(© 2020 Kip Mistral. Images and excerpts used with permission of the publisher Xenophon Press.)
“The horse must always feel comfortable in all equestrian activities. This is how we show him our love and respect.”
I read books about classical training and riding techniques all the time (and have even co-authored one), but I find “Dressage Principles and Techniques” by renowned Portuguese classical dressage trainer Major Miguel Tavora, published by Xenophon Press in 2018, to be extraordinary.
It is extraordinary because this author is able to teach a complete, well-illustrated program of basic classical equitation and training in great detail, and combine high seriousness about the importance of classical method and technique with repeated reminders to treat the horse with understanding, kindness, love and respect…all this written in simple and easy-to-follow language, in only 158 pages. Those 158 pages will take you from terminology and theory to first longeing to work in-hand to canter pirouette, piaffe and passage. Finally, here is the thought-provoking yet very useful book you really can take to the barn.
(© Kip Mistral 2019. “Fragments from the Writings of Max Ritter von Weyrother, Austrian Imperial and Royal Oberbereiter,” published by Xenophon Press, 2017. Images and quotations from within are used with permission of the publisher. Image detail from Courbette by Ludwig Koch 1866-1934)
Maximillian Ritter von Weyrother (1783–1833) was Chief Rider of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna from 1813, and Director from 1814 to 1833. And why should we care to read a book of his writing fragments, you might ask. Is he just one more riding master in the cavalcade of horses and riders through time who codified his personal embrace of equestrian art? The answer would be no.
(This excerpt from “Dressage for No Country” by Paul Belasik–available April 15, 2019–has been made available by its publisher, Trafalgar Square Books. The excerpt describes Belasik’s visit to the Spanish Riding School in the 1990’s.)
I would not be late, so I planned to arrive in Vienna early the day before I was to meet with Kottas. The plane connections all went smoothly. Kottas had arranged for a room, as he said, in a pension near the Spanish Riding School, nestled in the heart of the historic city, and after I settled in, I went out to wander. Vienna was beautiful in the fall, already cold enough to warrant a coat. The city looked palatial. I walked over to the school so I would know where to go the next day. It was headed toward evening, and the city glowed in a warm yellow light; the majestic buildings, the shops with perfect pastries, the whole place felt like classical music. It was imposing but somehow not martial. That night I had a hard time sleeping. I thought I was coming down with something: I had cold sweats and chills like a fever. I called my wife, and she calmed me down. By morning I was fine—it was all nerves.
(© Kip Mistral 2017. First published in the United States Lipizzan Federation quarterly NEWS publication for Winter 2018. Feature image is Painting #26: Gallop leading with near fore, from “The Classical Riding Master”. Subsequent illustration credits inline.)
The great horsemen of the European baroque and romantic eras were undeniably aristocrats. After all, making a great horseman and a great horse—in those days—was expected to take a lifetime in the first case, and many years in the second case. Only aristocrats and nobility had the time and the money to acquire fine horses and undertake the deep study that in these times made becoming a graceful, elegant rider an important character-building experience. The German-born Friedrich Wilhelm Baron Reis von Eisenberg (1685-1764)1 was such a lucky one.
(© Kip Mistral 2003. Two part interview article first published in California Riding Magazine. Detail from “The Prince Riding in the Moonlight” by John Bauer, 1914.)
“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
Sherry Ackerman is a Mount Shasta, California based, European-trained classical rider and trainer who, incidentally, holds a PhD in Philosophy. Her fascinating book Dressage in the Fourth Dimension explores her ultimate ideal for riding and the horse/human relationship. She calls it the Fourth Dimension, essentially the merging of two entities in a higher plane of spirit that moves outside their individual existences.