ride with passion!