By Sally O’Dwyer and the Dressage Book Club of Colorado
The Dressage Book Club of Colorado is comprised of a small band of dressage amateurs, from Grand Prix riders to non-competitors. We recently read and discussed Dressage in the Fourth Dimension by Sherry Ackerman, PhD. This is a thin tome -a mere one hundred pages or so- packed with wisdom and encouragement for dressage riders.
Sherry Ackerman, PhD, both equestrian and philosopher, writes about the importance of the horse and rider relationship. Far too often, riders are so focused on being better riders that they miss the point, which is our horse-human relationship. Sherry explains that riders tend to obsess over correctly applying physical aids to the exclusion of other considerations such as harmony and balance. Riders think about the physical, asking themselves questions like: did I give my leg aid at the right moment, or was my rein aid too strong? When this happens, they become taskmasters, forgetting to feel the horse. Sherry dedicates an entire chapter to Sacred Geometry, explaining that “the circle helps us overcome our natural tendency to be dominant in one side of our bodies and that geometry helps both horse and rider to become more symmetrical and find balance.” “Dressage is the only equestrian discipline that makes the horse even on both sides from back to front and is the best possible physical training when done right.”
Sherry Ackerman refers to us as mythical centaurs, seeking a transcendental union and oneness with our horses. The book club loved her quote that “the self must die.” While dramatic—it is the truth! Sherry explains that the “less there is of self, the more there is of all.” We must clear out all the junk in our heads because “dressage comes from inside of you.” She adds that “We cannot let the hope of attaining certain levels, scores, and awards govern us. Dressage must be an avenue of reflection, exploration, awareness, and self-knowledge”. We need to dump our egos, phones, worries, and negative self-talk at the door of the barn and be ever present for our horses. Sherry reminds us that “horses have nothing but the moment; they don’t hang on to yesterday, which is something that we can learn from.”
“Horses read everything about you. Your horse reads your mind because he’s learned to; you’ve spent so much time together. He reads your micro-movements, your intent, and your energy. Your horse reads your face when you walk in the barn; they look right at you. If you’ve got a smile on your face yet you’re angry and frustrated inside from your day at work or in your life, they are not fooled and they will act out all that toxic energy for you. It will come out in bad behavior eventually, if not sooner, but rarely do we realize that we are the cause.” -Sherry Ackermann
The Book Club embraced Sherry’s concerns that riders tend to measure themselves only by their performance in the dressage arena. She notes that “it is unfortunate that contemporary competitive dressage evaluates an individual’s experience primarily by means of test scores.” She adds that this can devalue the transformative potential of the horse and rider. She encourages us to compete without being attached to the outcome, acknowledging that competition can work for us and our horses if we change the agenda.
Dressage in the Fourth Dimension addresses the spiritual side of riding, a dialog much needed in the dressage community. This book is not a tactical “how to ride” book, but a stalwart reminder that our goals should be focused on a better connection with our horses. This in turn, will allow us to dance, as one, with our horses.
The book club reached out to the author, Sherry Ackermann, to let her know that we were reading her book. Here is what she had to say:
Author Comment: I read this review with joy!! It is quite evident to me that the members of the book club truly wrapped their minds….and hearts……around my message in Fourth Dimension. My intention was to focus on “the inner dressage”…..the transformative experience that is available through the earnest practice of balance, harmony, and rhythm. And, these readers obviously “went inward” with me….taking the soul journey to the deeper planes. Nothing could please me more!!
The Second Edition was printed in 2008 and now is in limited edition, but there is an audio copy, which can be found on Amazon.
About me. I am an amateur dressage rider, living in Boulder, Colorado. I have horses and enjoy learning and competing in dressage. I hope to encourage others to GO FOR IT!
The opinions expressed in this article, as well as the information included in the book referenced, are solely those of the respective authors and in no way reflect USDF’s position nor does its publication on YourDressage serve as an endorsement of this product.