(© Sherry Ackerman, excerpt from “Dressage in the Fourth Dimension”, New World Library, 2008. Used with permission of the author.)
Philosophy is written in this grand book—I mean the universe—which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth.
~Galileo Galilei, Il Saggiatore (The Assayer), 1623
The earliest reference to dressage is found in the writings of the Greek historian and philosophical essayist Xenophon. Born in Athens around 430 BCE, Xenophon belonged to an equestrian family in the deme of Erchia. Early in his life, he had come under the influence of Socrates and had received schooling in classical geometry. Xenophon’s education led him to view geometry and numbers as components of the simplest and most essential philosophical language.
(© Elizabeth Chadwick. Author Elizabeth Chadwick has graciously given me permission to re-post her fascinating article about the types of horses bred and used for specific functions, and how their colors were named. Elizabeth is a best-selling British author of historical fiction; please see her website at http://elizabethchadwick.com.)
I was one of those horse-mad little girls. I spent a lot of my childhood either making up stories in my imagination about horses and ponies, or galloping about pretending to be both the horse and rider at the same time.
I was something of a nerd about their colours and collected books and posters and trawled the library for pictures and information. I was a seven year old who knew my bay from my chestnut, my blue roan from a strawberry roan, and that white horses were always referred to by equine types as greys! I spent many happy hours identifying breeds with my Observers Book of Horses and Ponies, on the way discovering that the ancestor of the warhorse more resembled a Welsh cob or a Villanos heavy Andalucian, than a modern Shire, whatever commentator Dorian Williams said about Shires and Clydesdales at the Wembley Horse of the Year Show.
Those childhood obsessions stood me in good stead when I began writing historical fiction set in the Middle Ages, for what was a knight without his destrier and his palfrey? The common soldier without his all purpose rouncy? The merchant without his pack horses? The baron without his chazur for the hunt, and the farmer without his trusty, plodding stott to draw his plough and pull his cart?
[John Richard Young was an influential American horseman through much of the 20th century. He published numerous instructional books that were considered bibles in American equestrian literature and intentionally crossed all disciplines in their scope. Young had a classical approach to equitation and even developed western saddles with a correct classical position as opposed to the “chair seat” of the typical designs. The following excerpt comes from pages 324-325 in his out-of-print book “The Schooling of the Horse”, published by the University of Oklahoma Press, 1982. Image scanned from page 193.]
Head position is a result of collection; not the cause of it. A horse that is truly collected is relaxed and supple from jaw to croup; he must be, for the slightest stiffness anywhere destroys collection–and I don’t mean the full collection of a school horse; I mean any slightest degree of true collection, such as we should expect in a trail horse or a stock horse when the rider demands it.
Imperiously he leaps, he neighs, he bounds…
(© By Kip Mistral. Articles originally published in California Riding Magazine, October 2003 and November 2003, as “Opening to Transformation: Discussions with Dr. Sherry Ackerman, Parts I and II.”)
“I remember one day after several years of study, during which I thought I was progressing quite nicely, my teacher said, ‘Riding dressage is not like playing tennis. You can make your body learn the techniques and make your head learn the movements, but the dressage comes from inside of you. You really need to develop your inner life.’ This was a turning point in my life, a quantum leap in my conscious process. I began to understand that people rode the way they were, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and that was why horses performed differently for different riders. As we open ourselves up to transformation, our riding improves.” (“Dressage in the Fourth Dimension” by Sherry Ackerman, PhD, Second Edition, published by New World Library, Novato, California)