Thursday, 12 February 2009

Living with the Dinosaurs

Some years ago I heard Mark talking about sitting on his horse and how he could feel this energy underneath him ready to go in any direction he asked. I imagined it would feel like sitting on a ball that could roll in any direction. Now, some time later, I can see and feel this myself. I can look at the horse being ridden and see which way the energy is falling, or not. I can see that the energy we add to this 'balance' is crucial. To watch a horse in balance and in movement is a very pretty sight, far more beautiful than the list of regulated moves that have become the benchmark used to prove horsemanship.

When I was with Mark last year, I noticed he was working really hard on getting people to feel the communication between them and their horse down the reins. We were talking one evening and I said to him that I thought it was really cool the way he was doing that. He said to me that it is interesting that a lot of the 'top' horse trainers say that you can't teach feel, it is something that you have or you don't have.

In our next clinic I started to do the same thing. For some people it was a revelation that such a small thing could be so powerful. For me that is one of the beauties of horsemanship - less is so often more. We are working slightly differently now, using that feel to reach a different level, but the feel is still the same thing.

So where to go from there? I am more and more convinced that the goal itself is the feel and the balance. As soon as the goal becomes something further on and we sacrifice the feel and balance, it is all too easy to get into a 'this must happen' mentality. There is a fine line between that pure communication and a pull, and why do we pull? I think it is because our focus goes beyond the feel and on to some other target. Things like us looking good, having horses in outline, winning stuff, mastering specific moves, and so on, take over at the expense of perfect feel and perfect balance.

For me, I see horsemanship as like life itself. It is difficult to build good stuff on dodgy foundations. But put in a good foundation and the good stuff can come along. With dodgy foundations, I don't think it ever truly can.


Glenatron said...

How do you distinguish between the goal and goals you use on they way? For example, if I'm giving my horse a job to do- defensive work on cattle was this morning's task - that's a goal towards the feel and energy we're looking for or is the feel and energy we're looking for a goal towards that?

June said...

To me riding, or horsemanship in general, is about feedback from the horse and you can only get feedback from the horse if you can feel it. Riding is a never ending feedback loop. You ask the horse a question and get an answer. You have to feel that answer so you can adjust the question. Then if everything is going perfectly the horse might just throw a question at you. If you don't feel that then you don't give the horse an answer so he has to fill in the blanks.

If I watch any good horseman, be it in dressage, western, show jumping, cross country, polo or whatever I can see that communication going on all the time. If I watch a not so good horseman, the communication is missing, and it isn't the horse that isn't communicating.

I think you can teach feel, or at least I think you can teach it to some people. I'm not yet convinced you can teach it to everyone, or at least not as well as the horse would like. But maybe even a little is better than nothing.

Tom said...

Glenatron, isn't that the dilemma. Cow work really shows it up in stark relief because you have to get the job done. You can't really say, 'sorry, couldn't stop that cow because I needed to do a spot of schooling'.
The little bit of cow work I did, I really didn't like doing , because the rest of the time I was getting along pretty fine, but then I kept getting in situations where I had to pull or kick and i just felt like I was undoing all my previous good work.
Right now I am really careful to try and stay within a situation where my horse and I can learn without too much pressure. Ultimately we should be able to do anything, but not yet.

June - yep, it's interesting isn't it. But some of that 100% attention does become more natural as we practise. When I watch good riders it is clear they do an awful lot without having to think about it. That is my goal!
Some people don't want to learn feel and some people don't need to. Each to their own.

Glenatron said...

Interestingly a lot of the cow work we're doing now is about training the horse to read the cow for you, so you make sure it's easy for the horse to be in position on the cow and more work if the cow starts moving or the horse pushes into it's flight zone. After a bit of work in that way the horse will do most of what you need without needing much pressure because it can read the cow better than you can...

June said...

I'm reading an interesting book at the moment called "Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind". It talks a lot about the conscious and the unconscious minds.

I reckon the good horsemen communicate mostly via their unconscious mind. Driving a car is an obvious example of this. Your unconscious mind registers what is going on without your conscious mind needing to be involved. You can drive some way, negotiate roundabouts etc without really registering it, but if something out of the ordinary happens your conscious mind is back in an instant.

So, good horsemen don't have to concentrate 100% of the time. Their unconscious mind deals with it all for them. Their conscious mind only needs to take part if something out of the ordinary happens or if there is something specific they are working on. Guess itt's that old unconscious competence thing!

Tom said...

That's really interesting June. I was just talking to Sarah earlier, and saying how I think about things for ages and then I suddenly find out I can do them without thinking. Not always of course. Sometimes I think about something, and then go to do it and my body hasn't caught up with my mind. I guess that would be my conscious competence had not yet become unconscious competence.

June said...

Or conscious incompetence, LOL!

You need to read "Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind". The print is a little small though!

Kathy Baker said...

" The print is a little small though!"

Is this a comment related to age and eyesight? LOL!

June said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
June said...

: )