Horsemanship is a philosophy, not a bunch of techniques!!
It’s not about what you do... It IS about HOW you do it!
It‘s all about the relationship and creating a partnership!
A partnership requires participation from all entities. Our goal is to have our
equine participate in our relationship so we can accomplish goals together.
Horses and humans need to Trust each other, have Confidence in themselves and
each other, and mutually Respect each other!
At Cohesive horsemanship, I have found that there are 7 core principles that
help build a great relationship and create a mutual partnership with an Equine
based on Trust, Confidence, and Respect. These 7 principles are at the core of
everything we do with our horses.
1- Be a partner and an empathetic leader
2- Become a master of body language
3- Be playful
4- Be curious
5- Be clear
6- Be focused
7- Be a student of lightness
These three ingredients make up the foundation, pillars, and building blocks to all we do with our equines. But the real key here is that these words don’t just apply to how we develop our equines but also how we, as humans, develop. It’s a journey… a journey we take WITH our equines.
If one were to quickly scroll through different training philosophies for training a horse, words such as impulsion, rhythm, straightness, and collection generally surface. Sometimes these words are associated with some sort of systematic step by step process, almost seemingly linear. However, working with equines generally asks us to squiggle, spiral, skip steps, backtrack, circle, and start over many times… sometimes not really finding much progress at all! Which can be quite frustrating and daunting… I’ve found that thinking about a horse’s development as a ball balancing on three pillars can be helpful. The three pillars are the foundation that keeps the ball off the ground. The ball represents the ever growing, pulsating, living body of knowledge that we learn from our equines. Sometimes this ball grows too heavy on one side as we focus on certain things and can challenge one of the foundation pillars to try and stabilize it. That is when our foundation needs to be strong and able to continually support our growth.
The pillars are Relaxation, Balance, and Willingness. Without all three of these in relatively equal doses nothing else can happen easily with our equines. These need to appear strong while working with young inexperienced horses just as much as when developing a piaffe in a more advanced horse. They also need to actively be part of our being and our foundation as humans. Each of these foundations directly affect the others and are inseparable.
Without relaxation, no progress can take place. Relaxation comes from our mind and emotions to our body - same for equines. Try doing yoga while keeping your neck and shoulders tense or even better yet… try doing yoga while being hyper vigilant for when your yoga teacher might come by and push you over. An equine that is tense is not going to be able to hear and feel our aids, a human that is tense will not hear or feel the responses the equine is trying to provide to aids. This usually means that bigger, louder, harder aids end up being used and more tension is added to the entire system. In general this type of experience is not pleasant for the equine or the rider. An equine and/or rider that is tense cannot find balance or willingness which further deteriorates our foundation and we end up dropping our ball of goodness off our pillars.
Without balance, no progress can take place. Balance in our bodies, minds, and emotions… A rider riding out of balance will cause the equine to be out of balance… and oftentimes an equine that is out of balance will cause the rider to fall out of balance. It’s imperative that we as riders and handlers work just as hard on our balance as our horse’s and mule’s. Equines that feel out of balance while attempting movements may panic and rush while others, depending on the types, may slow and even stop moving completely. The degree of relaxation is affected as is willingness to try the maneuver. Keeping our equines balanced in a way that allows them to develop athleticism from their core and haunches (same for us humans) provides stability, strength, and confidence. An equine or human who works in and out of balance is more likely to experience injury.
Without willingness, no progress can take place. I use the word willingness very much on purpose… some may use energy or impulsion, both of which are absolutely part of willingness. I like willingness because it captures that it has to be mental first. The urge to go forward and commit to the task has to start with willingness to do it. We need to be willing partners and willing to go with our horses in the movement we are asking for. Our equines need to be willing and ready to go with us in those same movements. Willingness absolutely requires that we are relaxed in movement, which usually means we have some sort of balance in that movement. Willingness also means our equine has a very clear understanding of our cues and can respond with full confidence and commitment to our asks.
As we work on this journey we need to be able to recognize which of these pillars are missing and is the most important in our current endeavor. By working on that pillar we can usually also help the other two and strengthen the entire foundation. As we focus on the one pillar we need at the moment we also need to not compromise another one completely.
Once this foundation starts to grow we can start building our ball where Suppleness, Mobility, Collection, and Partnership develop into advanced movements and refinement!