I had the privilege of watching Dr. Cesar Parra this past weekend up close. The intangibles which make for brilliance in an individual: clarity, fairness, sheer capability, physical and mental intelligence, which transcend the words and troubles of the time. Great changes were made in a short period of time and yet, how to push through physical mediocrity was the question at hand for me (especially for all of us that might like to be Parra but simply are not). It is not infrequent that I see a "bad" or "tough" guy create, in his hands, a mentally, physically and emotionally superior, well adjusted and happy animal relative to the "softie." And words like "classical" and "modern" and "natural" all come out of people's mouths, but photography of the horses often tells a different tale from the one the individual using the words thinks he is creating. Often (or perhaps always) what we think we are seeing or creating is different from what is actually being seen or created.
For a great discussion on dressage and neck mechanics, and on why being behind the vertical (BTV - an absolute, or like all words, something that comes in shades of gray?) is considered to be so detrimental, see www.sustainabledressage.net.
One thing I would like to clarify. "Spoiled" horses is not a deficiency of the horse, but instead, the human handler or rider. It is the human, and not the horse, that is "spoiled" ie will choose to evade a problem instead of solve it, thus creating or amplifying dangerous behavior in both species. "Softies" (and these can be very troubled individuals indeed although, like all words, it also includes massively wonderful and effective and brilliant individuals) often create "spoiled" horses. Spoiled horses are often both hugely dangerous and physically miserable, fat and inactive.
There is nothing like the pain of inactivity, especially when amplified as a function of time. It is absolutely unnatural and detrimental to all mind and body facets to be inactive, and/or micromanaged in motion, unless you are literally stopped from doing so by injury limitations. We need true fitness.
If we are riders we are talking about fitness from true work, ie the work performed after we have shown one another (horse meet human, human meet horse) that there is nothing we cannot do together in our own way. And from our ability to retain or create natural collection.
If we are talking about owners, we are talking about the fitness that comes for "free" if we access the potential of native design (allowing for species appropriate behaviors as a function of habitat, for example.)
What is the trinity to excellence? Mental IQ, physical IQ, and intellectual IQ. In this country, due to our white collar occupations and virtual worlds, our physical IQ barely registers in the single digits. How do we really produce, and not just flirt with production, because there are expectations and stretch and change involved in actual production, some of which is awkward and painful?
I guess for me, what is easiest perhaps for all of us to gain in natural collection (or excellence in body biomechanics which is another phrase for an excellent ride or a healthy horse), whether at liberty, in hand or under saddle, is knowledge simply about freeing the root of the neck and shoulders. The rest of the body, its gaits and tempos, essentially comes for free from that organizational point. Engaged back belly and hip and freely supple neck/poll are part of that freebie. It is here that most of us have the best chance of releasing and following the horse without being behind or in front of him. With him but maximally influencial and safe.
One of our current (as a society) greatest limitations in freely accessing the root of the neck is our fear of a freely moving forward (although certainly there are plenty of horses with the opposite "problem'). You cannot have one without the other.
And one thing is beyond certain. Many dressage riders, and riders of all stripes, at all levels, would benefit from taking a picture of their horse before the ride. So much of the horse keeping and hoof work currently popular makes athleticism harder for these animals. And it shows. Why are you working so hard against yourself?
How do you create excellence in yours?
Hey, and real quick. Karen Rohlf is releasing 3 free videos, the first of which is why, and why not, students get stuck and how we might communicate effectively with the horse. It is absolutely worth viewing regardless of whether or not you even have a horse, let alone practice any one particular discipline. Check out her Sept 13th Facebook post on Dressage Naturally to sign up!