Monday, September 29, 2008

The Future for Humane Dressage

As I move about in the dressage community, I wonder how many people are interested in dressage and how many people are interested in humane dressage. What is the difference? Dressage for the ego/dominance/display or dressage for the partnership/well being of the horse's mind and body/soulful. Most of us are drawn to the horse as a magical being and hopefully with respect and right intention for this being. The horse graciously adapts to people's version of "good care" which does not always include turnout, ability to graze, socialization, and fresh air. Do humans graciously try to be patient and adaptive to the horse's limited lifestyle: warming up the body before getting on the horse, removing mental tension and lack of appropriate focus, giving the horse time to adjust from being without a rider to carrying one? When horses are judged for various " inappropriate actions"--unwilling to go forward, unwilling to round up and soften to the contact, unwilling to turn not to mention bend, etc.--do we take the time to examine and understand the why? What type of horse would truly be willing and happy to go around a rectangular area (with or without good footing) on a daily basis? Could I enthusiastically run on a treadmill if I didn't also do other activities on a regular basis? How often do we see horses who are bright eyed, willing, and eager in the sport of dressage?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Mindset Behind Inviting the Partner to Move

My role as the horse in dancing has provided a lot of opportunities for pondering the ethics of training systems in dressage. Why is a horse "happy" in the work? How do you create a "happy" horse? During the past three years (out of the twelve total) of dancing, I have started to ask if there was a training system for developing dancers--similar to the training scale in dressage or developmental sequence in ballet. Ballroom dancing appears to be taught from the belief system of the individual instructor with a goal of reaching a look/outcome that is visually acceptable. In other words, the outline might look okay but there are no guarantees for the feel and comfort for the partners.

As I am schooling the Grand Prix (Open Gold Choreography) in dancing, I am realizing that lack of personal understanding of inner body alignment, tension, and timing is a recipe for disaster. As I am asked to create an extended neck/head position for an advanced upper body outline, I am vulnerable to neck, back, knee, etc injuries if I build the look from the wrong place. After four years of dancing with two of the top professionals in pro/am, I realized that I needed to find more answers if I was to survive uninjured. This search led me to a drill system developed by Hans Laxholm of Denmark. He has created a system which parallels the training scale. Since my primary focus is on riding, I was thrilled to learn about such a system. Ironically, the system is not accepted in the dance community and is taught by 1% or so of their population. The system is built around a series of aids communicated between the dance partners. The partnership is an ask and respond system instead of a demand and respond system. The leader INVITES the partner to respond to a learned set of commands, assesses the response, and then follows the response or asks again. The application of the aid allows the follower to prepare and respond in an effective manner. The key is in the understanding of the aids. The second part is the repetition of the aids until the response becomes reflexive. The refinement of these two points allows for a seamless interaction and execution of the movements. The leader and follower can both relax into the form and the delivery of the performance.

Immediately, I noticed my anxiety level for following effectively decreased. I was given a process to focus on, so my mind/body could look for clear aids and respond. Before, I was always guessing and mimicking my partner's actions. I was an athletic shadow/puppet instead of an interactive partner. The complexity of the Open Gold work was making it difficult to "guess" effectively enough. The response time and execution needed to be almost simultaneous. When I didn't react quick enough or in the right way, my partner would use force to push me through the movements. Obviously, the force created tension in my mind and body which blocked my reactions even more. The spiral down was created. Injury potential was cuing up.

So my current thoughts on creating "happy" horses comes from training around the idea of inviting vs. demanding. Inviting takes away the claustrophobia of demanding. The rider/dancer must develop more tact and timing in their process. But doesn't this tact and timing translate to more RESPECT. The tension in the leader is decreased and the need for force in the execution is eliminated. The result is a relaxed, responsive follower.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Reality of being on the aids

With my current search for an appropriate, affordable dance outlet, I am struck by the misfortune of many horses. As a follower in the dance partnership, I am subject to the leader's posture, use/timing of the aids, and sensitivity. I would like to believe that most leaders have a good intention. The misfortune comes in the reality. It is a very long process for a leader to understand his own mechanics in motion, choreography of varying degrees of difficulty, and the action of influencing another living body to move in synchrony through space. As I am trying out different instructors, I am suffering from potential injuries in different parts of my body: back, knees, feet, etc. Unfortunately, I am not a "finished" dancer so I can lose my alignment and posture as I try to stay with my partner. Here is were the injury potential comes in. The horse is no different. The horse moves with degrees of straightness and self carriage, but if the rider doesn't make these a priority than the horse's body integrity is compromised while in motion. All of this lends itself to sore backs, strained tendons and ligaments, etc. At least as a dancer, I don't have to wear a saddle and bridle while having spurs and a whip applied. As riders and trainers, we owe it to the artful side of dressage and our partners to pursue excellence in feel, timing, and technique. I suppose this is were patience with the journey comes into play.