One of the biggest challenges in my teachings is helping people understand the use of energy and how it applies to horses and horsemanship. People seem to think that because the horse is a big strong animal, that we as smaller, weaker humans need to muscle these beasts into submission in traditional training methods. Before we know it, we are using mechanics, fear and force to get our point across to the horse. Meanwhile, we haven’t considered how HE would like to be treated or how HE is taking all this man handling! We don’t do this intentionally to be mean. We do it because that’s what everyone else does. And we just don’t know any better.
I personally was never “aware” of energy. Not until my studies of the horse and my own personal horsemanship made me take a look at it. When I learned to listen to my horse . When I learned to “read” him. That was when I became aware that I didn’t NEED to use mechanics to make horses do what I wanted! Instead I learned to offer energy first. THEN apply an appropriate form of support. Which could be a rope, rein, my hand or my leg.
How do we apply energy you ask? Well, lets try to understand the horse a bit first. He is a sensitive, capable, forgiving animal. He reads intention and energy as a means of communication in its subtlest form. He prefers that. He is constantly seeking comfort. He is nature in its finest form without the intrusion of humans and our micromanaging ways.
Horses have innate characteristics that separate them individually. Briefly, horses are confident or unconfident in themselves, their environment, learning and in us as their leaders.
Understanding that horses are constantly aware of their surroundings. We need to realize that they are constantly aware of us, our intention and our energy. That old saying, ”the horse knows when you're scared so don’t let them know”. They already knew that before you organized the thought, my friend. You’re to late. If you realize that in the wild, the horse needed to know whether the lion passing through the territory was hungry or just passing through, is what kept him alive, you might have a better picture and understanding of just how sensitive to energy and intention the horses actually are.
So how do we apply energy and intention to get what we want from our horses? There are several factors to this. Let me warn you that while it might be easily comprehended. It’s not the easiest thing to apply unless you are open and willing to experiment. Once you grasp it, experiment with the concepts and actually experience the successfulness of it between you and your horse, you’ll say…hey that wasn’t so hard after all!
Try to think of energy as the air that you’d fill a balloon with. Think, how much energy would I need to ask my horse to stop and stand? ZERO your balloon would be collapsed completely. How much energy would I need to burst into a full gallop from a stand still? You’re balloon would be FULL! Now, how much energy would I need for the walk, trot or canter? You’d vary your energy until you got the desired gait. Then there is speed within a gait..YIKES! More variables, more experimenting. You can also play with this concept in simulations that you’d do with yourself or a friend. How much energy does it take you to stand relaxed, how much to start to walk. How much to break into an all out run to the fridge for your favorite beverage?
So now you have the picture of air in your balloon. How do you get your body to do that? How can you relay that message to your horses? Very simply, it is body language. Consider this: Your torso is the main part of your body. Your intention comes from your brain and your body follows that. So if you are relaxed in your mind, tense, determined, angry, blaming or forgiving, your body will follow that. On another level your intention needs to speak clearly. Is your intention to move the horse, or stop and relax him. This all radiates through your midsection. To narrow it down, it comes from your belly button. If your belly button is your blow horn and your intention comes through that, you will be able to communicate clearly with your horse. Play around with what happens to your midsection when you are relaxed. What does it feel like when you are angry, scared, determined? There is a hardness about it, in varying degrees. As you experiment with this the over exaggeration will diminish. Your clear intention will radiate into an energy that will be read by your horse.
Your horse will tell you when you are communicating the right amount of energy. And remember that all horses are sensitive, but individually so. If your horse is not responding to your energy first, you’ll have to add the appropriate support.
When we understand that the horse is always seeking comfort and when we learn to apply energy first and then support of some kind second, that’s when things become invisible. That’s when our requests of the horse can come with a simple suggestion. That suggestion can be as invisible as energy.