Recently, I watched a TED talk by a woman named Sarah Lewis that I found to be particularly relevant to dressage. The talk is called “Embracing the Near Win”, and it discusses the differences between success and mastery. As all of us who participate in this discipline know, in dressage we are always striving towards an ideal, always trying to make the gap a little bit smaller. As Lewis states, the pursuit of mastery is “an ever-onward almost.”
To strive for mastery means accepting that we don’t know it all, no matter what we have accomplished. Fortunately, horses are great at reminding us of this and keeping us humble. The longer you give yourself over to the pursuit of perfection in dressage, you realize that as your abilities increase, you become painfully aware of just how far you have to go. To ride dressage requires “giving [your]self over to a voracious, unfinished path that always require[s] more.” Like many riders, I think back to horses of my past and think of what it would be like to have that horse now, and how I would do things differently. I suppose that will probably happen for the rest of my riding career, no matter how good I get. Even with my own current horse, I think back to how I handled certain things then, and how I wish I could go back and have a do-over, knowing what I know now. But as any good dressage rider knows, the only way is forward.
Many are probably familiar with this scenario—when you mention to a non-equestrian friend or acquaintance that you still take lessons, you receive a quizzical look. “You still take lessons? But you’ve been riding forever. Don’t you know how to ride yet?” This is what I find so enticing about dressage—the constant quest for refinement. And so I continue along my path, trying to be the rider my horses deserve, and to be the best teacher I can be to help my students achieve their goals.