Life Lessons From a Dressage Master

By Staci Grattan owner Spirit Horse Center in Brainerd Minnesota



Dominique and Debra Barbier

As the owner of a barn that does boarding, training and lessons with a strong emphasis on good solid basics and dressage, I hear the following phrases or a variation thereof on a regular basis.

  • “Oh, that fancy dressage stuff! I don’t do that! I just want to get on and ride!”
  • “ All dressage people do is ride in circles. I don’t want to ride in circles, that’s boring and I don’t see the point”

When I hear these things I have to smile a little on the inside. I smile for a variety of reasons including the fact that I agree  – I say YES get on and ride your horse, ENJOY yourself and your partner!  Mostly I smile to myself because I am of the opinion that properly done classical dressage, specifically the method taught by Dominique Barbier and his equally talented and skilled wife Debra, has absolutely nothing to do with being “fancy” or riding in circles and everything to do with a solid foundation in the basics, proper physical body mechanics, relaxation by the partners and a strong mental connection. To be clear  – I have seen Mestre Barbier ride beautifully executed high school dressage maneuvers seemingly without effort on horses so relaxed and happy it seemed like a Sunday afternoon on the couch. I have also seen him teach these movements to students. My point here is that the foundation for these beautiful “dressagey” movements is something every horseman and horsewoman is looking for, a partnership with a physically and mentally relaxed and sound partner.  No matter what your horse goals or disciplines are, there are very valuable offerings in Barbier’s style and methodology from a horsemanship perspective.

Dominique is many things, a dressage master, a successful published author many times over, an incredibly intuitive and gifted horseman with decades of experience including an amazing and vast array of training most notably with classical Master Nuno Oliviera (1925-1989). To say he is highly skilled and trained would be an understatement. All achievements and education aside, as an instructor and trainer I believe the most valuable offerings Mestre Barbier provides are life lessons. The kind of life lessons that not only make us better with the horses but also make us better people in general!

The old horseman’s adage “you ride as you are” is very true and I believe the “change of consciousness” that Barbier encourages each of his students to explore holds the key to not only better riding, and partnership with horses but also a better quality of life!  Its not about riding in circles, or what pretty movements you can do (although that is very fun!) or the tack you use or any of the aesthetics. It is all about simplicity, partnership, joy and a change in the way we look at our horses and the world around us.

Barbier asks us as students to:

  • Think of our horses as “dance partners” always remembering there is a “number one partner and a number two partner” Number one leads the dance, however both partners must be willing and relaxed.
  • Always be thinking in lightness and gentleness. Always ask – “how can I do less?”
  • Ask for what you want. Be clear! Don’t cope with what is given – ask!
  •  If things are not going well, stop! Start over. Think “new horse, new rider”.
  • Always approach your horse in relaxation. Nothing is ever a big deal.
  • Keep things simple. Don’t overcomplicate!
  • Remember that everything starts from the ground and your basics. If there are holes or trouble on the ground it WILL show up in the saddle. Proper mindful lunging and “in hand” work are key!
  •  “Sit there and stay with it!” Understand that effective and productive horsemanship/training should look a little like paint drying. Day by day we make steady, quality progress by having clear goals and a solid program.
  • Be present! Always!
  • Anything you do. Do it with joy!

If we change a few words here and there, couldn’t most of these philosophies be translated into our day-to-day lives?

In closing, I offer a few more favorite quotes I have gathered from Mestre Barbier during my attendance at various symposiums and clinics as consideration for your own journey to a “change of consciousness”.

“Beauty is rarely in the way of spectacles. If you want to see beauty you need to sit still and look for it.”

“The world doesn’t change, but you can change the way you look at it!”

Spirit News

© Spirit Horse Center Inc.