(© 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.
(© Kip Mistral 2018. “Water Sprite” by Theodor Kittelsen)
Almost all of us riders met the horse first in our childhood imaginations. We took our seats on the gleaming black stallions, or the feisty red mares, or even the luminous winged white horse, and they carried us to…wherever we wanted to go. And we flew together with them in a gallop so fast that we conquered space and time.
Some of us children were so lucky to find our way to the horse in the real flesh. We learned to love that wonderful smell of their coats and their sweet hay-scented breath. We groomed them until they shone. We sat on their patient backs for hours while we talked to our friends in the barn aisle. We rode freely out in the country, perhaps, with no rules except to be home by dark. We were unconscious of anything except the moment, the freedom and its joy. We—and I am one of these fortunate ones—know now how extremely lucky we were to have this gift of innocent time with the horse. We could be Wild Things together.
(Peter Paul Rubens – Detail from Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma – The Collection – Museo Nacional del Prado)
“Now for your Cherishings, they are those which I formerly spake of;
Only they must be used at no time but when your Horse doth well,
(© 2018 Kip Mistral. Illustration “Holiday Time” by Heywood Hardy [1842-1933])
I dreamed this morning, literally, that I am wandering through a busy outdoor market. It is an old country market with much tradition, animals and all kinds of rustic things for sale by generations of people who know each other. They are friendly and chatty, and I find myself talking to many women who have spent a lifetime with horses. They all have different stories about their experience and I am struck with the richness of their memories. Naturally, being a journalist I start thinking what a fabulous article it would make to bring these conversations together in one place, woven together in a sort of tapestry.
In 1731, François Robichon de La Guérinière was complaining in his book “School of Horsemanship”, Chapter I “Why There Are So Few Horsemen & the Qualities Necessary to Become One”. Nearly 300 years later, we are asking the same questions! Here, his initial comments:
“All arts and sciences have principles and rules governing the methods resulting in those discoveries that lead to their perfection. The Cavalry [School of Horsemanship] is the only art for which it seems there is only need of practice; however, the practice, stripped of sound principles, is nothing more than routine that only results in a forced and uncertain performance and a false brilliance that fascinates the demi-connoisseurs, who are often amazed by the horse’s kindness, rather than by the rider’s skill. This is the reason for the small number of well-trained horses and the lack of ability presently seen in the majority of those people who call themselves horsemen.”