Updated: Jul 2
Capacity is what our horse is capable of doing at the moment compared to potential which is what our horse may be capable of in the future. Potential is baked in to the DNA, it’s the natural characteristics that differentiate horses’ talents. We can’t do anything to increase potential, so we are left with learning to utilize and develop capacity if we are to achieve our goals whatever they may be.
Capacity can grow under the right conditions and shrink under the wrong ones. Utilizing capacity is what we do when learning to ride, or compete. Training is about building capacity and can be measured in the growth of the horse’s abilities. Some horses build capacity faster than others depending on both their own and their trainer’s talents. In most competitive programs, capacity is gained by immersion in the demands of the sport, for both horse and rider. Not enough taxation and there is no growth, too much and shrinkage occurs. Knowing the right amount is a measure of expertise.
Dressage as intended is supposed to directly address the systematic growth of capacity, yet as a sport it often falls short. Competitors become focused on producing the movements instead of capacity. Jumping sports too are focused on the task, usually biased towards the riders’ capacity. Both sports measure the horses’ capacity and are won by the rider’s skill at utilizing it. There is a concept in economic philosophy that what you measure is what you get. In both sports, it is desirable to enter an event with the most capacity compared to the competition. Competing successfully depends more on utilizing the capacity of a horse than it does on developing it. No amount of wax on, wax off will move a 3 up to a 9. Top competitions have top horses.
For average competitive riders, the ability to buy capacity is limited, so building it is the only way to improve results. Yet there is a disconnect in how we pursue knowledge to do this. We seek the wisdom of the highest status individuals available to us to achieve our goals which is understandable, except for the inverse relationship between the ability to acquire capacity and the ability to build it. The more of one, the less of the other. Success in the show ring doesn’t by association mean success in the training ring. Building capacity requires understanding our horses, treating them as a subject not object, learning from them what works, and why. It requires we get granular in a deep dive of how our horses think and move.
How much capacity you can add to a horse is far less than what the horse has naturally, so if your goals are to win competitions, best advice is to focus on acquiring capacity. If your goals are to be the best rider you can be, focus on increasing the capacity of the horse you have, you will learn more than enough to win top level competition when you get a chance.