Archive for the ‘Life Lessons’ Category

Learning to communicate with your horse is similar to learning a foreign language. Although, you cannot communicate in a language until you have learned the fundamentals of grammar, vocabulary and syntax, you need to hear the language spoken many times to get a feel for its cadence and flow. Likewise, in riding you need to learn how to use your hands and legs effectively to give the aids. You also need to learn the feel of the horse when he is straight, balanced, and rhythmical.  Relaxation enhances your ability to empathize with the horse, and strengthens your ability to feel what you are seeing. This makes the language easier to learn.

While we have learned how to communicate with our aids, practice our balanced seat and relax our body, we must make a commitment to take the risks involved with asking our horse to do exactly what we want, with the expectation that he will listen. The risk of a communication breakdown always exists, we must bravely declare our will despite the possible problems. No risk, no gain. Your horse will quickly let you know if he understands you or not. If not, you can continue to ask, as often as necessary, until he shows you that he understands through a correct response. This risk-taking with a horse is much safer than it is with people.

Miscommunication with a horse is immediately recognizable, because we do not get the outcome we expect. When this happens, we should pause for a moment and try again. If too many retries are necessary, we should walk and review what is happening. Somehow we are not getting the message through to our horse. Re-evaluate what and how you are asking making sure your horse understands what you want.

Misunderstandings, whether with a horse or man, are the root of most problems. Each of us has an obligation to try to avoid failures in communication. The first step is to believe that we do not want to cause harm or discomfort to another being. The second step is to be observant to the response of our communication: we must notice the reactions of our partner. If we notice any reaction other than the one we intended, we must change the way we phrase our question until we are certain that the other party understands what our statement or question means. We can never assume that the other party understands our meaning, we must always closely observe his reaction.  We do this automatically while on our horse. Horses demand an immediate response or they do not know what to do. People do not have this need.   It is important to remember that, whether you are dealing with a horse or human, unsatisfactory communications that remain unresolved do not go away.  The longer they remain, the more negative energy they accumulate. What began as simple misunderstanding can become a resentment, grudge, hostility, or even aggression. Therefore, it is important to resolve ill feelings as soon as possible.

Something I have learned over the years being in the saddle, as well as on the ground teaching,  is to communicated with my instructor. Especially when I was younger, I was afraid to express my concerns, frustrations and especially my fears. Once I started communicating with my instructor about my feelings, problems I was having outside of my lesson and as well as my fears we discovered (together) solutions easier and my problems were solved much more quickly.  Since, instructors are not mind readers, they make decisions based on what they see. Once I started teaching I realized that many hours of frustration could be avoided if students developed the confidence to express themselves to their instructor. Ideally, students should try to achieve a complete communication cycle with their instructor. The student asks a question, the instructor answers, and the student then acknowledges the answer. Effective communication is the essence of teaching, and it is also the fundamental process of learning.

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Our conversation with horses is through body language and energy,  rather than through the words that dominate human interchange. Since body language and energy play a major role in our horse interaction, we must learn the art of a new type of communication. In order for our body to be a relaxed and supple communicator, it must be in balance with our mind. Only then can can it offer us the highly refined interaction necessary for the quick, effective conversation we need and desire with our horses.

Our philosophy sets the tone for all forms of communications.  The more we can believe in a positive attitude, unconditional love, and free flowing energy, the more likely it is that out interactions will have a positive outcome. Determining your personal philosophy and purpose in life paves the way for the most effective communication. 

Whether communicating with horse or man, all interactions have a three-part cycle. These three steps are clear and concise; question, answer and acknowledgement. For humans; ” How are you?” “I am doing well.” “That’s good to hear.”  And that’s the three-part cycle for human interactions.  For horses the three-part cycle is a little more subtle; close your legs, then close your hands (question), horse stops (answer), you soften (acknowledgement). Each of these is  a complete part of the communication cycle, and an incomplete cycle opens the door for confusion.

I still remember when I was learning to ride my corners with my young, very green thoroughbred, Chance, and the importance of this concept.  If I forgot to release my leg after Chance responded, he would speed up or pin his ears back. If I forgot to release my hand, he would get harder and harder against my hand. If I held in my seat, Chance would get more and more resistant. All these evasions were a result of Chance’s effort to do what he thought I was asking of him. It took several months to uncover all the different confusions that I was creating because I did not understand the communication formula.

Every aspect of our life is influenced by communication. Intimate disclosures, ones that require us to express what we really feel, are frightening. They frighten us because we are not certain if what we are feeling is acceptable or correct. Our feelings may not match what we think is expected. Riding requires intimate communication. I think it is easier to learn this type of conversation with a horse because a horse is non-threatening, responds without preconceived notions, and is non-judgmental. Intimate communications do not begin until we have learned the fundamental skills of riding. Position, control, and relaxation must become second nature to us, before we can begin to concentrate on communication. The first part of your riding journey encompasses learning position and basic control. While learning these skills you begin by using your hands, legs, and seat to control your horse safely.  Initially, your communication is limited to stop, go, and turn. Ultimately, however, control is through feel, so a rider must be comfortable, confident, and relaxed on the horse. A stiff rider inhibits his horse’s ability to respond, and is deaf to the responses of the horse. As a rider gains experience, these basic fundamental skills will become more refined, creating a solid foundation for more intimate communication.

The relaxation required for basic control of your horse, means that you are comfortable and balanced in your position. Once you decide to specialize in a particular riding discipline, your communication skills will be developed to meet the requirements of the discipline of your choice.  Whatever horse sport you choose, relaxation is a perquisite that allows balance, both with yourself and your horse. Becoming more deeply relaxed allows the muscles to supple, the energy to flow, and the body to move more freely. If you do not feel you are getting the results you want with your horses, you might want to look at your ability to relax both mentally and physically.

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The definition of relaxation includes “the lengthening of inactive muscles or muscle fibers” and “the return or adjustment of a system of equilibrium following  displacement or abrupt change.” Relaxation should exist on three levels: Physical (suppleness), mental (clarity of mind and emotion) and spiritual (freedom from fear, anger, resentment, jealousy and other negative attitudes). The three are related in both humans and horses. Physical relaxation can be destroyed by confusion or fear, thus it is not a simple matter of controlling the length of muscle fibers. In most cases when the mind is the cause of tension, stress, fear or confusion we must try to relax our mind. Even if the cause requires a solution, the starting point is a relaxed mind that can focus. If we hope to achieve physical relaxation, we need to address the methods of promoting mental and spiritual relaxation since they are so closely connected.

Relaxation has many benefits in terms of both performance and soundness. Communication is more straightforward when we are relaxed. Both observer and horse feel the rider is lighter and more graceful. Our body will move in harmony with the horse’s movements. Our legs will breathe with the horse’s sides. Our hands will be quiet receivers and directors of the forward energy we are sharing. Our body as a whole will be prepared to respond to the horse quickly, quietly, and effectively. This harmony will enable both horse and rider to move forward with power and elasticity, creating a picture of total unity and majesty.  A  relaxed horse is an amazingly elastic creature, and therefore our goal should be to maintain this elasticity. It involves careful management of his physical body, slowly building up muscle tone.  Most horses have an advantage over man, in that they begin with a calm mind. If communications are clear and demands are realistic, they should remain mentally calm. This mental calmness, combined with the proper training of horse and rider, should maintain the horse’s elasticity, thus minimizing the wear and tear that cause unsoundness in our equine partners.

No doubt it is easier for a rider to relax on a horse who is relaxed, but the rider must learn to become supple and relaxed himself so that the horse can stay elastic and relaxed. It is the rider’s responsibility to maintain the relaxation of the horse.

It is more difficult for the rider to maintain a relaxed state, because the rider continues to have situations develop that make it difficult to maintain a relaxed, supple body. It is up to the rider to find an effective method to maintain a well functioning body.

Emotional turmoil produces disequilibrium in our bodies, leading to physical stiffness. Returning the body to equilibrium is a matter of relaxation. When we feel upset, or experience an uneasy feeling, an upset stomach, a headache, a backache, or another physical symptom, it may be our mental or spiritual self crying out. Physical exercises are designed to relax and supple the muscles, while meditative therapies provide methods to relax and free the body, mind and spirit.

“Mediation is any activity that keeps attention pleasantly anchored in the present moment” -Joan Borysenko

The more of our self we can access consciously, the more control we have over our lives and our goals. The more unresolved experiences we have, the more we will need to create freedom that brings about the useful inner self.  By having control over our thoughts and experience we come more relaxed in who we are, our goals and our dreams. This is key in our relationships, even our relationship with our horse.  Relaxation is necessary for the rider to attain inner harmony and for the horse to display his natural beauty.

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