Die Regeln (or, “The Rules”)

“A ruthless consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Dressage proper is not about “rules” – or certainly should not be.

And yet many riders get hung up on sundry cliches and techniques, treating them as universal “do’s” and “dont’s”, instead of the white noise they usually are.

What matters is:

a) You know generally what you should be doing with your horse – what concepts he’s understanding, where he’s struggling, and therefore, where you should be focusing in your work.  You know this because you have your head around a the ideal, and you know where your horse is now.  Your rides are spent in the gap.

b) You are able to position him precisely, and understand how he should be posed in any given moment – based on the above, which is, more than anything, a function of physics and quadrupedal bio-mechanics.

It is about the pursuit of a kind of perfection, but it is an artistic kind of perfection we seek – an inner knowing that some mark has been hit and the universe winked.  Something has been expressed which is perfectly true, even if you cannot articulate what is.

Rules are little man made things – someone else’s mental notes, sans caveats, nothing more.  Until you have discovered it for yourself and understand what makes it true, a rule is not your rule.  It is mere hearsay.

Principles are different.  Principles are an attempt to paint particular facets of an ideal, and are always implicitly subordinate to judgement in the pursuit of that ideal.  “Hand without Legs …” – yes  – but in truth, only up to a point; there will come a time when the need for this principle has resigned.  At some point, advanced riders will find “the clutch” – the point at which the finished horse will accept and understand the infinite variations of the effet d’ensemble or “combined effect”, first studied at the halt.

Thus, the principle is not a rule.  There is always room for you to have a brain – to realize, for whatever reason, that or this approach is failing to resonate, either with you or your horse – and to try a different one.