Self-Possession, Self Carriage

Self-Possession, Self Carriage

By: Margaret Kunz (My Connecticut dressage trainer)

Enjoy this guest blog post by my Connecticut dressage trainer, Margaret Kunz. I must say, opening and managing Cheshire Equestrian Center, a Connecticut tack shop for people and horses, was quite the challenge. But I am loving the customers, people and horses alike. You can see a bit more about me here. Throughout the stress, lessons I learned in dressage riding helped me calmly and purposefully succeed. Sometimes customers are like horses. Here’s what I mean . . .

In many equestrian circles the concept of a horse having self-possession is frowned upon.  Horses should be brought into submission, dominated, controlled completely lest they go astray and do bad things to their riders–right?  hmmm  Think again.  What really needs to be brought into submission?  Not the horse himself but the manner of our requests. You see the horse that has control over himself moves the best, feels the best and reacts to outside stimuli more appropriately. 

Self-carriage is more than just a horse moving straight and holding himself up at all times.  Self-carriage is not something we force or even ‘ride’ the horse into.  It is the result of calmly helping him to feel where to place himself, allowing him to try different options and find what feels the best.  The difficulty with all this is that as a result of our not sitting well, asking inappropriately or our demanding in ways that upset balance, very often what the horse choses as the best option doesn’t agree with our plan.  For the sake of some pre-conceived notion of correctness or to satisfy some dressage test criteria, we may ask for too much forward motion, too much sideways, too much bend or transition from a poorly balanced posture.  It goes without saying that riding a dressage test is difficult but if we really think about what is so difficult we may be less inclined to send in those show entries.  Ever notice how so many horses do not make it above second level?  It isn’t because they cannot, will not or that the rider is not good enough.  I rather believe it is because we have taken away so much of the horse’s sense of self that he gets into a situation where his self-carriage cannot be located. 

Rehearsing the shoulder-in over and over does not make a better shoulder-in!  And what is the shoulder-in but an exercise to help the horse.  If you are having difficulty helping him with an exercise that needs help itself …. hmmmm …. maybe something else is wrong!

This may sound strange but I would like to step back from ‘dressage’ and just look at balance and quiet, testing the waters of motion to see how this affects balance and calmness.  Can we get vertical impulsion with all its appropriate tension, not hear the horse huffing and puffing and return to walk and halt with complete ease?  What is all this I am speaking of?  It is working with the horse’s cooperativeness without taking away from him … allowing him his self-possession …. encouraging it.  By this self-carriage is fostered.  All we need is patience while the horse tries to make his own adjustments.  Contrary to what most would have, the resistances we feel are not to be interpreted as the horse always saying “no” …. the horse trying to defy us.  He innately wants to partner with us and we push him away with our disappointments over his seemingly wrong answers to our questions. 

Mastering ourselves and how we project our energies through our subtle motions within ‘parameters of stillness’ is key to gaining ease in partnership with the horse.  Much can be relayed with no apparent motion from the rider.  And likewise much can be disturbed in the horse with improper relay of energy and with too much rider motion.  Knowing in the mind what we want, envisioning it, waiting upon the horse for the right postural adjustment and balance makes the resulting response from the horse more like an intelligent and pleasant conversation than a mere shouting match — words flung at each other in careless, thoughtless chatter. 

Let me ask this.  Do you pause for a moment of peace before you speak to someone, look them in the eye or feel for the energy of the state they are in, get their attention first and then choose appropriate words to say what you want and bring ‘building up’ to your relationship?  Think about this.  Try it with a person.  Feel the difference.  Talk to someone who is in a moment of self-possession and you will find optimal balance and peace and good feelings will emanate from the interaction.  Words carry energy.  By the same token, help your horse to find peace and calm …. self-possession … then choose your conversation well to preserve self-possession and see what amazing self-carriage results.

Thank you Margaret. You can read more of her posts on her blog: My Kunz Cogitations.

Carol DiCarlo, owner of Cheshire Equestrian Center, on Modico
Carol DiCarlo, owner of Cheshire Equestrian Center, aboard her dressage horse Modico.

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