​​Enlightened  Dressage  

"Ethical ConsciousnessFor All Equestrians"

The Road to Enlightenment - How being a student Instructor of the Philippe Karl School of Légèreté has transported me to the next level
By: Muriel Chestnut, Enlightened Dressage, Ethical Consciousness in all Horsemanship

We are all seekers. Anthony Robbins, Life Coach Guru Extraordinaire, describes our Primary Needs as human beings as Growth and Contribution. We can exist, as long as our Fundamental needs for Certainty, Uncertainty, Significance, and Love/connection are met,  but only truly live a life of fulfillment if our Primary Needs are met as well. So why am I telling you all this? Because ultimately, we are all seeking fulfillment, whether we realize it or not! Riding is no exception … 

Anthony has another truism that says, "Have a good enough Why … and the How will follow". This took a while to brew for me. Not that I didn't understand the meaning of it, but that I needed to put it in context. Then it dawned on me! Of course! For all of my adult equestrian life, I had been searching for a "How" that would meet my needs for Growth and Contribution! I had been teaching for years, having had a solid background in dressage based on the coaching of various well-respected individuals within the equestrian community. I had competed, done some low-level judging, ridden some fabulous horses as well as bred some very nice ones of my own. I certainly had put in my time, both in the saddle and in my folding chair, riding with and auditing as many high profile clinicians as I could.

Yet I felt there was something I was missing. I had decided to explore the realm of alternates! This was exciting! To go where no dressage rider had gone before …. (or at least not many). I dove head first into Natural Horsemanship. Yep, rope halter, carrot stick and all! My peers thought I was having a mid-life crisis, which I may have been … but that's a bit off-topic, so I'll stick to the theme, and had my eyes opened to an entirely new perspective on how to see my horses. This was fascinating to me! Why had no one taught me any of the all too important fundamentals of equine psychology before now?? I felt I had stumbled on “The Missing Link” in my equestrian education!

I had imported a beautiful 4-year-old PRE (Pura Raza Español) stallion from Spain and I knew I had to be the best I could be for this horse. He was a game-changer, to say the least … more appropriately, he was a life changer! Now I had to get really serious about my riding and commit to becoming extraordinary. 

Since my twenties, I had the amazing good fortune to have ridden with Classical Riding Master, Frank Grelo. As a native of Portugal and long time student of Nuno Oliveira, Frank was the real deal. He had become my mentor and friend and I had spent many hours riding his Lusitanos, Lippizan and other horses all trained to the Haute École. Frank is an inspiration to anyone seeking to understand the finer points of a more academic approach to equestrianism. His depth of knowledge of the teachings of the great masters of Classical Dressage is astounding! He is the consummate Horseman, a genuine humanitarian and beautiful human being. He exudes love for all things around him and it is obvious he lives a life of fulfillment. He had mastered growth and contribution, people and horses feel appreciated and understood in his presence. Life is art to him… there is no separation. 

It was through Frank that I was inspired to push myself to become more academically educated and to further push the edge of the envelope. I knew this was what was necessary to become an artist on horseback. The concept of lightness was a reoccurring principle along this path, so it was natural that when an opportunity to audit a clinic with Philippe Karl arose, I leaped at the prospect. 

In today's world of modern dressage, there are few modern masters who's passion for the wellness and respect for the horse are paramount throughout their training. Philippe Karl is one of those men. He walks the talk. He is a vocal advocate for change within a system that seems to have strayed from the ideals and fundamentals of good horse training. He is not alone in his quest for a return to respect for the horse. Through his tireless work, Mr. Karl is developing Instructors based on a system of training horses that he has laid out, that stems directly from the methods and philosophies of the great masters, Baucher, L'Hotte, de la Gueriniere and many others. He has even taken Principles from Natural Horsemanship … including the rope halter and carrot stick!! Go figure!!

Imagine! Baucher and Parelli in the same breath!! This blew my mind! Now THAT was WAY outside the box! This was pure Utopia for me! Talk about fulfillment … this was the mother load!

In 2012 I was accepted as one of 8 riders for Philippe Karl's School of Légèreté (Lightness) Instructor's course, offered in Pennsylvania, starting in 2013, consisting of 3 sessions per year for 3 years, with our exams in the 4th year. The course is extremely theoretical, however, it is the practical application of the theory that counts. 

Fast forward to today, 2017. I am now entering my exam year! I can’t tell you how proud I am to be at this magnificent point in my life and yet I feel as if I am only just beginning! Yes, I am proud of all the hours I have spent studying and riding and yet more studying and more riding … having challenges with horses for my classes and various other events including the death of my mother while I was away on course in Oct. 2015. But life is a journey and these challenges are there for a reason. Some to test how badly I really wanted what I thought I wanted. But it's all OK … I’ve come this far and I intend to finish what I started! It's too important to equestrianism as a whole. It’s not about me and it never was. It all about changing the paradigm of how we train horses. Our horses need us to be more conscious, and ethical. It's our obligation to them if we are to call ourselves “horse lovers”. “Love the horse on the horse’s terms!” - Charles de Kunffy. I will never forget him saying those words during a clinic I hosted at my facility in the ’90’s. 

Much of what we see today, particularly in competition, but not only, is not a reflection of our “love for the horse on the horse’s terms” … we are straying and must be guided back. We are all stewards of the horse. It is our inherent responsibility to care for them physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, because this is what they do FOR US!

We ask them to give so much of themselves and sacrifice their needs for ours. Remember … history was literally made on the back of a horse!! We would be nowhere without them!! 

WE owe THEM! 

Today we treat them as vehicles for the service of our egos, sports equipment, objects of financial success. 

So in the next few months, I will be writing about how I feel we can do a better job of meeting the needs of our horses.