I'm thinking about the analogy between working with a horse and a dance between two people, which may help make what I'm talking about in my prior posts on my two challenges a bit clearer. Despite the fact that the horse is big and the person riding/working with the horse is much smaller, and the two people are roughly the same size, I think this difference matters almost not at all to the analogy. If you haven't already, it would probably help if you read yesterday's post in order to understand what I'm trying to say.
So, imagine two people dancing together - no words allowed, with a leader and a follower. The way most of us were taught to ride, this would involve one person (the leader) pushing and shoving on the other person (the follower) to get them to do what was wanted, and occasionally jabbing, jerking or whacking the other person when they did something "wrong" or didn't understand what was wanted quickly enough. Some of this would be characterized as "you're the alpha", "your partner has to respect you", or "get after them and make them obey you". It might even be characterized (in some respects wrongly, I think - I think this phrase is often misunderstood) as "make the wrong thing difficult". Doesn't present a very pretty picture, does it? The dance that resulted would involve a lot of frustration, resentment, anxiety and missed opportunities. Most human dance partners wouldn't put up with it for a minute, but most horses unfortunately do. (This is why Mark Rashid often jokes that all horse people should have to start with a mule - he says that would result in a lot fewer, and a lot better, horse people, since most mules won't put up with that sort of stuff.) I was certainly taught to ride that way. You see a lot of this style of riding in all disciplines, and it can even be successful, but only because a lot of horses are so darn forgiving, although some aren't - the ones that get labelled as "problems".
But perhaps the leader in the dance wants to work in a better way, and produce better results. The philosophy shifts to one of mutual respect, but with one person still being the leader. The leader still uses physical touch and body cues, but does so in a way that allows the follower a legitimate opportunity to offer a try, and then rewards the try with a physical release. There's still some pushing and pulling possible at this stage, although the leader can learn to apply physical cues offering softness, without bracing. If the follower doesn't understand what is wanted, or can't do what is wanted because of a physical problem, the leader doesn't physically discipline them, but tries to understand (without words) what's going on. This attitude of mutual respect by the two dancers, and the elimination of physical discipline as a training "tool" allows for better learning and the beginnings of a partnership involving mutual understanding.
The next stage is a refinement of the last one - the leader now looks for ways to minimize physical cues, and use the direction of energy, breathing, focus and intent to lead the dance. The dance is getting pretty good at this point, and the follower is much more willing and more "with" the leader.
Finally, you get to the point - I'm seeing Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in my mind - where the two dancers are moving together on feel alone. In the case of horses, there's still a leader - the human - who offers the thought to the horse - and a follower, the horse - who connects with the thought and performs the action. But at this point, there's very little separation between the two - they act as one, connected by a live "feel", and perform the action together as if they were both doing it.
That's where I want to go - it's the work of a lifetime but that's just fine with me. Even at the ultimate stage, or between the last two stages, there's a place for cues and aids, but I think their use at that point is a bit different than our usual way of thinking about them. More about that later . . .