So many schools, do all roads lead to Rome?

The world of riding has more divisions and subsets than all the religions of the world.  OK, so that’s not a proven fact but it certainly seems that way to me.  In my specialist area of classical dressage there so many different schools. That is, in part, the nature of the beast. Classical work has always been passed from Master to student, creating an intricate historical web of learning. As classical work becomes increasingly popular and people search for a more connected, gentler way to achieve beautiful movement, it must be harder and harder to choose who to study with. Is all classical work roughly the same? Well, no, not really. It depends whose lineage of training the modern practitioner has followed. Also, certainly a factor is that some people are simply better at marketing themselves!

So, is all this choice a good thing? I believe it is. For one thing, every student needs to find their tribe, to find their village where they understand and feel understood. So much of learning to ride this way depends on the human growth that finding a school or instructor you feel comfortable and confident with is essential. Each school of training has the

ir own paradigm. This allows each student the opportunity to find the paradigm most suited to their understanding of life. I’ve written about filters before, the way in which past experiences colour future knowledge absorption. Well, each school of classical work will be more or less suited to the different filters and also ambitions of a given person.

As with religion, lots of people start in one school of classical work and doggedly stay there. Consistency and determination are essential to producing a well schooled horse. However, I feel we can learn a little from everyone. Even if all you learn is that what you’ve just seen is not for you. You might find that the new thing suits you even better. That it helps you put words to what did not sit right with the previous school.

How does this strategy marry up to having consistency with a method?  For me, I tried a little of a lot of schools of training. After each exposure I would then reflect on how the methods felt. Was I curious to learn more about the bits I didn’t understand, or was I comfortable not needing to know more. I always try to work with a given school 2-3 times before making a final decision. And for each new exposure there is always something to take home.

There are definitely people who change their whole approach often, trying to find the right thing for them. There is the danger of not understanding a method deeply enough before you decide it isn’t working for you and moving on.  I suggest to these people to spend a little time learning to deeply reach into yourself and trust your own judgement. Only then can you really know if it feels like a method isn’t working for you because you simply aren’t skilled enough yet and lack understanding or is it just isn’t the right way of doing things for you.

There is danger in staying with one method without ever researching your other options. If what you are doing ticks all the options on the list below then maybe its the perfect school for you. I would still advise going to demonstrations by other trainers just so you have knowledge of other ways. As Maya Angelou says

The objective of any training I want to add into my horses lives comes down to a few simple things:

  • Is this training done for the all round benefit of horse and not simply to the horse?
  • Does the training focus on improving the handler as well the horse?
  • Is the horse becoming more fluid and balanced in its movement with and without me there?
  • Is the horse’s mental balance given as much importance as its physical balance?
  • Does working this way help me and my horse move together in harmony, each maintaining our own balance?

In the end my approach to the wealth of knowledge available to the modern classical rider (is that an oxymoron??) is similar to my approach to training horses. Always move forwards in the French classical sense. “En avant” the French phrase we translate as “forward” does not just speak of forward motion. It also pertains to a certain quality of mental curiosity. It’s a little like the way you can fall down a Wikipedia worm hole following one link after another finding out new and interesting things you’d never thought of questioning before.

I always try to be en avant as I research different training schools, in fact in all things. Living life with a curious, playful mindset certainly makes even the mundane more interesting. It also leaves open the possibility of new experiences, new ways of doing and being. If as the awful cliché says, “Every day is a school day”, how are you going to use all these opportunities to learn? With so much choice its important to clearly define what Rome is to you. Until you know what your aiming for its impossible to know if all the possible roads will lead you there.