"Forward" isn't just a direction. As a concept, it has a very specific meaning in dressage. When Eddie is properly forward he lowers his croup and his hind legs power him toward our line of travel with rhythmic strides, lifting his shoulders and freeing his front legs to express an elegant gesture. At the same time he is balanced exactly right so the smallest shift of my weight will cause him to do something else—something that came to life in my mind first. Movement is easy, cadenced and relaxed. He blows big long breaths and holds the bit lightly in his mouth.
It is in those moments I feel we can do anything—turn the smallest circle, sweep sideways, change gaits, and all because I thought of it. If you could see Eddie's expression you'd see how soft his eyes are and the way his ears flop sideways, occasionally flicking back as he acknowledges as aid from me. Being correctly forward causes him to be intensely focused, relaxed, and satisfied.
From the very first time a foal wears a halter and learns to lead, he is learning the concept of "forward." Each stage of training adds a layer of understanding for both the horse and rider. Not only does the concept grow with each achievement, but it also grows with the failures. Both horse and rider learn what "forward" is, as well as what it is not. Although it is possible to define the exact mechanics of achieving "forward", each horse has his own distinct feel when he is there, and his own best route to it. Riding more than one horse deepens our understanding of the concept of "forward" through each animal's unique nuances. But even my familiar Eddie is slightly different from day to day. For me, each ride is like opening little presents, and that joy of discovery keeps me coming back for more.
I think much the same can be said for anything one is passionate about—small distinctions and sparks of understanding are the tempting promises whispered in our ear.