Classical Dressage: A Systemic Analysis

Classical Dressage: A Systemic Analysis

Daune West
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/ijss.2015010102
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This paper reports on an application of systems theory to a complex area of human endeavor, Classical Dressage. The area is well represented in a rich literature dating back to the time of Xenophon (c.380BC) and has many practitioners worldwide today. The paper offers a description of Classical Dressage theory and practice presented through a number of systems concepts and illustrated by means of systems tools. The analysis, which is conducted in line with the author's interpretive systems background, illustrates how Classical Dressage can be seen as not only being concerned with the ‘correct' training and riding of horses but also about the personal development of the trainer/rider. The paper concludes by presenting a description of the component parts of a ‘classical' or ‘academic' approach to equitation. Throughout, examples from the classical equitation literature are provided to illustrate the analysis presented.
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Background And Process

The author of this paper has been a student of Classical Dressage for more than ten years. In trying to follow the advice of many ‘Classical’ commentators who state the importance of combining theory with practice, she has immersed herself in the writings of both old and modern ‘masters’, travels to take instruction from selected trainers, attends clinics and conferences, and attempts to practice the theory in the riding and training of horses. In trying to make sense of the subject as a whole the author turned towards her ‘systems’ training (in a professional capacity she has been involved in studying, teaching and practicing ‘systems’ inquiry for more than twenty years). This paper illustrates her application of systems theory and tools to identify and explore what, for her, are the component parts of this complex activity. The result of this discussion is an outline of what she believes to be the key principles of classical dressage.

As a way of focusing on and structuring the research reported here, the author was the subject of a systems inquiry exercise undertaken using the Appreciative Inquiry Method (AIM) (West, 1995). A technique using a systems map from the early stages of AIM (West & Stansfield, 1999) was used to help the author make explicit her appreciation of the subject, to begin to identify important themes and to offer some structure for future discussion. The focus for this investigation was the question “How is classical dressage systemic?” The process involved (i) the author’s production of a systems map, (ii) the use of the map to support discussion of the subject and (iii) revisiting and redrawing the map as a result of the discussion. As a result of this exercise her appreciation of the ‘whole’ (which up to this point in time had been largely tacit) emerged from the identification of the ‘parts’. Figure 1 represents a version of the resulting map and illustrates six main areas for discussion (i.e. the six ‘sections’ in the Systems Map). These six areas will provide the key points for discussion in this paper.

Figure 1.

A systems map to illustrate the author’s appreciation of the systemic nature of classical dressage


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