Horses Teach Us To Hear What Isn't Said..Are You Listening?
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We know that horses learn, when we release the pressure from what our intention was. We also know that we have been successful and that the correct response is understood when our plan matches the action of the horse. We understand this as “releasing on the try”, “the release teaches”, “energy up and energy down”, “active and neutral” and all of these are excellent strategies for a horse to learn but the most important and intrinsic element of teaching horses is actually not any of the above…but the timing of the above.
Timing is everything…an old expression, but for horses it is the single most important ingredient to how quickly horse’s learn and what his opinion is of you as the “leader/teacher”. If your timing of the release is constantly slow or if you think you are releasing but still holding intention (tension) in your body, then it is still pressure with each horse letting you know how you are doing on that front by their expression. The slow timing of your release may cause ears to go back or even cause a fearful response in your horse ..none of which is successful.
Timing of the release is, in my opinion, the single most important factor that divides great horseman from those that just “train” horses. I have often referred to this as the “it” factor and that there are some that just have “it” naturally and some have to work at “it”. The timing of the release from the pressure and subsequently the understanding of what is being asked need to be immediate…..and even before immediate.. it should be on the thought.
So what does releasing on the thought look like and feel like?
You can’t teach timing because you can’t teach feel and you can’t teach feel because you can’t teach focus, but you can get better and better at it with practice and awareness. I help students to acquire this skill by asking them to recognize when the change of thought occurs… to release on their horse’s thought. For that to happen you have to be focused on reading your horse, continuously.
Horses communicate with each other through energy, intention and body language in that order. To communicate clearly we have to activate each of these separately, watching at each step where a change may occur. It may be a very small shift in thinking toward the right answer (depending on the stage of learning) but it is there.
The time it takes for the question to travel from your thought…. down your arm….down your line or seat (if you are riding) to your horse’s mind… and then to his feet is a long time. There is a lot at stake here as far as where on that chain of communication one should release. To see and feel this change, we have to silence ourselves and watch for when the answer gets to the mind first. That is the closest I can come to teaching students this….when does the answer get to the mind before it goes to the feet? We can miss the opportunity so quickly without focus. I explain to students that I would rather see them release a hundred times to soon then to release too late.
It is this releasing on the thought that causes confident learning, softness and designs invisible communication where your tools never have to be used…now isn’t that a fabulous goal to have.
Horse teach us to hear what isn't said..are you listening? ~JG~