You are asking them to turn loose completely, their minds and thoughts, their feelings, their balance and physical control of their body. When we saddle them and sit on their backs we can very easily restrict how they move and then we ask them to be athletic. We tell them how to flex, how to hold their head, where to put their feet, when to change leads, when to take off for a jump etc. …… so we had better be sure we understand the horse’s body and have complete control over our own if we want riding to be a good experience for the horse. The sad truth is that most people do not have this understanding , including the so called experts.
When we take hold of the reins which are often attached to a piece of metal in the mouth, one of the most sensitive places of the horse’s body, we can completely interfere with the horse’s balance. The horse’s head and neck is his balancing system. He uses it to counterbalance the rest of his body. Even riding in bitless bridles or rope hackamores can interfere with the horse’s balance and head and neck position. It is not only the reins or connection to the horse’s head that can restrict horses or unbalance them, tightness and restriction in the rider’s body will cause the horse to be restricted and unable to use their bodies in a comfortable, easy and athletic way.
Even so called advanced riders are causing horses huge problems because they do not understand the true biomechanics and balance of the horse. They put or hold horses in a frame, on the bit, or on the vertical, or are doing a variety of lateral flexions or vertical flexions with the head and neck that are extremely problematic for the horse.
Riders ask, but in reality it is more often demanded and expected, that horses turn loose and be completely obedient to their every direction and instruction, somewhat like a slave. Many humans just seem to think that it is their right to have horses at their disposal, to do what they want, when they want and how they want, whenever they want. Of course this is not all horse people but it is many and even many of the so called natural horse people. When horses don’t comply they are deemed disrespectful, dominant, spoilt, ignorant or badly behaved. How arrogant are humans to think that animals don’t deserve a voice, choice or opinion.
There are people who are advocating that we should not ride horses at all. And I agree in as far as to say, that if horses are not ridden in the right way, then they should not be ridden. My belief is that riding horses in the right way, is extremely beneficial and therapeutic for both horses and humans, at all levels of the mind, body and spirit. This happens when they are ridden in harmony with freedom and balance and with their thoughts, emotions and physical body considered. When horses are ridden in this way then they can want to be ridden.
In my experience most people want to ride with harmony and balance and do try, but very few really know what that is. They don’t really understand harmony and balance because they haven’t felt it in themselves. The human ego gets in the way, full of fear, negativity, control and competiveness.
It seems that most horse people including the experts simply do not know what horses are looking for because if they did people would not be having all the problems they are having with horses. People don’t know because they are not open enough to observe, feel and listen completely and compassionately to the horses or their own heart and intuitions. Instead they just follow the teaching and examples of others blindly. Connecting into the horses and our own inner self and feelings is the start of this learning.
Let’s look at it from a horse’s perspective and to keep things really simple let’s just look at it purely from a physical point of view for now. When we get on and ask a horse to go wherever we want to go, follow our focus, change direction or gaits, execute specific manoeuvres, jump jumps or hold a cow, we are essentially asking the horse to turn over the control of his entire being and body to us. Do you have any idea what that would be like? Put yourself in the horse’s shoes for a moment.
Imagine someone climbing onto your back and they were like an alien because they didn’t understand your language, so you felt that you couldn’t communicate easily with them. The saddle is uncomfortable and digging into you back. They are clamping their seat and legs into you, thus restricting your back muscles, spine and ribcage, even interfering with your breathing because you can’t fully expand your lungs underneath your ribcage. They ask you to move, but they are heavy, restrictive unbalanced and cumbersome. When you do not understand or do not comply because you are not comfortable or not sure of things, they get rough, stern, angry, frustrated or scared. You try to let them know that your back is hurting and that things are uncomfortable and their weight is not allowing you to move easily or comfortably, but they do not pick up on your subtle and polite energetic communication so you swish your tail, pin your ears and scowl and then are promptly reprimanded for having a bad attitude.
You succumb to moving to avoid confrontation but cannot move with a free swinging back as you are designed to move. The magic of horses is their power, freedom and athleticism but now your physical body and spirit is suppressed because you are physically restricted by your rider’s lack of balance, tight, tense body and or saddle. Or, because you can move athletically, your rider is too fearful and unbalanced to go with you, so they are completely interfering with your balance, jamming your neck in, shutting down your throat and restricting your breathing. You can feel the tightness and tenseness in the rider’s mind and emotions as well as their physical body. This worries you and you wonder if they are in a good state of mind to lead you and make decisions and keep you safe. You feel that you need to take control. You hear your rider talking about you to someone describing you as disrespectful and dominant. Your heart breaks because you are trying so hard and putting up with so much.
The faster the gait the worse it all gets. The rider is blocking your back and moving becomes hard uncomfortable and tiresome but still they want to keep going and now they want you to jump, or pick a canter lead or do a flying lead change. Because the rider does not understand your physical body, they haven’t got your weight, feet and body dynamics set up to execute these manoeuvres with ease. You don’t get the lead change or you stop at the jump or run out because you are out of balance, out of position or out of stride. So then there are the spurs jabbing you in the ribs either cutting you or bruising you or the crop hits you, or a yank in the mouth because you are going too fast as you try to regain your balance. You now just want to run away. The instructor yells “Don’t let him get away with it”.
This scenario is not even slightly exaggerated. In fact it is a mild version of what many horses put up with all the time. Not because people want to be mean to horses but because they have never considered things from the horse’s point of view or have not found a better way.
When we are riding horses we are asking horses to give their entire body to us to lead and direct and at the same time carry us and be athletic. What an amazing animal they are to allow us to ride them at all. Their patience, resilience, forgiveness and love astound me. I have met no human that has these qualities to the degree horses have. The mere fact of sitting on a horse interferes with their balance and movement. I cannot think of any other animal on the planet that on a global scale gives as much to humans as the horse.
If we are to ride them we must learn to ride them in a way that feels good to them. This means that we need to develop a lot of skill, feel and balance in ourselves mentally, emotionally and physically. We need to have a lot more empathy, compassion and understanding for the horse, understanding their minds, emotions, physical bodies and spirits. This is what ‘Connecting with Horses & Riding with Synchronicity’ is all about. Learning to connect into them mentally, emotionally and physically and then riding in total synchronicity with them so we are not in their way, inhibiting or restricting them. Riding and interacting with horses in a way that feels good to them. When it feels good to them, it will feel good to you and you will have more fun, pleasure and enjoyment with your horses than you ever had before. There is nothing greater that you can have with horses, than to have your horse ‘want to’ and to move in total synchronicity together. Once you have felt that you will never settle for less.