Calm, Forward, Straight

As a living, breathing human being, you are an animate creature, capable of orienting in, being motivated by and coloring your expression with a wide variety of spirits. The spirit which compels or dominates your expression in any given moment gives evidence to the true centering of your heart, regardless of what you believe mentally to be your core concern. It is for this reason that it can rightly be said of most people that they worship they know not what.

Whether you claim to be (and may be in fact) more predominantly right or left-brained, the state of both heart and mind is a dominant factor in any deliberate, creative process. It matters not if you prefer a logical, sequential and rational approach or a random, intuitive and holistic approach if your heart and the cloud of emotions which clothe it, is troubled.

While I could and have provided many different examples of this principle over the years, I found another that may help drive the point home. The example is given in the context of training horses and riders, but it is easy to extrapolate the principle into specific application in any field of activity. General Decarpentry, in his fine book on classical horse training, Academic Equitation, writes:

And as for the “spirit” that should animate the student, the formula used by General L’Hotte to describe the spirit of dressage in the sequence of its aims can be applied to it: “Calm, Forward, Straight” (Calme, En Avant, Droit).

The most perfect calmness is essential in any dressage operation. However, despite its firmest determination, the rider will not always be able to avoid a shaking of his moral calm and he will never be able to recover instantly his physical calm once it has been ruffled by however slight and transient a loss of moral calm.

A flash of temper can be inwardly suppressed almost as soon as it is aroused, but its resulting effect on the rider’s nervous tension will persist for some time and, what is more important, for longer than the rider himself realizes. The horse, on the contrary, immediately feels this nervousness and immediately shares it, but needs a much longer time to forget than the rider. In this respect, the horse is gifted with an astonishingly delicate sensitivity, such that even the movements of his ears are a permanent indication of the “state of the horse’s soul” – if this expression can be allowed, which provide the rider with the means of perceiving a change in his own state of nerves, so slight that he may remain unaware of it, and even if the loss of calm is unrelated to the horse’s behavior.

Therefore, as soon as the rider feels any disturbance of his serenity, it is absolutely imperative to allow time for his own physical calm, which determines that of the horse, to be completely restored. A pause, a halt, provided that submission is not in question, is necessary before the lesson can be continued.

After some strong vexation, even if it has nothing to do with the horse, the trainer must be sufficiently wise to put the lesson off until the next day, and be content with a quiet hack.

I find the last sentence ironic in that many people confess to riding horses as a means of soothing their own nerves, of taking their minds off of “life.” Such an approach is a disservice to the horse and must be avoided if there is a genuine concern for its welfare.

In any case, the same pattern holds true in any and every situation you face in life. Substitute the horse for a student, employee, friend, lover, parishioner or political constituent and the principle continues to have immediate, practical application. Notice that General Decarpentry, whose work and writings are considered by dressage experts to be amongst the most important contributions to classical training in the twentieth century, does not mince words. He says that it is “absolutely imperative to allow time” for calm to be restored before continuing on. This is not a suggestion, it is an order! Anything less is the genesis of frenzy.

Many wonderful things in life have been destroyed by acting with a troubled heart. A troubled heart clouds the mind and therefore suppresses wisdom. It has a narcotic-like affect on consciousness, limiting both vision and perspective. A troubled heart focuses on and magnifies the limitations or blockages present and downplays and undervalues the means by which those limitations can be successfully and sustainably overcome.

“Mind over matter” is possible, but only with a cooperating heart.

9 thoughts on “Calm, Forward, Straight

  1. Joshua

    We are always inspiring something, the question is what.
    Does our presence bring calmness to the equation?
    This brings to mind the artful dance of one who knows, and knows that he knows, as he glides with grace through any piece, of circumstance.
    Gracefully handling the moving of mountains, by revealing them for the pebbles they are. It reminds me of you.
    Thanks Gregg for leading by example!


  2. I appreciate the points concerning the most perfect calm essential in any dressage operation or settling for a quiet hack. This does bring to mind whether our lives will have an intensity that brings invigoration or drudgery to our words. The experience of our heart is our choice as well as our fulfillment.


  3. MMc

    What a terrific excerpt and a fine illustration of the sensitive nature of man and animals. Caring more about the person or animal you’re responsible for than yourself is a good start but only a start. Realizing the profound affect we have on each other enough to break the habit of agitation requires dillegence and a new level of honesty in ourselves. We do matter. Our thoughts and feelings etch pathways or scars on everything. Thanks for the great post.


  4. Colin

    The crossover applications between horsemanship and the rest of life really are incredible! I guess that when attempting to teach a sensitive animal to move in a specific way that is certainly interconnected to the rider, the rider must be both patient and pristine if they are looking to move the horse to the goal in a calm and controlled manner.
    Elegant movement towards any goal requires sensitivity. Without it, progress will be bumbling and can damage the finer things that are required to achieve true mastery. I appreciate all the different ways you continually describe methods to acquire this sensitivity.


  5. Pingback: Calm, Forward, Straight | Ultimate Horsemanship |

  6. Brad

    Profound! I found similar logic true when applied to dog training. And curiously, I have considered the same principles when raising children. Interesting how things apply across the board….hmmm 🙂


  7. Ricardo B.

    It appears to me that the capacity to feel is like the engine to our intellect; it provides the fuel and combustion to our thoughts, shaping and coloring them into existence. Thinking this through further, this heart of ours that feels is also like a lens through which we receive our final impressions of the world as well as through which we offer our final expressions out into the world. The way we interpret things makes our reality, and it can be many shades from what’s really going on. Judgment is one sure way to knock us off balance.
    Keeping the heart clear needs to be a devotion, for in today’s world there are simply far too many vices that are shared between us, and given the nature of our makeup, it is imperative that we protect the strong yet delicate domain of the heart. The best way i know is to dedicate your life to truth in all you do. In the spirit of General Decarprentry, if this of interest to one, then it must be taken as an order, lest you enter into compromises of the heart – a very slippery slope for then you are serving more than one master!


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