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The Whole Horse No. 37 - Be Water
May 12, 2014

Be Water

Spotlight On Training Philosophy and Riding Reality

“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless - like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Be water, my friend.” - Bruce Lee

A rider can understand a lot from the metaphor of water, on many levels. Water will seek the lowest ground, it avoids obstacles - yet given enough time and persistent contact, water can mould sharp stones into pebbles. Water is gentle and soothing, and yet when it is channeled into a powerful flow, water can shape rock and cut though steel.

This rock-face has been formed by water over time, and has taken on a beautiful imprint of its fluidity.

"There is nothing softer and weaker than water, And yet there is nothing better for attacking hard and strong things. For this reason there is no substitute for it." ~ Lao Tzi

Contact is the Key

One of the fundamental principles we have come to understand when working with horses is that contact is always a friend. In a spiritual context, is that not akin to seeking oneness and not separation?

Handling a horse - an animal many times stronger and faster than ourselves - becomes folly when it is done through separation:

instilling fear with ropes or whips, forcing the horse out of your space and dancing him like a puppet at the end of your rope, are all sending him further away, in Body and Spirit.

Whereas contact, whether it takes the shape of a kiss on the nose, or a channeling squeeze with your body, as long as it supports the boundary between you and your horse, and does not force through it using pain and fear… contact is your best friend.

Think of water when it fills a container. Wherever it goes, it makes contact as wide and as far as possible, it fills the space. Water's very essence of fluidity is a result of the 'sticky' nature of it's molecules whose electrical charge attracts them together. This charge on the outside of water molecules makes it incredibly flexible, at the same time as the inner balance of opposing charges makes it stable and cohesive. This balance is what gives water it's unique properties, providing the basis of all life on earth.

If you want to become one with your horse, you must understand how contact works - physical and energetic contact. Use your body to soften the horse, so that he moulds around you, and your energy to embrace your horse, so that you mould around him.

When you ride, there are two dynamics which work in harmony together:

The first dynamic is when you surround the horse.

First, you are like water, you make every part of your body comfortable for the horse, sculpting your legs and seat around the horse, and you hear the horse in every cell of your body. In every sense available to you, you hear the horse, and thus become formed by them. Their physical needs and their spirit shape your reactions, and your power to respond, your sensitivity, is your greatest gift.

This profound connection established, now you become the container that the horse fills with their movement.

Your posture must become strong enough to channel the flow. The horse then becomes you. Like water becoming the cup or the teapot. The horse is shaped by your straightness, your guidance, even your will. The power is all the horse's, and nothing you do must block that movement - only channel it, because you are purposefully allowing it into the space you have created, and shaping it with your structure.

Both of these dynamics are part of the same whole. They represent the peak and the trough, the in-breath and out-breath of the same wave.

The key to both of them is in the connection - the contact.

When you insist that one aid equals one response - teaching the horse learned responses, and basically relying on conditioning - then you lose contact. You lose intimacy and being in the 'now' with your horse. Every moment in life is unique, there are no learned behaviors in the present moment. Learned behaviors represent only dysfunctional human thought processes.

Such thought processes are engineered by the ego, and are therefore founded on fear. They are the enemy of living this moment, because they try to freeze each moment, inhibiting flow and flux. Fixing the horse's head in one place, following rigid rules to force rigid responses. Trying to make time stand still because the flow is difficult to control.

This is as if the banks of a river were to push aggressively into the water - forcing through the boundaries - disrupting the flow and eventually damming it up.

When we do this, we are making a stagnant pond of our horse, where algae will grow on the surface, and the movement will be restricted to a few ripples on the surface.

Blocking the horse's energy with force and holding has the same effect as water which has no flow, and becomes stagnant and impure.

When the rider channels the horse's energy posturally, it becomes powerful, dynamic and pure, with the flowing form of a wave at sea.

The message of this newsletter is that we do have to take ourselves to the river and jump in! Only when we let go of all the separation techniques which push our horses away from us on the ground, and push us away from the horse's movement in the saddle - only then will we actually begin to imagine channeling that flow.

The Truth Is In The Paradox

As in many dynamics which involve transmission of energy, riding is all about the balance between stillness and flux - a paradoxical yet interdependent relationship.

It is the stillness and stability of the banks of a river that allow the water to flow with a powerful current, just as it is the stillness and stability of the axle which allows a wheel to turn freely and powerfully. At the same time, it is the smooth flow of the wheel which permits the cohesion of the vehicle as it moves over the ground.

It is the inner stillness and stability of the rider's posture that allow the free flow of the horses energy in movement, and the continuum of the horse's transmission of power itself, enabled by postural engagement, which allows the rider to be liberated from the restraints of gravity and imbalance.

These contrasting dynamics could not exist if it were not for the contact between them - the interface that gives rise to the interaction. How could a river flow if the water were not in permanent contact with the banks?

The paradoxical permutations of our connection with the horse are endless, because, as we take the connection deeper, each facet of the relationship finds its truth in the balanced nature of opposite forces and contrasting energies.

To discover these infinite complexities, we need only understand one simple level of truth, from which we can expand out to ever greater truths, or focus inwards to an infinity of subtleties - such is the fractal nature of our universe.

If you want to become one with the horse, understand this simple truth: become the water first… then become the container.
Then the possibilities are as infinite as the ocean...

Warm wishes to all our readers, from Camille and Gabrielle Dareau

Happy Horse Training

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