The time has come to openly admit that there is a split about dressage in this country. I have been telling my students for years that there are two kinds of dressage: artistic and competitive.
On my last three trips to Europe, I have looked at all the art I could find that included a horse. I saw all the movements of dressage in etchings, paintings, tapestries, statues, and books. I now feel that artistic and classical dressage are one and the same.
In classical art, one sees horses on loose reins, but with complete collection and self-carriage. The hind quarters are always strong and well-developed. The horses show strong backs. The saddles are placed well back on the horse, often with a crupper. The word that always came to my mind as I looked was “balance.” Horse and rider are in balance.
Whether you are looking at a horse carrying a knight-in-armor in a battle scene on a large, almost draft animal, or a lovely little Arabian with a draped, light rider, you see the same balance. This is the same balance seen whenever you see horses truly working. Examples are the Western cutting horse, the horse of an avid foxhunter who is out all day three days a week, etc. A working horse is always allowed freedom and develops his strength and carriage without force. A cowboy cannot grip, force and hold a horse together eight hours a day. A knight-in-armor had to be balanced: he could not ride any other way in his cumbersome attire. If the horse were not also in balance, he would lose his knight.
Balance comes to a horse through freedom and exercise. It does not come through force, holding and pushing. A rider does not have to be strong. Some of the loveliest moments I have ever seen were created by a beautiful, delicate lady in a side saddle. A horse must become lighter and more responsive each day in his training. In the end, a small child should be able to Passage, Piaffer and flying change. Then you have classical, artistic dressage. A beautiful horse.
This profound article was written and published by Eloise King in 1977.