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."

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.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dressage, gadgets and other confusions...

I have to vent a bit.  So, I was recounting some frustration I have had in the search for a dressage instructor or an eye on the ground so I can continue my riding development on my way to achieving my dreams.  So it brought to mind some other very disturbing memories.  Then I was doing a web search and found a dressage forum that was discussing the use of standing and running martingles.

Now, I expect this type of nonsense and usually I can roll with the punches, but really?  On a dressage forum?  Something has gone hay wire.  It is common place to use draw reins, modified draw reins (run through the caveson and not through the bit), martingles and all sorts of un-classical methods and techniques and call it dressage.  From Rollkur to excessive force these are not dressage!

I must strongly protest.  There are top name professionals within the industry using their name and fame to sell and recommend gadgets to the industry's amateurs.  I must strongly protest!  Any form of force or coercion runs directly contrary to the very nature and philosophy of dressage at it's very core.  The fact that there are top names who win at the shows on the international levels who use these methods does nothing to recommend the blood, sweat and tears that make up real classical dressage.  Rather the industries supposed top names are demonstrating a recommendation that the average amateur can almost not help accepting.  It is a recommendation to take a quick fix, to take the easy route.  It is a slide down a very slippery slope that ends with demanding from the horse a level of discipline that we do not demand from ourselves.

There needs to be a call made among the professionals of the sport to step up and live true to the principles of the art or to stop calling it dressage.  Lets stop playing.  Otherwise we justify the comments made.  I overheard a western pleasure trainer tell one of his students that her western pleasure horse was a second level dressage horse.  Based upon some of the stuff seen in the dressage square, perhaps it is justified.  Come on, step up.  This horse had never been correctly connected from behind and probably had never been ridden forward a day in its life.  Second level?  Second level requires a degree of collection and impulsion and suspension that would forever ruin the way a western pleasure horse is "supposed" to move.

While I am addressing my gripes with the industry, I must also mention the way the dressage industry's rates are through the roof.  If the trainer is worth their salt, by and large the cost to ride one hour under instruction is around $100 or more.  This is what the "classical trainer" charges.  Now, the name "classical" is dressage code for the only truly correct way to ride a horse.  All other ways of riding are inferior.  So what the "classical" instructor is saying, by default, is that only those horses with owners who have enough money "deserve" to be ridden classically.  Really?  Are we more interested in what is for the good of the horse or what is best for our pocketbook?

Now, I understand that there is a class of riders who expect to pay that kind of money, and can afford it.  But what about that teenager who comes and sits at the railing looking longingly.  Dressage trainers and instructors who do ride and train correctly have no room to look down their noses at the way other portions of the horse industry ride while charging so much as to make it unattainable to the average everyday horse enthusiast.

Last but not least is my frustration with instructors who do not fix their riders seats.  Who cares if you can help the rider fix the evasion, if you never help the rider fix the cause.  She can't follow the horse's motion, so lets have her try to make the horse move more forward and with more impulsion, that should help.  Oh she is falling off of the left side of her horse, lets have her ride in a double bridle and work on pirouettes.   Her horse isn't going forward because she is riding in a water ski type position balancing a bit on the rein, lets have her whack her horse in the belly with her leg.  That will teach him.  I wish I could say that I was talking about the local trainer down the road using these methods.  I am not.  I am talking about top international trainers.  Help!

I am not sure I could have ridden any of those horses better then their riders were doing.  In fact, this is part of my problem.  You see, every rider needs an eye on the ground.  I need an eye on the ground.  Yet, I can't find instructors that work to develop the rider.  I know which exercises to work on when my horse does x, y or z but I need someone on the ground to tell me what exercises might be helpful to fix me.  In addition there are the students I have moved away from.  Who do I send those students to?  When the majority of the industry cranks their horses round, how do I make a recommendation when I can no longer be the primary instructor?

The industry's professionals need to step up, because the amateur will never aspire to ride according to the principles of classical dressage while having to wade through the mire of all that is claiming to be dressage but not.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thoughts about Riding Instruction

  Riders are whole beings comprised of body, mind, emotions and spiritual faculties.  As human beings we cannot learn any skill to the true level of art while only learning in one of the above areas.  We must learn in the awareness of who we are. Because our faculties are interconnected what happens in the mind affects directly what happens in the physical realm.  When we are spiritually stagnant there are negative repercussions in all of the other realms.  If we are physically unhealthy and unwhole we bring that to our riding.  It affects the mental ability to think clearly, the emotional ability to stay neutral and self-controlled.  
   We were made to be complete, to be whole in our connection to our Creator.  When we are living severed from the Source of our life, we cannot live out the fulness of our purpose.  We were made to glorify God, living in abandoned adoration of the Maker and Sustainer of the universe.  Anything less than this will leave us with emptiness.  We aspire to fill the void with many things, yet are always endlessly searching.  Until we find Him, who is our Wholeness, we will drift without an anchor.
  The process of learning to ride is a process of self exploration, self revelation and an aspiration toward authentic, transparent living.  To be able to be one with our horses we must first aspire toward entering into an abiding relationship of love with our Maker.  The Maker is the Source of knowledge for loving unity between man and horse.
   We must come face to face with our weakness, our inconsistencies and our need.  It is from a position of humility that we can learn to be servants.  When we come to our horses with love and humility we can learn from our Creator and them.  From this position of humility we can become servant leaders to our horses.  
   Fear and ego are two of the enemies of unity and harmony.  Fear and pride destroy love.  Fear manifests itself in many forms.  We can be afraid physically when working with such a large and powerful creature.  Fear may cause us to seek to control and micromanage in order to feel secure.  We must learn to trust our horses.  Only in a relationship of mutual love, trust and respect can a dance of beauty become the inspiration of poetry, music and art.  We can be afraid of social stigma.  Often the temptation arises to sacrifice the integrity of the art, for fear of being misunderstood by onlookers.  What is in the horse's best interest should motivate the decisions within the training process.  What is in the best interest of the student should motivate the decisions within the lesson program.  

Friday, February 25, 2011

Let’s Dance

Come dance with me

     my fiery steed.
Let’s prance together
     let neither lead.
With graceful moves
     well defined,
the music
     of our souls combined.
Upon your back
     may I ride,
our motion
     together, our mood describe.
The artist
     and medium shall become,
in an instant,, 
As our audience
     come undone.
We paint a picture
     feather light,
A twenty by sixty
     canvas bright.
To show the brilliance
     display our thought,
no sign
     of all the hours wrought.
          Let no one
guess the strength it takes,
Let only
      passions in them awake.
To dare.
      To dream. To reach those heights,
to risk
      the fall but win the right.
To take us further
      to truly enhance,
the urge in all
      to learn to dance.
~Kristen Hoover 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

To Learn to Dance

When it comes to dancing with a partner, one must learn to have awareness of three things.  One, one must be aware of one's own body.  The posture and frame of the body must be a controlled movement that is then connected to another.  Two, one must be aware of one's partner's body.  The partner moves and carries his or herself apart from you.  Three, one must be aware of how what you do effects your partner and how what your partner does effects you.

The same is true as a rider.  You and your horse are dancing partners.  To learn to dance one must develop the level of awareness between the two of you.  The way you sit, the posture, your carriage and your frame all you do and feel will effect your partner.  Yet, all your partner does must effect you for there to be a chance of unity of movement and feeling between you.

There are riders who lack awareness of themselves.  This leads to an inability to purposefully connect with their horses.  One cannot change something that one is not aware exists.

There are riders who lack awareness of their horses.  This also leads to an inability to flow and move in time with the horse.  The horse moves and sways and the rider does not respond.  The feeling changes and the rider never knew.  The disgruntled partner leaves the dance hall.  The startled rider looks up and suddenly finds his or herself unable to dance for the partnership has become a battle ground.  The rider is  unaware of when this began and baffled by the change of circumstances.  Longing for unity and the sense of camaraderie, the rider wishes to be one of the mystical few who can dance.

Then there are the riders who can sense themselves, and can sense their horse, but begin to be confused at what happens when he or she tries to put the pieces together for the dance itself.  The rider cannot pinpoint what he or she did that caused the horse to ... though he or she is aware that the horse did do something.    Or perhaps, the rider is aware of how the horse effected his or her balance, but is not sure exactly what to change in order to regain the sense of unity.

In order to progress as a duo it is best to develop the individual parts.  Before the rider tries to influence the horse it is always best to start with his or her own body awareness.  There are some really good exercises to help develop body awareness out there.  Just one to start with as I sign off...start with some off the horse awareness.  When you stand do you stand even or put more weight on one side?  If looking in the mirror, is one shoulder higher than the other?  When you carry things, do you prefer to use one arm over the other?  Take your overall awareness of the way you move and balance off of the horse with you back to your horse the next time you ride and take your dancing to the next level.