Horse people are unlike any other animal people. They will work three jobs, camp under the stars and spend every spare second they have with their horses. For many people, the very reason for having a horse is to ride. To experience that oneness and inner freedom and would do anything to achieve it! So why is it difficult to achieve that smooth relationship from the ground and into the saddle? What happens when we mount up and become the eyes and ears of our horse? I have many clients whom are riders; they have spent a lot of money and hours in training clinics to try to achieve that oneness with their horse during the ride. I am happy to say that here at Animal Talk we have the answer. We teach you how to achieve this magical connection during our horse clinics, and our students are a testament to that success. We need to look at riding from the perspective of not only the human but also particularly the horse.
From the human’s point of view, the ride (for most) is the very reason you have your horse; the exhilaration of experiencing the incredible physical power, yet still sensing that gentleness and freedom of spirit that is the horse. To a certain degree you are controlling your horse’s movement and timing; but in reality, as you know without your horse’s consent and cooperation it will not have that desired effect. All too often, while busy concentrating on the techniques involved in riding your horse, much of the self-awareness learnt on the ground is lost.
When you approach the ride from your horse’s point of view, the rider (coupled with a saddle, the bit and the rest of the gear), not only represents their loss of control creating vulnerability but also the need to make choices of their own. They feel they are no longer using their own instincts but adapting to yours; which can be awkward and foreign to them especially being a prey animal. Unless there is a complementary intention, the freedom and innocence tends to go by the wayside once we move from groundwork to the ride. It is a major transition for both of you – but in different capacities. Why not get out of your head and into your heart where the sensing of energy can be felt and enjoyed between you and your horse? You will find this simple shift in your own perception; to work with your horse (rather than have your horse work for you) will transform the ride into the ultimate experience.
Many people ride horses for different reasons. It can be to participate in competition, teach horsemanship, and simply for the enjoyment of riding. In our horse clinics, we tell our students to ask themselves – what else do you do with your horse that does not involve riding? They really have to think about it. A lot of effort, time, money and training goes into preparing your horse for riding – starting a horse, getting them used to equipment, teaching them cues for riding, and getting your horse used to a person sitting on them. What about the relationship between you and your horse? The bond that does not rely on training, equipment or desensitisation. A lot of the time I see riders focus too much on what their horse is doing, and less focus on who their horse is. When we meet new a partner or a friend, we don’t overstep their boundaries. We get to know them; we spend time together, find common ground and build a connection. How come we don’t do this with our horses? Why are we so eager to jump into the saddle before we even know our horse on a personal level? In my consultations, a lot of horses have told me their people ‘are too focused on what I can do for them, and don’t really ask me what I want to do.’ Creating and deepening that bond between you and your horse will establish the oneness you need to flow together on the ground and in the saddle.
There are several ways you can forge the bond with your horse and create the ultimate riding experience:
Have you ever tried to just play with your horse? We asked our horse clinic students what they did for fun. Doing obstacle courses, playing with a ball, and running around the paddock together. These are great ideas, but what about what your horse thinks is fun? Try going into the paddock and let your horse lead the session. Let them show you what they think is fun. They may want to play games of chase, or hide and seek. Remember, your horse is a prey animal so trust in you is essential in creating that relationship. This is done through playtime as much as it is in work. Playing together shows your horse you are interested in them and who they are. I can guarantee you your horse will return the interest tenfold.
Another great way of bonding together is just being together. This comes from being in each other’s presence without interaction. No playing, touching, or working together. This exercise requires you to sit still in the paddock, or wherever you and your horse are. If you sense your horse near you, just open your eyes to check where they are for your safety. If possible, close your eyes and begin breathing deeply. Get yourself into a rhythm, and just take notice of any sounds around you. Continue to breathe deeply, and take note of any sensations on your skin. Then gently open your eyes, and take note of your surroundings. What is your horse doing? Are they with you, or are they nearby? Your horse may find this odd in the beginning, as they are used to interacting with you in some way when you are together. But give them time and they will enjoy going back to just being a horse and enjoying your time together.
Riders will practice their routines or develop their riding skills whilst riding on their horse. But there is also a lot to gain by developing your skills off of your horse. When you know the steps of your routine or practicing manoeuvres it is vital that it is clear in your head. If you are confused with your steps or don’t feel confident in your skills, your horse is going to feel that when you practice in the saddle, and will cause a ripple effect. Meditation and visualisation are two successful tools every rider should use before riding their horse. Start with five minutes of meditation a day and slowly build up to fifteen minutes daily. Meditation reduces the stress levels, clears the mind and brings energy into the frontal lobe of the brain, which in turn builds focus and clarity for the mind. This allows you to build stable, grounded energy that will help you and your horse become one. Horses are very sensitive to changes in energy, especially yours.
Visualisation is a highly important function for you and your horse. Visualising what you wish to achieve, from beginning to end will help you gain clarity when executing directions to your horse. Your horse reads your mind before it picks up on your physical signals; having clear visualisations will help your horse understand what you want from them without confusion. A muddled mind leads to a frustrating riding session for you and your horse. But if you are calm and clear about your directions and what you wish to achieve, so will your horse!
Remember, building relationships is a process. Your horse is a prey animal – so having a predator (yes humans are predators in the grand scheme of things) sitting on your horse’s back, controlling your horse’s moves and holding your horse’s life in your hands is going to take a big leap of faith from your horse. Essentially, that is what riding is. And it is a leap of faith for you the rider as well. You have to trust that your horse is going to follow your lead otherwise it can backfire for you too. So enjoy the journey, and get excited about the many fun experiences you and your horse will have together. You will be glad that you did, and so will your horse!