Classical dressage has been around for centuries, as early as the 4th century BC. It was designed to prepare horse and rider for battle, but like many martial arts, it is beautiful and fascinating to watch. Nobles would have the best horse trainers give performances to show off the prowess of their commissioned riding masters and their horses. Over the centuries, the art form has evolved, though it is still based on traditional principles. While now dressage is more well-known as an Olympic sport, those who focus on the classical aspect focus on the art as well as the science of this ancient art form. Learn more about the history here.
Classical riding isn’t just a training method – it’s an art form. Frequently, the first thing that comes to mind for many when they hear “classical riding” or “dressage” is the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. They are renowned for their beautiful Ballet of the White Stallions and excellent classical training. In fact, it is thanks to them that classical riding is recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Performances of the past often included exceptional displays of difficult maneuvers, such as the famous “airs above the ground,” choreographed groups of riders, skills with the rider on the ground, and even skills with weapons. Live musicians and even dancers have performed alongside the equine artists. Today, each riding school has its own “signature” of art and performance.
Whether used to train horses for the battlefield or for show in royal and imperial courts, the movement and control of classical dressage are beautiful to behold. It’s one of the many reasons this practice has persisted throughout the centuries. It takes many years to become a skilled classical rider, but like all art, it is well worth the effort.
At Tempus Renatus, we strive to preserve as much of the classical art form as we can. We include a variety of expressions in our performances, and no two performances are exactly alike. For training, it means students may come and enjoy learning about the art without the pressure of competition. Students can also find where their talents lie in the equestrian art, as there are so many aspects that can each be a specialty on their own. In the near future, we hope to include local music and other talent in our performances for a more moving and powerful experience.
This holistic approach to equine training was developed around horses’ natural movements, which increase strength, flexibility, and balance. Classical training uses logic and patterns that develop both horse and rider in these areas, with the goal of maximizing potential to each horse’s and rider’s level of ability. Over the years, the riding masters of old found what worked best with the horses’ and riders’ bodies. Because of the time and money it took to produce a proficient horse and rider, the riding masters worked to prevent joint and health problems through training so the athletes could thrive into their elderly years. Indeed, many classically trained horses are able to perform the advanced movements well into their late 20s, and the riders into their 70s and 80s! The further beauty is that the horse and rider don’t have to have the “perfect” body type; they can still thrive and accomplish many of the advanced movements. Even today, modern science and biomechanics have proven the value of classical riding time and again.
Psychologically, classical riding develops a deep connection and bond between the horse and rider. It is a relationship built on trust and teamwork. Horses become more confident in their rider and in their own bodies, as the training works with the horse. As Xenophon famously said, “Where force begins, art ends.” Riders work diligently to create dance partners rather than wrestling the horse into obedience. Without this relationship and trust, it’s impossible for horses and riders to move in harmony and perform classical dressage movements at their best. Riders must also know and control themselves, both physically and mentally. The lessons learned in the go far beyond riding; they are life-changing lessons about patience, compassion, humility, and wisdom.