There are many, many aspects to this way of being. In the introductory clinics I usually talk about being Centered, and Grounded and this leads us to also being Present and Free of Judgement. Today I want to write about JOY. Ultimately the state that we would be in when playing with our horses is the state of JOY. In the photo here we see Helium leaping into the air with pure joy. When we see horses truly play in the paddock they are in a state of joy. Performance horses are often operating from a state of fear, tension or stress or adrenaline. Adrenaline can lead to increased performance in some ways, but there are down sides to operating in this state and ultimately I don’t believe this state leads to the highest possible potential being reached. I believe that if we could get the horse to perform out of joy and positive excitement that would be the ideal. When the horse is operating from this state of joy they will have heart and desire and they will be free in their body and therefore be more athletic. The high level dressage maneuvers such as passage, collected and elevated gaits, and aerial maneuvers “airs above the ground” in classical high school dressage are mostly maneuvers that horses perform naturally when they play. So doesn’t it make sense that this is the state they should be in when they are performing these maneuvers? If we are to encourage the horse to operate from this state of joy we must first be operating from there ourselves.
So how do we find JOY? When I think of JOY, one image that comes to mind is that of a young child about 4 years old, running around in a garden giggling, like they might do when they have playmates chasing after them. Their energy is light, bubbly and playful. In that moment they have not a care in the world and they are totally authentic, that is they are not trying to be, or pretending to be anything other than themselves and they are not trying to meet others expectations or follow rules that society has placed upon them about how they should feel or behave. They are totally present in the moment and without inhibition and they feel joy. This is what we need to get back to – the playful light energy of a child, pure, innocent and authentic and without the burden of the ego.
One way that we can find this child like state of Joy is by first becoming centered and still. We usually first need to find stillness and peace within us – stillness of the mind and calmness of the emotions – and then from there we have the propensity to find and feel joy. One of the reasons for centering and gathering our energy into a central place is so that we can gather together all of our energy. Often we have energy trapped or locked up in tension in our bodies, or our energy is scattered when our minds are scattered, or our energy is tied up or used up when we are emotionally in chaos, or it is lost or used up holding onto regrets or begrudgements from our past or the worries we have for the future. The higher purpose of centering is so that we can gather and fully harness our energy and then express it, use it, or action it powerfully like they do in martial arts. We can use that energy for power and athleticism, communication, healing or health, or to just play and have fun – basically whatever we choose to use it for.
When we are centered and in a state of peacefulness and stillness inside ourselves we can find and experience the light bubbly and child like energy of joy. Another way of thinking about feeling joyful, is like feeling bubbles of lemonade effervescing inside of you. The basis of this joy is peacefulness, different than the over excited energy that we often see in others or experience in ourselves that is based on nervousness or anxiousness. Sometimes we also see this over excited nervous energy in young children and it is helpful to be able to decipher the difference.
The more deeply that we go into our center, the more we can outwardly express our energy. Becoming deeply centered does not have to mean becoming more quiet and boring and inexpressive, in fact it can mean just the opposite. The more centered we become, the more powerful and expressive we can be and it is from that place of deep peace and stillness that we can express or feel true joy. If we have an anxious, nervous or unconfident horse, having our energy quiet, centered and grounded will give them confidence as big expressive energy will scare them, but when they become calm and confident that is when we can be big, expressive and playful with our energy and encourage them to express and play and be athletic.
This way of being – peaceful, joyful and playful like a small child – is what I believe to be the Key to Great Horsemanship. This is how we can have a horse be expressive, interested, have energy and enthusiasm and heart and desire. With these inner qualities the horse can find balance, have good biomechanics, be athletic and reach their highest potential of physical power and performance. For those who are just looking for a quite safe pleasure riding horse or a calm horse to do ground work with, this way of being will also help you create the horse that you desire. A horse that is calm, confident, willing, smooth to ride, a pleasure to handle and be around and who is our friend and partner. So let’s get back to feeling the playful joy of a child so then we can truly en-joy horses and ourselves.