Dressage is about is shaping and influencing the horse to move in very specific ways. It is when we don’t follow, but rather lead, with our bodies, that we can explain to the horse the changes we want in his body. And when we try to do that, we come against the line on our dressage tests under rider’s position and seat that says “following mechanics of the gaits,” as well as our own personal histories, and the associated emotional barriers we have. It’s as if this line on the test encourages us to acquiesce to feelings we should reject, and give up our power.
What the judge is looking for is the rider’s ability to move with the horse and not bounce around all over the place. However, the judge’s idea of what that might look like sometimes requires the rider to give up their power. For example, I am a 45-year veteran of the sport, riding FEI, and I have gotten comments in this section of the test indicating that I should not sit so still and firmly as I try to influence the gaits of the horse under me. Should you follow the mechanics if the motion is just bad? Or marrying that to a real-life example, what if the treatment you are receiving as a woman is just plain bad?
Will you become a great woman by being pretty and following the lead of others? No. Neither will you become a great dressage rider by following the mechanics of the horse, unless they are the mechanics you want. Dressage riding is not sitting pretty and doing nothing! Neither is that an aspiration for a life! Trying to learn to influence these mechanics requires an emotionally honest and consistent relationship between rider and horse, and this is where we see riders bump into their unconscious minds. This is where the emotional powerlessness shows up in women and girls.
One of the most essential contributions dressage makes to lives is as an assertiveness-training program. I feel most successful as a teacher when I can help people who have come to me to learn to ride, to discover that they no longer have to play the role of a victim, but rather, they have personal power.
I like the acronym, “OWN” to describe the following: “ONLY WITH ME NOW!” as a demand from rider to horse, empowering her to take charge of the horse in a clear but gentle way as she is learning to take power in her own life. The excellent dressage rider needs to OWN the mechanics of the horse, not follow them! — see more next time!