Lately, I have been ruminating on the word, ‘expression’. It started with an article in Dressage Today by Michael Klimke, son of the late Reiner Klimke, and a trainer and successful competitor in his own right. The article is titled ‘A Horse That Goes On His Own’, but on the cover it is represented as ‘Allow the Horse Freedom of Expression’. That got my attention. How often does one hear that? We hear a great deal about expressive movement and expressive gaits, but how often do we hear about allowing the horse the one thing all of us in the free world take for granted? Freedom of individual expression.
Very early on in the article, Klimke reminds us that the horse needs to find the balance to be ‘on the seat’, and to ‘carry himself and go on his own’. As riders and trainers, we have to develop the horse to move freely ‘without too much pressure from our legs and rein aids’, and that this allows the horse to ‘work more freely in self-carriage’. But most interestingly to me, he states that ‘The most important benefit is the often overlooked development of the horse’s personality.” He goes on to say that ‘…it is easy for trainers to forget about this interior aspect of the horse’s growth, but it pays to concentrate on each horse’s individuality.’
Somebody buy this guy a beer. Make it a case. In a dressage world increasingly in danger of churning out mechanical puppet, cookie cutter dressage horses, in a world still largely concerned with the deadly evils of the anthropomorphizing of animals, he speaks of the individuality of horses. Of learning to ride better from our seats to allow them to develop their own personal expression. And how this relates to their inner growth and development.
At the very end of the article, Klimke suggests that “In your daily riding, don’t think the horse must learn your way. Concentrate on riding primarily with your seat, and you will succeed in learning your horse’s way…..”
This reminds me of a tenet in movement therapy that I learned from Feldenkrais practitioner and SENSE Method creator, Mary Debono. When I asked her about the effects of Rollkur on the inner systems and biomechanics of the horse, she simply replied “Movement benefits from choice.”
In other words, put a body in a straightjacket and you severely limit that body’s options in how to answer any question asked of it. More often than not, this means that while you may get an apparently acceptable answer, it is rarely, if ever, the correct or most desirable answer for that body, its individual biomechanics and conformational eccentricities. I think of this kind of training as drinking grape juice and calling it wine.
When our aids become a closed prison cell for the horse, we deny him any number of choices that would lead to his optimum means of expression, physical and otherwise. We also deny ourselves the pleasure of surprises and outright miracles in our mounts’ responses.