We think too much. We’re mostly introverts with an inclination toward perfection, and we think too much. Oh, and we like to ride horses.
Example: You’re riding a young horse who is a little quick. You’re with your trainer at your first dressage show. You enter the arena, salute the judge, and begin the test. It’s great, the new jacket fits well. You begin the trot work. You know people are watching you but you don’t smile. These are full-seat white britches, you’ve managed to keep them relatively clean, but they don’t give much in the saddle. Not that you’ve had them in the saddle before. Actually, they kind of suspend you above the sadd…. oops. “Are we going really fast? I think we’re going really fast.”
At this point, you look for your trainer on the sideline and she has a furrowed brow. “Okay, he’s quick. Let me see. I could half-halt. I don’t need a one rein stop, do I? No, not that. I don’t want to pull the reins in front of the judge. Oh. I think I might be pulling the reins already. Crap. I think he’s pulling back on them, too. Oh, my. Is that slapping sound my backside hitting the saddle? Half-halt, do you think?”
You survive, it’s ugly but you’re feeling good about staying on when you leave the arena. Your trainer asks you, through a very tense jaw, “Your horse was running away with you. Couldn’t you tell your horse was running away?” “Um. Of course,” you answer, “I just couldn’t decide what to do.” And you give your trainer the second deer-in-headlights look of the day.
Meanwhile, your young horse, who lives in the moment, is thinking about noises he hears over by the Porta-Potty.
First, a simple explanation of the difference between us and non-human animals, like horses. Scientists agree that horses have consciousness, defined as being aware of their own body and the surrounding environment. They think. Humans have self-awareness, generally defined as consciousness, as well as the awareness of our existence. We think, and then we think about our thoughts.
This is why humans are considered more evolved but sometimes I wonder. Our senses are not as acute as horses; they hear and smell and see more. Meaning horses live in the moment. We use our brains to override our senses, so we can doubt that horses sense what they sense and then think about our feelings about that.
Humans have an added dimension; we can read the philosophy of classical horsemanship. Shop online for tack. Get sold methods of training, explained in deceptive terms, that may be popular but don’t actually work on horses. Spend hours on DreamHorse. Be groupies for previously mentioned training methods, proselytizing to others about the need to punish horses. Think about obscure breeds we’d like to own. Consider different bits to gain more control of our horses. Have a big heart for horse rescue. Plan a trip to Spain.
If humans were on an inter-species dating site, they would not link us up with horses. We’re a bad match, but we aren’t quitters.
It’s important to understand these fundamental differences. If humans want relationships with horses, we must approach it in a non-human way. We need to study technique, but when we’re riding, lay down our over-analyzing minds.
Less thought, more feel. In the example at the beginning, the rider stopped breathing, her legs grabbed on, the cue to go faster. Her body got tense, and her horse got scared. Her response was to think more thoughts. She was so busy having a conversation with herself that she abandoned her horse. It isn’t a mistake, it’s our instinct.
To be partners, we have to quiet our natural instinct, just like horses have to quiet some of theirs. It’s why riding well is an art.
Where to begin? Horses live by physical awareness, so first, let your intellectual mind rest. Just feel. Take a deep breath. Did it catch in your throat? Did your shoulders poke up around your ears? Take another breath. Feel it expand your belly. Count to three on the inhale. Hold a count and exhale in three. Continue. Breathe into your knees and let them loosen. Tell your critical voice to breathe with you, but hold her tongue. Do this all day long. Feels good, doesn’t it?
When you are breathing deep and soft to your belly, go to the barn and look at your horse’s flank. That’s how he breathes when he’s relaxed, too. About now your brain kicks in with some bright shiny mental distraction. Smile, because it relaxes part of your head. Breathe and smile, stay with your horse. Create a bubble for the two of you to breathe in together.
Try this experiment: Communicate by using the body parts that both you and your horse share. So, no voice and no hands. Become aware of your feet. Become aware of… (I know you’re judging yourself. Just stop.) …your senses. Breathe deep and slow. Notice your hands and keep them to yourself again. Give him space to feel confident in; stand square and tall and away. Let him tell you something you don’t know. Without interrupting him to make him hurry. Without interrupting yourself with chatter. Takes self-discipline, doesn’t it?
In the saddle, warm up on a long rein. Feel your sit bones and note the length of his stride. Now listen to a song or count your breath. In about five minutes, feel the difference in your back and in his stride. Limit yourself to feeling. Don’t fix it, just feel it. Go through each of your body parts and introduce yourself. Is your neck tight? Give it a roll and breathe. Notice your horse’s poll release but don’t talk about it. Feel your elbows and wrists.
Experience your horse, body to body. There is no cleaner or more immediate way to communicate with a horse. Practice acceptance in that exact moment; that’s where connection starts.
After you put your horse up, find a horse-friend. Talk to for hours about your ride. Tell her you fell in love all over again.