A few months ago I decided to turn my back on modern sports riding and educate my horse according to the principles of classic dressage. My decision came when I saw myself on video. I always thought that I had a soft hand, that I didn’t prick him with the spurs, that I didn’t force him. But the video clearly showed something else. I was embarrassed. For two years I had been telling myself that Nazir was just a little cranky, that he was a little insubordinate and that’s why we don’t make so much progress. Now I could see that I was the one to blame. Not a nice insight. It was true that I rode with less force then most people around me, less pulling on the reigns and kicking with the legs. Still, I didn’t want to ride like this anymore. The rider that I saw on the video wasn’t the rider I wanted to be.
I knew that my ‘new’ approach should use light aids and teach the horse self-carriage instead of squeezing every step out of him. This is how I got interested in classic dressage. I read lots of books, by Bent Branderup, Anja Beran, Philippe Karl and so on, watched DVDs, tried to learn as much as I could (I don’t have a trainer in the Warsaw area that does classic dressage). Quickly it dawned on me that this wouldn’t be quick, that it would take a while to re-educate Nazir. I tried to just keep doing what I was doing with less forceful aids. Didn’t work at all. I couldn’t ride Nazir with my seat because he was used to being ridden with reigns and legs. After a few weeks it was obvious that I had to start from the beginning, re-train him like starting a youngster. Starting with lungeing, groundwork, riding only in walk until the basics are understood. We’re still doing that. We work on stellning and bending, stepping under, shoulder-in, a bit of Spanish walk for fun, and some diagonalising of the walk. Sometimes we trot a few rounds, but only to relax and get some oxygen. Until we haven’t mastered the walk, I will not work with him in trot. The funny thing is that this is hard on me, not on him.
What I didn’t expect was how much I have to work on myself. I have to learn the movements just as much as he has to. For example, I used to ride shoulder-in with a lot of reigns and spur. Now, I’m trying to use my seat as the primary aid and use my reigns and spurs (if I wear them at all these days) for gentle correction. I have to learn how to sit relaxed, control my balance and the different muscles in my legs. How otherwise can I expect him to move in balance and control his muscles? Do I sometimes want to kick him or pull on the reign? Certainly. Slowly but surely, I’m learning to control myself. Finally, re-educating the horse might not be the challenge, the real challenge is to change my own behaviour.