Moral Collection

My wonderful horse, a large and long Hanoverian named Leo, has taught and continues to teach me a great many lessons about life. One of the latest centers around a concept which is just beginning to germinate in the soil of my mind, one that the classical riding masters called rassembler.

Rassembler or “collection” as we typically refer to it nowadays, was defined by Francois Baucher in his work entitled “Méthode d’Equitation sur des nouveaux principes” as being the process of “collecting the forces of the horse in his center in order to ease his extremities, and give them up completely to the disposition of the rider.” As a result of this collection, Baucher notes that “The animal thus finds himself transformed into a kind of balance, of which the rider is the centerpiece.”

For those of you who don’t ride or train horses, it takes time to learn to collect a horse and it takes time for a horse to become sufficiently supple, balanced and strong to come to the point of collection. Many horseman use shortcuts to give the appearance of collection – apparently even in high levels of international competition – but true collection can neither be rushed nor faked.

The same process works out in human beings relative to their moral development. Each time that you successfully handle the inevitable tests of character that come up in circumstance (e.g. temptations, high pressure situations, competition, unfamiliar territory, etc.) your forces are collected, thereby disposing your body, mind and heart to the highest impulses of which we are aware as a species.

Just as with horses, moral collection begins with assouplissement or “suppling.” You are made supple when you learn to relax into, rather than react against, pressure. Many fail to get very far in relation to this. They blow it in when the demands are low, evading the inner calls to higher function. The evasions exacerbate the imbalances and heighten the tension, making them less flexible over time and as a result, less capable of handling the times of high demand.

Again, you are made supple when you relax into, rather than react against, the pressure. Physical, mental and emotional suppleness allows you to gather your forces into your center and brings the outer you into a state of being that is light and available to the subtlest wishes of the inner you.

The next time you face a difficult situation, something that requires you to stretch a little, remember my horse, Leo. Stay supple when you would normally become tense. Gather and collect when you would typically blow apart and fall to pieces. Horses are remarkable creatures whose willingness to yield to the will of an educated rider serves as a remarkable example of the process by which we can more consistently give ourselves to the higher impulses that can and should govern our every move.

The Spirit of the Method

The old and familiar maxim: “Knowledge is Power” shapes the way we look at education, marketing, politics, religion and many other areas of human activity. The idea that knowledge begets power is based on the limited view that humanity is meant to dominate his environment, rather than have dominion over it.

Domination is established through strength and power. It is the product of forced compliance and it is unsustainable because of its disconnection from the larger creative context of which it is a part. Dominion, on the other hand, manifests through agility and suppleness. It inspires a willing submission and compels agreement because of its synchronicity with the unifying pattern of truth.

Whereas domination divides, dominion divides but also connects. Domination coerces control by introducing an arbitrary and inflexible restraint on true creative expression, while dominion extends control in lockstep with the wheels within wheels of creation. A horse, for example, can be held artificially in a desirable frame or he can be brought progressively into a state of fitness and understanding which allows him to hold that frame willingly and even proudly, if that can be said.

Likewise, a child can be educated in one of two ways. The first, and most prevalent is based on the notion that knowledge is power. To that aim, facts and figures are pasted on from the outside, typically with complete disregard to the inner wisdom of the child. The second, yet more desirable sees knowledge as the means of unlocking the true creative expression already resident in the child. Knowledge in the former is an end and in the latter is a means to an end.

Knowledge is not power, but the agility and suppleness that attend a well-organized system of knowledge do allow for a safe and contained increase in the expression of power. Loosely arranged or poorly organized knowledge is dangerous in that it does not provide a safe container for power. Power inevitably leaks through holes in understanding.

I have found this distinction to be an important one in every field of human activity I’ve explored. While there are many examples that could be given in support of it, I am privileged to share an example that comes from the field of classical equitation. General Decarpentry, a distinguished scholar of artistic equitation who served in the venerable Cadre Noir from 1904 to 1913 and again from 1925 to 1931 as the school’s second-in-command, provided a useful explanation of how dominion can be established in the field of equitation in his book Academic Equitation, A training system based on the methods of D’Aure, Baucher and L’Hotte:

The methods employed in Academic Equitation are in no way different from the ones used ever since the beginning of training, and they are in fact the only means man disposes of to train any kind of animal.

They consist of progressively developing applications of the principle of submission, by substituting for the means primitively employed to obtain it, other more convenient means that give scope for wider and more subtle applications.

The conventional language which has been thus gradually established between rider and mount becomes enriched with new signs. The understanding of the horse develops. The combined use of the signs, the isolated meaning of which has been established separately, allows the rider to enlarge the scope of his teaching, which always proceeds from the known to the unknown.

This is the spirit of the method. It uses conventional language to apply to the body of the horse the gymnastic progression of a series of movements intended to develop his agility rather than his strength, and his suppleness rather than his power.