Over the last twenty odd years I have had the pleasure and the privilege of being invited to observe many people’s time with their horses, in order to explore what could be missing. What is it that we should be able to communicate to our horse in three words that could take their work to the next level?
In any initial theory session I attempt to establish the personal goals of the rider and the most oft repeated statement has always been “Well, I don’t do much groundwork as my horse responds much better to being ridden and I can feel what’s going on!” Can we really though? For many of us I’m afraid the answer is no, it’s simply that it’s easier to pretend than it is to work with our horse’s challenges. I now educate all of my horses in Ground work, In-hand and Lunging as well as observing them at liberty before I would ever expect them to carry me around.
Simply because without my eyes, ears and feet being firmly attached to the ground I can’t necessarily gauge my horse’s understanding of the aids, their natural tendencies and asymmetry, as well as the muscles and relaxation they may need to develop in order to carry me without tension or anxiety.
Without a basic understanding in play before riding we are forcing the horse to go to desperate measure to get rid of us because they are under enormous pressure. We often struggle to accept this and hide it by giving this tension different names, napping, spooking, rearing, bucking or bolting for example, when really it’s just tension. Out of desperation some horses have practised this behaviour so many times that they are no longer tense and it has instead become a learned solution to even the smallest amount of pressure, but nevertheless its only by us taking responsibility for the fact that we caused this behaviour that we can unpick it and release the horse to reach its full potential.
Imagine learning to dance or indeed to drive with your eyes closed? It would be incredibly stressful and indeed dangerous. This is why it is tremendously beneficial for us to always educate the horse systematically and academically from the ground first, and as often as possible ride with mirrors or with eyes on the floor to make sure that what you are feeling is what’s really going on from an objective perspective.
I hope this blog provides even just one lightbulb moment for a horse and rider out there, as I know this perspective has truly transformed my work with horses. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch for more information on how being brave enough to explore the communication between you and your horse can be like going from dancing in the dark to dancing together with your eyes wide open.