The Art of Learning Dressage
By: Natalya Gryson
Learning is a process of progress and plateau, progress and plateau, progress and plateau, repeat, repeat, repeat. Learning dressage is no exception. We have all lay in bed at night dreaming of making Grand Prix, or of finally conquering the concept called “connection,“ so that our horse can put his head on the bit like all the other pretty horses and we can finally start working on something else! With a mindset like this, it is easy to feel like we’ve fallen short during the day because those things don’t happen in a day. When we focus on the basics and enjoy the daily work with our horses, we are able to receive the reward without being attached to the expectation of it.
Dressage is a journey, a practice, not a destination. The most successful dressage riders enjoy the process of learning dressage - learning is the reward. Every day we can excel at learning our way to being a better partner, trainer, rider for our horses. We can commit to not settling for riding with the same habits we always have, nor accepting “good enough” from ourselves or our horses. Even though we know creating change is uncomfortable (which means not every stride in every ride is going to feel good), we can feel good at the end of every day about what astounding learning took place in the arena today. And we can feel thankful to a part of the kind of learning experience that can only be created in a partnership built on mutual trust and respect. Being able to approach every day with that mindset, that’s the Mind of Dressage.
While the concept is simple, it is not always easy to maintain a serene attitude in the face of challenges! Dressage certainly is not something anyone can pick up lightly. Dressage requires us to put our game face on and be ready for some real hard work. If we want to get good, we have to be willing to face what’s difficult and keep plugging away at it day after day. We have to keep riding towards and believing in those magical moments. Believe those magical moment will come, because they will, and when they do the experience is so sweet we know in our heart that we’d be willing to work 10 times as hard as we did just to be a part of a feeling like that.
Along the way, we learn to appreciate the less-than-magical moments for the learning and feeling experience they provide too! In committing to learn dressage, we actually learn much more than just dressage. We learn to be happy with baby steps. We learn to trust. Trust that if we focus on getting it piece by piece, those pieces will to come together to build a wholistic understanding … eventually. We learn patience. As long as you are a dressage rider, there will always be something to improve on. So whatever it is that you’re working on right now, enjoy learning it! Soon enough you’ll have the opportunity to learning something else. And in the not too distant future, you’ll find yourself re-learning something you learned for the first or second or even third time a couple years back. Never will we run out of skills to learn and improve on. This is the process of dressage. To quote Klaus Balkenhol, “A human life is not long enough to learn to ride.”
What a blessing the journey of dressage is! The opportunity to feel and re-feel, to learn and relearn, and relearn, and to appreciate and really appreciate. All that is subtle, all that is obvious, and that connected feeling that you can only experience when you and your horse are gliding in unison. So when you don’t find me piaffing in the dark, you will be able to find me dragging the arena or shoveling the edges, preparing our classroom for the exquisite learning to take place tomorrow!