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PhoenixRear Blog

Many riders are taught to think of the rider’s aids as “Cues” or commands, like pushing a button on a vending machine or opening an app on your phone.  There is an expectation of, “If I push the right button, I’ll receive what I want.”  In reality, this is no truer of riding horses than making friends, raising children, or closing business deals.

The rider’s aids are non-verbal communication...  body landguage.  They give the horse information about our ideas of gait, speed, direction, balance, posture, and how we think of them.  HOW we deliver the information tells the horse who we are and the nature of the relationship that we are offering them.  … leader, partner, travelling buddy, teacher, owner, etc.

As you use your aids, you are having conversations.  …exchanges.  Your horse is experiencing your conversations together, and he is drawing conclusions and making decisions about those experiences… just like you do in every one of your interactions in your life.  These conclusions will shape his future choices and actions.  That’s experiential learning in a nutshell.

Riding is a series of non-verbal conversations that make up experiences that define a relationship.

Whaaaaaat?!  But, relationships are hard!  What if a person just wants to ride?

That’s why they make bicycles, ATVs, and motorcycles.

There are also relationships with sentient beings that do not require a person to exercise good communication and leadership skills, honor, or emotional intelligence.  Those relationships would be more like dictators, bullies, prison guards, predators, parents that raise children who will need therapy…  You get the picture. 

I hope you’ll forgive the crass examples, but this has tremendous implications and the point needs to be made. 

It’s my observation that the activity of physically learning to ride is not complicated.  The skills are similar to riding a skateboard, skiing, or dancing.  None of those are rocket science, if you have a moderate amount of physical fitness and body awareness.  It’s the interaction with the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the horse that make up the majority of what most riders would call “problems” with horses. 

You know what’s REALLY interesting? 

Problem Solving and Self-Improvement are two of the biggest markets out there on any given topic, and they each represent a perspective.  If I had to guess, I would say that the “Cue” people shop in the “Problem Solving” section, while the “Relationship” people are looking in “Self-Improvement.”   

The great thing about perspectives is that they can change in an instant.  I remember the exact day that I went from being a “cue person” to a “relationship” person.  It was life changing on every level, and it happened by chance at a demonstration.  It wasn’t what the presenter said or did.  It was what I saw in the horses. 

I had never seen a horse respond to their person with such a whole-hearted desire to accomplish a goal together purely for the joy of it.  I knew that was the case, because every cell of the horse expressed it and there was no tack involved to force it.  Back then you just didn’t see that very often, and you definitely didn’t see it in the competition arena where I had spent my time.

I wish more than anything that I could offer others a glimpse of what I experienced that day in writing, but that was a very visceral, “you had to be there” kind of thing.  My best suggestion is to find and spend time with horse people who make your heart sing when you watch them.  The intangibles of horsemanship are gained through osmosis.

A good horsemanship curriculum will address the mental, emotion, and physical aspects of riding from day one.  An extraordinary instructor addresses the creative, intuitive, or “spiritual” aspects when the timing is right.  You can’t force perspective.

Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it.  

Here's a video of me having some conversations with my oldest partner, Phoenix.  Not a performance... Friends spending some time together, not agreeing on every little thing, and not needing to.  We are herd.  We have history.  We've seen each other at our best and our worst, and we still meet each other at the gate. On some days our goals are serious, on others they aren't.  That's what relationships are.

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