I have the good fortune of having several students who ride more than one horse with me. We all know that there are a variety of benefits of having more than one horse to ride, but I want to draw out one of things that seems to come up repeatedly and is an important thought for all riders. When you ride more than one horse it doesn't take long to realize that you ride them very differently. This one likes a lot of seat bone, this one a very light seat. Steady contact for this one and a more vibrant connection for the next. Some even require strict attentive focus and others don't like to be in the spot light of your attention.
Riding a variety of horses helps you realize that something you read in a dressage magazine or book might really apply to one of your horses with his or her character and conformation and lead you down a frustrating path with another. Same rider, same exercise or philosphy, different horse will often equal a different outcome. This truth, that we bring horses up the levels--up the same dressage scale--from different starting places means that the roads we take will be similar, but not necessarily the same.
The implication here is that you, as the trainer/rider, must accept that you may have to change your riding style or approach in order to help your horse become the best athlete he or she can be. And this truth, that we don't always get to ride like we want to ride, but must ride to pull out our horse's greatness, is really a radical thought. Radical, because this implies that a lot of the movement towards becoming a harmonious pair really needs to come from our side.
What this means is that in the process of training and shaping our horse into an athlete, we are shaping ourselves as well. Maybe that means we are softening a hard edge in our personality or just as likely strengthening something that is too soft. We might have to learn how to focus in. We might have to learn how to relax back. The process of stepping towards the horse and towards harmony is the process of leaving your comfort zone. Exactly like the process of calling a horse from the forward balance of their natural posture to the uphill balance of a dressage athlete.
Dressage training, than, is a sort of meeting-in-the-middle of two beings that are doing one thing. And like any worthwhile relationship, this is hard hard work. It takes time and sweat and tears, and some miscommunication and lots of frustration. And since dressage is training, that is really what we are doing. We are sculpting two creatures to look like one effortless dance pair. And we are doing it all for the inexplicable moments of pure harmony. A feeling that no words will ever be able to describe.