The Naming

The Naming

Not just anyone can name you. Often times our first name is given by our parents. It seems only right that our mother and father who have brought us into the world should have the first right to place their seal and connect their authority through the use of name. Often the second people to rename us are the peers within our group. There is often a hint of teasing and jostling for position connected to these renamings within our American youth culture. In many native cultures renaming is connected to a coming of age ceremony, through which one learns or acknowledges their personal role within the society. It is usually connected to their personal giftings by the Great Spirit or the recognized deity within that culture. In the Bible there are stories of renaming that are usually connected to a change of situation, personality or character. When women marry often there is a change in name associated with the change in position in life.

My renaming was attempted by many. There were the kids who tried to tack their labels on me. Some stuck with pricks sharp enough to motivate change. This led to a struggle that wounded the fragile sense of image that I clung to, until the day the Lord began my renaming. I say, began because my renaming was a process that continues on today. First He un-named me. He tore away at all the labels and mis-conceptions that the enemy of our souls had tried, through various means, to adhere to my soul, destroying who God had created me to be. As He stripped back the layers of lies, He began to expose the truth, who I was in Him.
There were a few mentors that the Lord has brought into my life, to speak truth into my soul. This truth speaking drove back the lies and began to break through the hard exterior I had wrapped around my soul, protecting it from the barbs. Strange, how the self-protective methods we use, often keep us from what we need or really desire. One such mentor was Curtis Wright. One day up in Yosemite, among the grandeur of the tower pines, sequoias and maples, Curtis called me by name. Funny, how you can recognize your name, though you had never been called out by it before. From that day on, I have aspired to live up to that name. It is how this blog got its name, Dances with Horses.

Yet, ultimately my most important name is simple. It is found in a possessive pronoun. It would be unidentifiable admist the others who could claim it. Yet, when He calls me by this name all else fads away. Nothing else matters when I truly allow the truth of who I am to settle in to the crevices of my heart. Who am I? Simply, "His."

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Often I am contacted when an owner or a rider is encountering a bump in the relationship with their horse. They bought a horse, things were going so well until... Now, they are not sure what they want to do. They have invested a bit of their heart and usually a bit of their wallet, and so are not quiet sure they are ready to part company with the dream horse that is slipping into a nightmare, yet they are overwhelmed and not sure what to do.

So today I thought I would touch on some practical things to build a relationship and move back toward camaraderie.

1. Throw the Agenda Away

We can be very goal oriented and sometimes it keeps us from being in the moment. The horse lives in the moment. As owners, riders and lovers of horses we need to learn to live and be in the moment with our horse. To do this we need to not spend our time with our horse trying to get to our destination but instead spend our time being in the moment with the horse.

2. Become a Student of the Horse

As I say this, let me also qualify the type of student you ought to attentive, observant student. You could spend all the best hours of your days observing horses and still have much to learn. The less in the moment you are, when you are with your horse, the more true this is. It is a good idea to watch the horse in its natural environment, in herds, with people, with good trainers and with bad. Learn to read horses. Invest in the mindset of a life long learner. Come to the horse as a student and not as an expert. Now, when I say this I am not suggesting that you let the horse walk all over you. In fact, in the beginning do your observation from afar. Learn to see how the handler influences the horse, the other horse influences the horse, the other creature influences the horse, the new environment influences the horse. Can you see it coming yet? Can you anticipate the response the horse is going to give before it happens?

Become a student of your horse in particular. In the beginning it is important to get to know your horse and learn to read his or her body language. Sometimes this is easiest to do by turning your horse loose in an enclosed space such as a round pen. You want the space to be small enough that your body language is easily felt without you having to do too much running around, but large enough that your horse doesn't feel trapped by your presence.

Sometimes we are not very aware of how our pressures are effecting the horse. The freedom and the space gives you an opportunity to see how your horse senses you. Do you get more of a response then you expected or less? Does your horse tend to ignore or over react? Does your horse tune you out and then blow everything out of proportion? Can you get the horse to move from your presence super easily? Can your body whisper or do you feel like you have to use close proximity to get a response? Do you get the response you intended to or another response entirely? Does your horse seem inquisitive and like it wants to know what you want, or is it trying to avoid?

In the beginning try not to judge the responses. Don't evaluate and say, the horse gave me the wrong response, a bad response. Instead try to be objective and pretend you are learning a new language. If you step toward the horse's nose from the center of your space and intend to slow the horse or get a down transition and the horse stops hard and spins away, try not to feel that the horse was disobedient, instead try to use less next time. See what happens if you just lean your upper body forward. What happens if you turn your shoulders more toward the horse? More away? Experiment. See the horse's response as feedback in how the horse perceived what you did. When I stepped toward the horse's nose it caused the horse to feel like responding that way. This is where the horse felt the open spot. Take this feedback and then evaluate. If the horse felt the opening was to turn around but I intended the horse to just slow, how can I make the horse feel like slowing without feeling like it can turn around? How can I close that door?

If you are getting lots of misunderstandings far away expect to have those misunderstandings more pronounced when up close. A horse that will step into your space and not stay away from you when free will probably not respect your bubble when you lead. A horse that over reacts to your body pressure at 15 feet will probably feel like its looking for the nearest exit up close. Use the distance to work through some of these issues and refine your communication skills. When you start to lead again read your horse and his or her response to your body's pressures. Try to evaluate and modify accordingly.

3. Work With the Horse that Shows Up

We all have those days where our usually sweet attentive mare shows up in a surlily mood. It is easy to get derailed in these moments. Instead breathe and be in the moment. Deal with what is. Don't allow expectations to ruin a learning, growing moment for you and your horse. Surely, you know what it is like to being having a bad day. Pretend your horse is a close friend. What does your friend need today? Sometimes we work through these moods and can find a willing horse with a little expenditure of excess energy. Sometimes what the horse needs is some bonding and loving on.

 If your usually calm and sedate horse comes out of the barn on two legs, try not to throw in the towel. It might be a perfect day for ground work in a nice large space where you can shape the arena or space. You can safely burn the extra energy and help the horse reconnect with you and then work on more refined control. Sometimes these high days end up showing us a very responsive highly in-tune creature we didn't know we had. When you have forward it is much easier to direct the horse then when the horse is leaning into pressures and resistant to moving.

4. Know What you Intend

There are times when we just kind of float along with our horse. We are not very clear in our directions and so we get unclear responses. If you don't have a clear expectation of the response you are anticipating it is going to be much more difficult to release the pressure when you get the correct response. The biggest quickest reward for the horse is going to be the release of pressure from the request, when you get the correct response. It also makes it much easier for you to suddenly realize that you are not where you intended to be. Take for instance leading a horse from the barn to the arena, if you are not being definite in your direction of travel and are not staying in the moment, you may be half way there before you realize that you are off course and actually now headed to the lush grass where you sometimes take your horse to graze. It is easy for our lack of attentiveness and leadership to throw our horse into the leader role. The horse may not even be pushing his or her way into this role...rather she or he could just be filling a vacuum created by our lack of clarity, direction and initiative. When you make a request, have an idea of what you expect and know whether or not you got it. If you didn't, then re-evaluate the request and the response, then rephrase. The quicker you respond and correct the misunderstanding the easier it is for your horse to know what the expectations are and whether they are on the right page. Inconsistency creates frustration.

So before you throw in the towel spend some time just working on the relationship. Spend attentive, in the moment time learning from your horse and growing with them. Even if you decide this horse isn't for you, you will have had a chance to learn and grow with the horse in the time you had.

I have never wasted any time I spent bonding with horses, listening to horses and growing in my level of attentiveness and awareness to what makes them tick, react and want to work with me in cooperation. Respect goes a long way, in any relationship.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Spirituality and Horses

There have been times when God's voice has been clear, though not audible.

I have found that God comes to me where I am and seeks me out. He stoops low, so that I don't miss His whisper and bends down so I can see the love in His eyes. This is my experience with the Almighty.

This is not to say, that I have found God tame and mild. Far from it. I have found Him to be wild and unruly, a God of Fire and Storm.  Yet, I have found Him to be gentle and kind, so as not to lose my timid heart. Yet still He will not be boxed.

God has, so often, gently stooped down. Perhaps that is what He was doing, in part, when He wrote in the dirt before the woman caught in adultery. There was no way she could bring herself to look up at Him, to look into the Lord of glory's eyes, so He stooped low.

God speaks to me through animals, waterfalls, wind through the leaves, poetry and song. There are the verses that come to mind out of thin air, as the Spirit whispers them, imperceptibly in my ear. God has tracked me to the place of the gift He gave. It has been a gift that my enemy wanted to use to sell out my soul. The magnificent horse, so easily made an idol, or a revealer of the Lover of my life.  The heavens declare the glory of God and the earth shows His handiwork. Through the gift He teaches me about Himself and about myself.

In every experience and interaction with nature we have an opportunity to see our Lord more fully unveiled.

In every experience in life God interacts to pull our eyes from the earthly realm to the heavenly, from the physical into the spiritual, from the transient to the eternal.

Sometimes we separate out our life into small compartmentalized segments. We have our spiritual side and the space where we participate in spiritual activities and then there is our secular life. There is our occupation and the energy that is put into work. We try to keep these pieces separate and tidy.

Life is not tidy.

Spirituality is not tidy.

So spirituality reaches over into the fabric of my everyday world. God speaks into the messiness of my experience with relationships, with occupation and with horses. The daily duties reveal the truth of who He is and of my level of trust or lack thereof.

I find my mind drawn to the parallels between the interactions between the horse and the rider/handler and the interactions between the individual and the divine. In these parallels I find truths I had not grasped before.

As we work with our horses we test our relationship with them. We ask them to trust us to go into scary  places. We ask them to stay with us and to over ride instinct and to trust us to look out for their greater good. Their response shows us more about the level of trust they have invested in us then just whether or not the training is confirmed. In our walk with the Lord, He is allowing experiences that will test our relationship. He does this to reveal our relationship's state to us. He already knows.

Which is easier to control, the body or the mind? Which is easier to constrain the outward action or the heart? There are times in my experience with horses where I have missed the point. I thought training was about observed behavior. As time has passed, I have learned more and more, if you want to shape the feet, capture the mind. This truth has made much sense out of the daily living of my spiritual life, lived out in the physical world. I have, unfortunately, damaged, in a moment of passion, relationships that have taken years to build. I have also damaged trust I had taken months to build with a horse, all because I lost sight of the body following the mind and emotion not the other way around. My true need is a heart change. With a heart change the actions and life follow. When I fixate on a behavior and lose sight of the vital relationship I forget that the circle of correct response widens and enlarges as trust deepens.

You want to control the feet?

Win the heart!

When a horse willingly submits to you and makes you leader they trust you. When the habit of their experience with you is camaraderie and mutual respect, they get in the habit of saying yes and working with you. You won't have begrudging service but joy and freedom and beauty and love.

Outward unwilling obedience and slavish acquiescence is never beautiful.

Not in the arena.

Not in the Christian experience.

God is after your heart.

So what if you do the "right" behaviors, if they are motivated by selfishness and fear and not by love and joy?

So what if you get the "right" behaviors from your horse, if they are motivated by drudgery and fear and not by love and joy?

Drudgery won't win medals in the arena.

Slavish obedience from your horse will not impress your friends or clients.

Outward obedience does not impress God, and as lovers of the horse, outward obedience from our horses should not impress us. This is not the goal.

That being said I will touch on a balancing truth, wanton disregard for the handler or rider is not love and joy.

Love generates the desire to please and work with the object of love.

Love is other focused.

If God really has my heart, it is my deepest pleasure to bring Him joy, to serve Him and to obey Him. True love from the heart causes a change in the feet. The belief, the heart will lead the action and the life.

If I have my horse's heart and mind I will, eventually, have his or her body.

So why do I spend so much time writing about this concept? It is rather simple, after all.
I write because of my great need. I find myself at times forgetting this concept in my relationship with God or in my work with horses.

I will see some behavior acted out by a horse and rather than seeing the root, all I see and all I desire to work on is the branch. For all my pruning away at the branch the root remains to crop up again and again and again. Sometimes it crops up in the same place and same way and other times it comes up a few feet over, yet it remains. It is an exercise in futility.

Other times I see some sin in my life and I forget the lesson, out of the heart this comes. I begin to try, in my own power, to hack away at this sin, this outward manifestation. Yet for all my work I cannot fix the heart by hacking at the symptom, or worse still, I will think I have succeeded. Mercy! The behavior will seem in line and so my frame of reference will not see what God sees, "selfish, outward show." God in His mercy will time and again bring me to a test or trial that will pull back the curtain to reveal the heart. The question is will I recognize it?

The answer is the same for both problems, be it the horse or my life. The fix is in the relationship. I cannot change my heart. Jesus can. If I come to Him, spend time with Him, abide with Him,

I will be changed.

Jesus makes the sins fall off.

My heart as it is molded and melded begins to love what He loves and desire what He desires. Obedience begins to be the natural outworking of my own will, because my will has been swallowed up in His.

As I focus on seeing the horse behaviors as revelations of the state of the relationship I am freed up to fix it where the problem is. I do not have to fixate on control of the outward, rather I set myself to woo the inward. I might use a mix of horse psychology, or and understanding of physiology or even evaluate the clarity of the request, but I am free of the selfish need to dominate. I seek the horse's camaraderie and respect and by doing so can evaluate from a neutral state instead of from a desire to have power over the horse. After all submission can only be freely given and remain beautiful, never can it be forced. Anything slavish ceases to be beautiful.

I am choosing to chase after beauty and love and joy.

This is my commitment.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Freedom Of Gaits and the Joy of Liberty

Lib·er·ty  (lbr-t)
n. pl. lib·er·ties
        a. The condition of being free from restriction or control.
3. A right or immunity to engage in certain actions without control or interference:
at liberty
1. Not in confinement or under constraint; free.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Of Movies and Horses

I went and watched the Buck Brannan movie with Missy yesterday.  It was great to get out and to have some social horse time.  It was good to learn some of the history of how the movie the Horse Whisperer came to be and to learn more about this "natural horseman" icon.  There were some beautiful images of harmony and unity between horse and rider/handler.  The movie had some amazing footage of some beautiful horses and scenery.  As for the methods, I will say this much, I am an advocate of using the training tree to train horses using relationship building and trust to introduce everything from the saddle to a horse's first rider.  To the extent that Buck demonstrated those methods I agree with his methodology.  These clinicians are owed a great debt for introducing other methods from the ones of fear, coercion and abuse that at one point were so common place.  At the same time, I believe we can always grow and learn and develop further toward the ideal of relationship based training that is focused on harmony and trust.  Clinics, themselves, lend themselves to rushing.  So clinics have their limitations.

The aggressive horse

There was a horse in the movie that is already haunting me.  He was a beautiful palomino that had become aggressive.  As we watched and heard, about this stallion's story, I could not help but think about the other aggressive horses I have come in contact with.  The stallion was euthanized, or at least that was what the owner said she was going to do.  I could not help but think, that perhaps, there was another option.

Here, in the story of this stallion, the weakness of time is brought to the fore-front.  The aggressive horses who were rehabilitated took lots of time.

In this horse perhaps I see pieces of myself.

It begs the question, what if in my worst moments God had given up on me?

At what point, does one give up on a horse?

I don't have the answer, but I will share with you the story of three aggressive horses I have known, in various stages of their journey.

The story of Mo
Mo was a wild mustang taken off the range as an adult.  His memories and interactions with humans were all traumatic.  He was brought in off the range separated from all of his herd, (a very dangerous place for a prey animal) castrated and thrown in a trailer.  He traveled to his new home where he lived in a cage (a tall stall that he could not escape from).  His owner ran into problems and sent him to Meredith Manor where I met him.  He was aggressive.  When he was scared he would try to bite and stomp on people.  He was scared a little too often.

When I met Mo, he had been living in a stall for about a year.  He had discovered that people would come in and clean his stall and that he didn't have to eat or stomp on those people.  If he felt cornered he would still attack, but he didn't feel cornered as often these days.  He had learned that people brought food.  He would not approach a person, would not allow a person to approach him and could not be groomed.  When I was at the school for about a year, unknown to any of us, one of the instructors and one of the sixth quarter (last quarter) students had decided to seriously start working with Mo as a surprise for Ron (the director of the school).  By the time I was working as a graduate assistant, Mo was going in training class with a student trainer.  He was sweet and kind.  When he got scared, he didn't attack people anymore he ran away.  The last I knew of Mo he was scheduled in normal riding classes.  He was not a hard horse to lead or catch or ride.  He was mostly a good boy.  Fear was the cause of his aggression. At one point he was very dangerous.  Time and building trust and relationship with a human was the solution.

Wokon's Story
When I met Wokon his story was legendary.  It was hard to imagine Wokon as an aggressive horse.  Yes, it is true, that Wokon was rarely assigned a first quarter student groom, but Wokon was not really viewed as dangerous by any of us.  He was such a character.  Wokon, was a horse that was orally fixated.  He was about 17 hands 2-3 inches tall.  He was an old style Hanoverian gelding who knew all of the dressage movements accept for passage, or perhaps it was, he currently did all of the dressage movements accept for passage (I don't remember).  Wokon liked to bait people into playing with his mouth.  At one point he had been quite aggressive.  He used to like to bite people and then run away.  It was a game he played.  His owner had tried to beat it out of him, but only taught him to be faster at getting away after biting.  The way I heard the story, Wokon had broke his owner's arm, and taken at least one person out of a jacket (by getting a hold of the jacket in his teeth and then lifting the person off of the ground).  Let me describe Wokon as I knew him.  Wokon would try to talk people into playing his favorite game (bait and bite, it was a variation of his old favorite bite and dodge) by letting people play with his mouth.  If you pushed on Wokon's nose he would stick out his tongue.  He wanted you to play with his tongue so then he could try to catch you off guard and bite at you.  We all knew we were not supposed to encourage this behavior, but I think most students were talked into playing, at least every once in a while.  It is pretty cute to see this silly horse sticking his tongue out at you.

So what led Wokon from aggressive behavior to overgrown playmate?  No one fought with Wokon.  "If you are fighting for control, you don't have it." (Ron Meredith)

How did people avoid getting bit and rehabilitate Wokon?
1. First thing you did when you went to tack Wokon up was put on a bridle and use a flash nose band.     This way he couldn't bite as easily.
2. His groom gave him something to play with while he or she groomed him (a whip or a brush that he was allowed to bite to his heart's content).
3. When you were leading (heeding) Wokon you did what you were supposed to do when leading any other horse.  You stood at his shoulder not at his head.  If he tried to turn his head toward you, you slid your hand up his neck and used one finger (horses will lean on a flat hand but not on one finger) to poke his neck asking him to straighten out.  Sometimes you can use a whip to help keep a horse straight (not by hitting the horse with it, but by using it to create a barrier and keep the horse moving either away from you or straight ahead).
4.  Pay attention.  If you get bit or kicked you were in the wrong place.  Now I am not saying that this is the type of horse you sell or recommend for an amateur owner, but trainers need non violent methods for giving aggressive horses a fresh start.

Dillon's Story
When Dillon came to the school we got to watch his development from the beginning.  Dillon came to Meredith Manor as a stallion.  It appears, that prior to coming to the school, Dillon had been fought with and that he had been winning the battles.  When Dillon got scared, he would attack people by trying to bite them and stomp on them.  He picked up his new owner by the arm and the farrier by the neck.

Had he been anywhere else, at this point, he might have ended up dog food or euthanized or thoroughly beat with varying levels of successful outcome.  You can beat some horses into submission.  Dillon was not one of those horses.

The way we know that beating Dillon into submission did not work is by his response to people and fear.  He did not trust people.  When afraid, he attacked.  He did not respect people.  He would channel all of his energy into his attacks.  He was serious about it and he intended to win.  He did not have the hesitancy of a horse who had lost a battle before.

So how did Dillon go from aggressive attack horse to having a 1st and 2nd quarter groom and being ridden by 1st and 2nd quarter students?

1. Time
2. Patience
3. Relationship building
4. Trust building
5. Positive boundaries

Dillon was gelded and put in a muzzle so that he could not bite people.  He was only led and handled by advanced training students and staff for a while, mostly by his owner and the instructors.  These handlers refused to fight with Dillon.  It is not necessarily a pre-requisite to geld a stallion to change their behavior, but his owner did not want to reproduce that personality tendency and he was a cross so she gelded him.  Dillon was put on a strict exercise routine so that he did not have a build up of energy that he would want to release in aggression.  Over time and with consistency he began to trust people.  As his trust developed and as he learned what was expected of him he learned he was safe.  As he learned his boundaries he began to respect the people who were handling him.

Once again, I am not sure if I would say that horse's with these backgrounds will ever be a good horse for your 10 year old daughter.  Yet, each horse is an individual.  Their stories are as varied as the stories we bring to the table.  Some experience full rehabilitation.  Others will always have to be handled by either a professional or someone who has that level of skill and assertiveness.  I have not yet met a horse that could not be salvaged from its past.  If you know someone who has an aggressive horse, recommend they find a professional who does not fight with horses.  It is a shame that so often we wait so long to get the help we need.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Progress Bit by Bit

Training should always be taken apart into little bite sized pieces.

When you plan your training program, make sure you take the whole apart to its small individual pieces and build one upon another.  You don't build a house in a day.  You must start with the pre-work, clear the land, build the forms for the concrete lay the plumbing and electrical and then pour the foundation.

When you plan to teach a horse to do anything you must start with small pieces and then build upon those pieces.

Helpful Questions to Ask
~What is my end goal?
~ What pieces make up the final product?
~ What components do I need in myself as a rider or handler to be able to effectively explain this to the  
~ What does my horse need to understand before he or she can learn the first of these pieces that make
    up the final product?
~ Is my horse ready for this piece?
~ Am I ready for this piece?
~ How will I handle set backs?

When you plan for progress to be slow and steady you set yourself and your horse up for success.

Here is to eating your ball of string, one bite at a time.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Elusive Contact

Contact is like humility...
If you talk about your humility it ceases to be humility.
If you establish the contact between the horse's mouth and your hands it is not contact.

Contact is so misunderstood.  It is defined in many a confusing way.  We talk about having a horse in a frame, the horse being round, or on the bit.

Contact is not about the hand.  It is about the haunches.  Horses that are heavy on the hand are not really heavy on the hand, they don't understand or are not correctly responding to the leg.

To borrow from a phrase Rob Bell uses, (albeit for a totally different purpose) "This, is really about that."

Contact cannot be achieved with a horse that is not relaxed, rhythmical and moving with freedom of gaits.

You cannot get a horse to connect from behind and stay connected if you do not have independent hands, seat and legs.  If you are using your hands for balance, or your legs for balance, it is too early to expect your horse to consistently stay connected.

Now some horse's will offer it.

Nice horsey.

But lets be fair, it is greedy to ask the horse to trust our hands, if our hands are not trust-worthy.

So, you might ask, "How do I know if my horse is ready for me to even be looking for contact? And what is freedom of gaits anyway?"

I thought you would never ask.

Freedom of gaits is when a horse moves in full range of motion through their joints, with a soft back and a seeking frame.  The number one inhibitor of a horse moving in freedom of gaits is the rider.  Usually the rider blocks through the hip and in the hand and the horse ceases to step through from behind.  If the horse is not moving in full range of motion you do not have contact.

So here are some things to look for before you start looking for contact.

As a Rider
Can I...?
...Ride walk, trot and canter on a loose rein without losing my balance?
...Balance on the horse without gripping with my thigh or pinching with my knee in all three gaits?
...Follow the motion of my horse's gaits with my hip or do I find myself bouncing against the horse's movement?
...Use my hand intentionally, or do I accidentally use my rein?
...Get down transitions and set rhythm within the gaits with my seat and leg or do I have to use my rein to get these pieces?
...Keep my hand still in relation to my horse's mouth?
...Ride without mental, physical or emotional stress?
...Ride putting my horse first?

The Horse's Readiness
Is my horse...?
...Relaxed mentally, physically and emotionally?
...Breathing in rhythm?
...Moving rhythmically?
...Happy with his or her work?
...Understanding the leg for both up transitions and lengthening of frame (without change in tempo)
...Understanding down transitions from seat and leg (without the use of my hand)?
...Understanding when I slow with my seat (without the use of my hand, beginning of half-halts)?
...Stretching over the topline in all three gaits?
...Relaxing through the back in all three gaits?
...Moving forward in full range of motion in all three gaits?
...Moving from my leg and reaching to find my hand?

Let me say this simply, you do not shorten the rein to find the horse's mouth.  The horse lengthens his or her topline and steps into your hand.

You cannot pull a horse's head down.

You cannot drive with leg and block with hand.

You cannot use a bigger bit.

Or a tie-down.

Or draw-reins.

Or a martingale.

Or maybe I should say you can...

But the result you get will not be "contact", not in the classical sense of the word.  Contact is something a horse gives you, and you allow it to happen.

Contact is something you ride toward, but that final piece is only real if the horse offers it to you.  Because the horse gives you his or herself when they step into the contact.  It is a relationship.

Relationships are only real when they are mutual.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Improve Your Awareness, Improve Your Riding

The biggest problem we all have as riders is that we are unaware.  Perhaps it is not that we are completely unaware, it is that we are unaware of ourselves.  We are very aware of the mistakes and rebellions of our horses, but often we are very unaware of what we did to "cause or encourage" those mistakes and rebellions.
So to improve our riding we must first improve our awareness.  Here are three simple exercises you can play with to help improve your awareness and by doing so improve your riding.
The Idea #1
In many native cultures awareness is developed through depravation of senses.  For instance to improve hearing, sense of smell and awareness of personal sensations a person would be blindfolded.  Tom Brown Jr. speaks in many of his books about spending whole weeks blindfolded.  My friend Mike James, in speaking about his own wilderness experiences told us that when they got to an area of especially dense underbrush, they would say, "the only way through here is with a blindfold."  Those seeking awareness must sometimes set aside the normal way they perceive things to allow new input to which opens up the ability to see old things in different ways.  Also by turning off one way of being aware, like our sight it allows us to become aware of what our sight was preventing us from seeing.  The amount of data that we are receiving can sometimes swamp our ability to perceive our bodies, our balance and our spirits.  This is why business and time constraints are so detrimental to our relationships and to our spiritual well being; it causes us to be too overwhelmed.  It prevents us from receiving the vital input we need from our other senses.

The Exercise #1
Take some time, on a safe horse you trust, with a ground person or a friend you trust and try riding with your eyes closed or even blindfolded.  This is a great exercise to do while being lounged or in a small enclosed space.  Make sure you stay within your relative comfort zone and know your own limits as you try this exercise.  Yet, with proper controls and safety measures in place, push yourself to feel rather than see.  What must it be like if this was your reality?

The Idea #2
Sometimes we make great break throughs when we choose to look at the same old problem through a different lens, through a different perspective.  When we keep doing the same things over and over again but don't expect the same results we border on insane (Albert Einstein, said it better), yet as riders we often do the same things over and over again and are confused at the results.  It is very helpful to cultivate the mindset of a learner, a student.  Often we go through life thinking we already have the answer.  When you have the answer(oftentimes in spite of not really being sure what the question is) you are less open to hear from others their answers.

The Exercise #2
For a simple change in perspective, put your trainer self on the fence and ask her or him to be quiet.  Don't try to fix the horse just become a silent, watchful observer of your time with your horse.  Enroll in a course and make your horse the instructor.  What is he or she saying?  Are you respectful enough in your relationship that you can hear your horse's critique of your riding?  Try not to judge yourself or your horse here, your only purpose is to observe, be open and learn.

The Idea #3
Transference is the ability to take something you have learned in one field and to be able to apply it somewhere else.  A good example of this is to take what you have learned in English class about good arguments and logic when writing a persuasive paper or preparing a persuasive speech and then use it to critique what you are reading in a news article.  What was the author's bias?  Were they using good logic, or building straw men and slaying them?  When it comes to our riding we are often very bad at transferring what we already know to be true from the rest of life to our riding particular.

The Exercise #3
Take some time off of the horse and do some in-depth observation.  Stand in front of a mirror.  Is one shoulder higher than the other?  If so which one?  When you carry things do you favor one arm over the other?  Do you toe out or toe in?  How is your posture?  Are you stiff?  If so where?  Where do you carry your tension?  Do you hold your breath or do you breathe properly from your diaphragm? By doing two simple things we can greatly improve our basic balance and posture on the horse.  Number one, by being aware of what our habit is whether on or off the horse.  Number two, work to fix these basic balance and tension areas not just while you are riding but in every day life.  Transfer your riding to the rest of life and the habits of your daily life to your riding.

As you try out these exercises stay objective.  Try not to be hard on your self as you discover more about who you are both on and off the horse.  Remember that before we can change something it helps to know what we are doing.

I know I am preaching to myself in these things.  I have found my posture truly lacking in my last couple of videos.  I will be implementing these in my riding and I hope you can find them of use in yours.  Keep chasing your dreams and pursue humility.  May we find ourselves to be students of the horse.