Dressage is a bit like pairs figure skating, in that you have to have harmony and trust in your team to create the beautiful balance of the complex movements. That only comes from spending a lot of time together. This partnership is developed on trust and knowledge of each other. You have to learn to feel your horse’s thoughts and to be able to make small and gentle adjustments in your riding in even the largest and most out of control situations. This has taught me to be calm and thoughtful even in a crisis. When our partners get scared or distracted it can be very dangerous. They are large and powerful animals. I joke with my athlete friends that while they may be flipping around upside down to do death defying tricks on their skis the goal of dressage is to look in complete control and make everything look easy. At least their skis aren’t trying to buck them off or jump off the mountain at the same time!
My sport also requires close communication with an animal that weighs over a ton. Horses scare a lot of people because they seem unpredictable and have a lot of power. They are bigger and stronger than us and we can’t always control them. This make them in a lot of ways like guys who tend to be bigger and stronger too. Horses have the added issue of not being able to tell us what they are thinking or feeling so we have to learn to communicate in other ways and to learn to share with them our feelings and emotions without language. We also have to learn to work together as a team without force. Learning to communicate and to work as a team with my horses over the years has taught me about communicating with people. It has given me a lot of empathy to listen to what people (and nature) need without speaking. I mean being aware of other people’s needs without them having to tell you. I think this makes me really aware of people and very empathetic to others. Yet also to communicate with a horse you have to be consistent, dependable, and trustworthy. You have to build a bond that you will do as you say and will keep them safe. Having my horse treat me like his best friend and believe in me is probably the most rewarding friendship I have earned in my life.