The moment when a horse finds self-expression in dressage is magic.
It is one thing for the rider to go around the arena, using a combination of exercises and figures to teach the horse the principles of dressage.
It is an entirely different matter when something clicks for the horse, and instead of just going through the motions, he begins to express himself, to add his own artistic flare to the exercise and figures.
One cannot simply ‘teach’ the horse to express himself, much in the same way a beginner dancer cannot be taught flare and expression. It takes a certain level of familiarity with the dance steps and environment– a feeling of safety– before a dancer will begin to experiment with creating their own style. Feeling safe is key to self-expression.
Horses need the same sense of ‘safety’ and familiarity. They need to trust the rider and the strength of their hindquarters before they will start offering a glimmer of pizazz to the movements and figures.
There is no formula to get there– only consistency and repetition in asking the horse for the same thing in training. When the thought of self-expression comes, the rider must be there to quickly fan the flame: not to force or demand it, but to quickly encourage and channel it.
The rider must be careful not to squash the thought of expression when it comes; dressage is as much of an artistic expression for the horse as it is for the rider. Snuffing out early glimmers of expression only makes it more difficult to develop in the future.
Is your horse going around the arena doing the exercises and figures, or is he as much of an artist as you?