Why So Exact?
The exactness of dressage can be intimidating to many, but the figures and strictness have many purposes in the training of the horse. By studying and practicing this ancient art form of equine training, we are effectively tapping into the nature of the horse on many different levels.
First, let us look at the nature of the horse. Horses are animals of routine. If you look out in the paddocks you will see paths that they wear down in the grass and dirt from walking the same path daily. Dressage plays into this nature by keeping exact figures and lines of travel. The horse finds relaxation in this routine and exactness. Relaxation is the basis of all riding disciplines and the base of the dressage training pyramid. By ensuring that we ride with purpose and routine, we are catering to our horse’s relaxation in the ride.
The second fact about the nature of horses is that they are herd animals and rely on a leader for protection. The leader of the herd is responsible for keeping an eye out for the entire herd. They move everyone to safety and they guide the entire herd to where it is safe to relax. When a rider and horse are working together, they are a herd of two. Who is going to be the leader? If the rider is aimless and does not seem to have a plan, then the horse must take over for the rider as the leader. This means that the horse will be looking out for your herd of two. This leads to the horse reacting to outside stimuli as a source of danger. This brings the horse into a state of tension and hyper alertness. In the scenario where the rider has the mindset of being exact in the figures, the rider then takes the lead of the herd. The horse can then take the beta role and allow the rider to take over as the lead “horse.” This adds another level of relaxation for the horse. It allows the horse to settle and allow the rider to guide them through safety.
The structure and routine that dressage offers gives the rider the tools needed to have a plan, make goals, and provide the horse with relaxation. By being exact, the rider takes the role as leader and gives the horse comfort in knowing what is to be expected. This expectation can then be taken anywhere and used to provide the horse with confidence in new environments. Relaxation in the horse is key to the rider’s leadership in the saddle.