"The first sentence is simply not true....But the principles of being in physical balance and subtle communication with your horse are UNIVERSAL. The principles of dressage DO NOT require using a bit." -
It is absolutely true. If you sign up for a dressage clinic, you do not expect to herd cattle. You do not expect to be told to get off the horse's back. You do not expect lessons in riding with slack reins while the instructor shouts "Get out of his mouth!"
Being in balance is pretty universal, but what does that mean? Do you lean forward to place your balance above the horse (forward seat) or teach the horse to shift his balance back, placing it under you (collection)? Do you sit on a horse or perch? If you truly want to feel balance with the horse, stand in the stirrups. Any failure to anticipate and match your horse's balance will throw you visibly forward or back. But that isn't dressage. If I buy a book on dressage, I know what to expect - and it is NOT to get out of the saddle & lean forward! It will not teach me to use the bit the least possible. Pretending otherwise ignores the entire history of dressage.
I am not in any way denigrating dressage. Done right, it is a beautiful sport. Done with tact, it can unite horse and rider. That is great! But it is not THE ONLY WAY to unite a horse and rider, or to "communicate", or to get a responsive horse. It is merely one of several ways of balancing, developing and communicating with a horse.
"They inform ALL activity. They are in essence a way of centering, being focused and physically aware.
No, no, NO! It is A
way. It doesn't inform "all activity". It doesn't inform all riding, even. My goals in riding include using the bit as infrequently as possible. That is NOT traditional dressage theory.
A guy who loves weight lifting wrote this in support of those who run:
"But I must admit, Iím happiest when Iím in the gym. For that brief moment (OK, two hours), all my problems and worries disappear. Itís just me and that weight. No BS, no people with agendas, stress, judgment, bill collectors - just me and that weight...Everything else just fades away and I can just focus on the task at hand. And its really easy to focus when youíre holding 200 lbs. over your head. But Iím happy. Some people play golf, some people collect stuff, some people work on stuff in the garage and some people just watch TV. Me, Iím happy in the gym.
He is right. We get that focus, that satisfaction, that feeling of oneness with our world, in many ways. For me, riding comes close - but it will never match how I feel on a long run. Riding comes close because there are two of us, working as a team, and when we achieve unity it is glorious! We don't achieve it always. Running and lifting weights is sometimes just work too. But when a sport you love clicks, it unites you with...reality? The world? The environment?
And for many, dressage is a way of riding that does that. And that is wonderful. With the right horse and rider, alone, no one around, no top hats, no judges, no adoring crowds - when it clicks, it is wonderful. I don't doubt it. Bandit and I have moments where our minds are in agreement and our bodies work together and for a brief time, we are one. It is almost as good as a long, successful run!
But...it is not a universal anything. And if the OP wants to learn to go across country, some modest jumping, going fast, then learning the Forward SYSTEM of riding would be a better match. IF she can find someone who teaches it and doesn't just teach a "jump seat". The reality is she may need to learn what is available and adapt it, on her own, when she knows more and can experiment. The best way to learn riding is often to ride with the best instructor you can find be it western, dressage, barrel racing, whatever.
But if her ultimate goal is going fast across rough ground, then traditional dressage is not the best match for her goals. It may be the ONLY match in her area, though.