Dressage is an art form, it is entirely subjective. Art is in the eye of the beholder, after all one person’s master piece is another person’s crime against art. Art is also often appreciated more in history, we look back at artists - like the impressionists - who in their own time, due to rapid cultural changes where not appreciated by the establishment at the time, yet now we see these artists as grand masters.
The fundamental difference between art and dressage is that you have a living, breathing, thinking, feeling animal at the centre of the artistry. The beauty of the horse in motion is perhaps one of the main reasons why Dressage has become a spectacle, with ever greater effort put into wowing the crowd.
A spectacle for public consumption has a different place in history. At this point we are no longer talking about a benign art form, like a painting in motion, now we are in the realms of the Roman Amphitheatre - make the crowd roar and stamp their feet, behold the horse as a spectacular expression modern art.
A modern version of the amphitheater, and in context of modern culture no less troubling, is reality TV. We, or at least those of us that are still willing to consume this cultural gem, are engrossed in the spectacle; the outlandish, the perverse, the “beauty” of the thing.
Modern Dressage, from my perspective, seems to be some kind hybrid between an Art-form and the Amphitheater. Beauty and spectacle combine. Whether this was on purpose or via happenstance, this is the reality. The horse is a spectacular art form in motion - everyone cheers, everyone is happy. And the horse - is he happy??
Then there is this pesky thing called Biomechanics. Biomechanics is the study of the mechanical laws relating to the movement or structure of living organisms. This gives you the empirical evidence of how things move. In horse sports this science has only just started to be applied to horse training. In human sports, biomechanics and discoveries in physiology and anatomy have been helping athletes perform to greater levels and avoid injury.
Sadly, horse sports have lagged behind the modern science with many new advancements only being made in veterinary technology for supporting repetitive strain injuries, joint degradation and chronic pain caused by training methods.
Biomechanics will give you the truth of the thing and exposes the art form to be not something of beauty but a spectacle of the deformed, lame and compromised. The horse is at the center of the amphitheater not framed in a gallery.
When we start to examine Biomechanics so much of what we consider “absolute truth” in horse training becomes questionable. We have to learn a different language, throw out falsehoods and become more in ourselves for our horse’s sake. Otherwise he is simply sacrificed on the same alter as reality TV stars, disposable to the roaring crowd.
Science, and mathematics in particular, don’t just give us clues, they give us the true reality of how the horse moves and how to help him move better. If we want to be better horsemen we must embrace the science to further the art form. Our failure to embrace this will be the continued subjugation and contortion of the horse into living art.