By Morag Higgins WESI MRPCH BHSAI HNCES
In essence working with horses and riding horses is simple and we can often lose sight of this. Horses are naturally balanced, athletic, free moving, and creative animals when running free, it is when humans get involved that things get complicated.
We seem to inhibit our horses from the moment we engage with them, be it in the form of the equipment we use or simply how we handle situations or ride. It seems that we humans unwittingly put blocks and create tension in those around us, including the horse. We have a tendency to shut down the young horse and put resistance in him that he might never have had in his natural state and we do this without even realising it. After time, as we progress in our education we realise and recognise these areas of resistance then spend years trying to take them back out of the horse and have him as supple and free as he was before humans got a hold of him.
When you do work with your horse, even with the best will in the world, there is going to be moments of tension and resistance but the secret to the simplicity of horsemanship is to recognise these moments and make changes in ourselves that allow the horse to return to his natural state. This is very advanced work and it is a pity that it is not taught at beginner level to allow the rider to develop into and advanced state much earlier and so work better with the horses he or she will ride.
The core of simplicity is consistency. A thing either is or isn’t, there must not be any grey areas. If you are clear and soft in your approach you will correspondingly get a clear and soft response. This of course is dependent on how much resistance has been put in the horse by previous handling or experiences, so you might find you have to take time to work through these blocks (similar to you having a knot in a muscle that someone carefully massages out). Over time you will slowly undo any issues that have been caused by previous handling and you and your horse will be on a journey to advanced work. This does not necessarily mean you will be doing flying changes (although there is no reason why you cannot, if your horse is able to do a perfect flying change in the field then he can easily do it with you on his back, providing of course that you do not get in his way or block his movement) or piaffe or passage etc or jump five foot fences, sometimes advanced work is so subtle that it is often missed. You may be leading your horse from the field, he is walking quietly by your side, matching your pace, if you slow or stop he does also, without tension on the rope, without pulling you off balance. When you move he moves, quietly, without fuss. This is advanced work, this is true harmony and will be reflected in your ridden work.
When riding your horses try to make it look like you are simply sitting on their backs doing very little. Try to use minimal cues, if at all, and anyone watching might think that the horse is working themselves. Try to spend a lot of time in walk. That is the best pace to practice working on a very advanced level, look for much more than a horse that walks, trots, canters etc, most horses can do all of that. No, what you should be looking for is very simple, the horse should move without effort, without resistance, without tension. He should look as though he is walking without a rider, proudly holding himself in a relaxed posture as he would if he were showing off to another horse. This is where you should be working on yourself, listening with your body, your mind and your core, feeling the slightest changes in the muscle movements, the placement of the feet, and the feel of his energy. Once you achieve this in walk move into trot, then, spend the same amount of time working on the same thing, simple. As you move through the paces it is very important that you do not move onto a faster pace till the horse is balanced and free in a slower pace and believe it or not but walk is one of the hardest paces to master.
As you ride try to simply think where you need the horse to place his legs, how much power and push he needs to put into each stride and this is where you will feel the affects of any tension or blocks in your own position and body that need to be corrected. The horse will reflect any tension you hold in yourself so by listening to him you can improve.
Often people try to make horsemanship and training sound very difficult and very technical. I read an article the other day and smiled at the complicated language and the confusing way it was written, it made the author sound very important and probably made a lot of people feel very inadequate. The danger was also there in misinterpreting what was being said as it was so difficult to understand that I am sure some people would get lost. Why use difficult language to explain something simple? There is no need for it. This will simply put blocks in the mind of the reader as they struggle to understand, yet another example of humans creating resistance.
When teaching try to use very plain, non-complicated language, it helps the student understand better what is required. Try to teach from the back of a horse so you can instantly show the rider what you are looking for, it is easy to ride beside them and feel any tension they may have in their arms by reaching over and laying your hand on their forearms. Keep it simple and keep it fun. Anyone can use technospeak, but this will just confuse the rider who may not have a clear understanding of the definitions you are using. Instead explain things in a way that others understand, in words that make sense and don’t create confusion. Keep it simple.
Next time you work with your horse see how simple you can make things. Pay more attention to the detail in your handling and interaction with your horse, see if you can notice how many times your horse resists or becomes tense. Try changing how you feel inside, instead of feeling agitated or annoyed, try feeling sympathy and understanding that this horse was not born this way, he has been made this way and you can help him by keeping everything simple.