Welcome to Mark Russell’s Natural Dressage website where you may begin your journey to lightness.
Author of Lessons in Lightness: The Art of Educating the Horse, Mark Russell, believes that development of lightness and freedom of movement in the horse hinges on the confluence of many factors including a continuous awareness of self, maintaining connection with the horse, supporting relaxation of the horse, and removing blocks to create the free flow of energy throughout the horse. These principles can be found in the teachings of Artistic Dressage and in Natural Horsemanship; two concepts which Mark Russell has seamlessly woven together. Mark wishes to be clear however, that in practice there is distinction between the two; notably in the gymnasticizing process with the alignment of the spine, impulsion, engagement, balance, and the effortless self carriage that Artistic Dressage creates. In pursuing the Art of riding, the two cannot truly be separated; thoughtfully intertwined together they are responsible for both developing the horse and developing the rider’s relationship with the horse.
Artistic Dressage is a method of suppling and gymnatizing exercises to balance the horse in lightness with a reliance on relaxation of the whole horse all of the time. Relaxation, a basic tenet of Artistic Dressage, is obtained through connectedness and trust as well as through teaching the horse to let go in his mind, and hence, his body. Having first been taught to relax and release tension, the horse is more likely to respond correctly to an aid. Gymnatizing exercises which are introduced to the relaxed horse teach him to comfortably flex the spine and open the joints; in turn creating strength and impulsion. Impulsion which is created through relaxation and flexion means that energy can flow freely from the haunch, up through the back, through the withers, and ultimately through the horse’s whole body. The horse’s balance then is able to shift beneath the rider creating a freedom of movement which is experienced as the lightness which so many riders seek. Where Artistic Dressage differs from today’s more commonly seen competitive style of dressage is this emphasis on relaxation as a training tool. Rather than utilizing a driving seat and leg with reliance on the forces of the hand, Artistic Dressage prioritizes relaxation which in turn opens channels of energy which the rider can then direct. The resulting ride has a very different feel; fluid, free, and unobstructed by tension or physiological blocks.
Understanding and speaking the horse’s language has been brought forth to the riding community through the Natural Horsemanship movement. Natural Horsemanship philosophies teach riders to recognize subtle messages from their horses and how their horses interpret their rider’s actions through the rider’s body language and energy. A development of self awareness, and especially self awareness in the presence of the horse is key; as is an openness to the energy and to the presence of the horse. Here begins connection and mutuality; responsiveness rather than reaction on the part of both the horse and the rider. Modulation of our selves through our body language, our thoughts, feelings, and our energy has made it possible to change the very nature of our equine relationships. Depending on what the rider is seeking; Natural Horsemanship study can certainly be an end in itself as it is a very satisfying an joyful experience for both rider and horse.
Where Artistic Dressage and Natural Horsemanship begin to diverge is in the gymnatizing process; the alignment of the spine, impulsion, engagement, balance, and self carriage that Artistic Dressage creates. However; both entities should not be considered as mutually exclusive but rather should be seen as supportive of each other. In pursuing the Art of riding, the two cannot be separated and are inextricably intertwined together as they are responsible for developing the horse and the rider’s relationship with the horse.
This fluid combination is what Mark calls Natural Dressage; a wholistic approach which transcends mere mechanics and represents an approach to riding and training horses which is rarely seen in our time. By incorporating constant awareness of self, connection with the horse, and maintaining relaxation while educating the horse; the lightness which eludes so many riders emerges. Mark passes on his depth of knowledge to all his students, allowing them to find th