I just looked down at a stack of yet unread magazines, and opened up an old (yes, I do mean old, as in October 2009) edition of the “USDF Connection.” I picked it up, and it fell open to an interview with the title “Communication is Key”. The dressage professional being interviewed is Jan Brink, and his goal in training is stated as: to facilitate a happy and harmonious horse-rider partnership by ensuring that each understands the other’s needs and requests.
That caused me to start thinking about the requests of my horses. I think all horse owners do the best they can to take care of the needs of their equines. Most would agree that their needs include things such as food, water, shelter, and healthcare. But, what about the individual requests that each horse may have.
For example, with each of my horses, when I work them, we do different things. Not the same prescription across the board. Physical traits and personality quirks command respect and compassion in order to make the workout pleasant and effective for both them and me. After pondering for a moment, I really want to expand this philosophy into the way that I interact with the herd when I’m on the ground, too. Being mindful of the subtle ways each one communicates what they would like is something I am going to pay even more attention to.
Sometimes I think we all get tied up in requesting from our horses, and don’t pay as much attention to what they would like from us. A good place to start is to pause between requests and listen for their reaction and response. Once we start paying attention to what they’re communicating to us, we can really get to know our horses and appreciate their unique characteristics and wisdom. This is the first step to building trust and confidence from the beauty of connection.
Arena translation: Bringing this idea of two-way communication to the arena could add a new dimension to our work with our horses. The key to remember is to wait for an answer from our horse when we ask something. Then, it will fall more into the category of “asking” rather than “demanding.” For instance, giving an aid, and waiting to see if our horse responds. That part isn’t necessarily unique, but the next part is something that I hadn’t been taught anything like it when I first learned about horses and riding. And, that next part would be to be curious about why the horse gave the response it did. Maybe, instead of just choosing to ignore us, our horses might not actually understand the aid as we mean it. We might have to go back and teach them a missing piece. Or, we might have to adjust our asking just a bit….less pressure, different touch, etc. Listening and paying attention to how our horses respond can help us understand how they are hearing us. Then, we can adjust accordingly, and in this manner incorporate two-way communication.