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The Whole Horse No. 25 - Why Does It Matter How You Ride?
July 08, 2013

Why Does It Matter How You Ride?

Spotlight On Training:

What Kind of Connection with the Horse?

One of the interesting similarities between the way we work with horses on the ground, and some of the 'natural horsemanship' we have seen is the 'energy' connection.

In fact, all horse people who love their horses and always put that love first, have a 'way' with horses which I believe comes from the connection we make through a meeting of minds. Mind in this case referring not to the 'intellectual' mind, which is a human adaptation, and is not a suitable way to understand or reach out to horses with. The 'mind' I mean is the part of ourselves we share with horses. In physiological terms it can be called the limbic system, or the 'old brain' and is associated with emotions and feelings, and when we connect with horses we are communicating with this part of ourselves. This is partly why being with horses is so therapeutic. Too many intellectual thoughts of past and future filling up our minds makes us stressed, whereas horses bring us back to what is real and that feels good. Once we are able to get on the same wavelength with a horse, (because we rediscover our limbic brain) then the techniques which follow are less important, it is the energy which does the talking. This is why you can call it 'games' or 'work in-hand' or 'playing' and the language is the same every time.

The difference however is in how the connection is made in the first place, and this is the really interesting bit, because it also explains why 'how you ride' is so important.

The first thing to make clear, however, is that this 'limbic connection' is not the same as using a horse's flight response. There is a scale of action and reaction between all separate physical beings. At one end is where an action gives pleasure, and at the other an action gives pain. In between there are varying degrees of comfort and discomfort. At some point along the scale, soon after the beginning of discomfort, the action will begin to induce tension in the recipient. Tension is the bodymind's way of communicating to itself that whatever it is receiving is a bad idea. As horses are prey animals, they are particularly well attuned to the tension advice, and they make strong associations which can even last a lifetime. So tension will make a horse attempt to escape the action, and this is often misinterpreted by the perpetrator as a yield or a submission, and this kind of training will continue as long as the escape attempts can be channeled in the desired direction. The problem is that a tense horse cannot learn (develop their central nervous system) or develop physically in a beneficial way. Any training which depends on tension cannot really be called training, it is really exploitation, and is not relevant in the following interpretation.

Other ways of working with horses use the 'positive' end of the scale; maybe the pleasure gained from food or praise, and this can open the energy channel and allow the pure connection to take place.

The reason we have developed another way than this at HHT, however, is that we have found that using an 'indirect' means to encourage a horse to respond, such as treats or praise, tends to push the horse out of the present moment, because they are already seeking to repeat the pleasure. That is fine if you want them to perform a single action or movement as such, and you are skillful enough to develop the association in their minds. We are not so interested in a single action, but in a state of mind and body in the horse, and in ourselves. So we use a 'direct' action which not only forms the eventual positive association with pleasure and comfort through the mind, but more immediately, it produces physiological responses which directly calm the horse and makes them feel good.

At the root level, this direct action is simply contact - physical contact, the same as a foal has with their mother, which gives confidence and security. We develop this contact connection with our horses in many different ways; bodywork with massage, energy work contacting emotions and internal structures, yielding work in handling and groundwork and the ultimate contact, the rider on the horse.

Different actions and their effects:

  • Non-physical - indirect: creating discomfort/pain and ultimately tension (using ropes/whip etc. in a threatening way)
  • Physical - direct: creating discomfort/pain and ultimately tension (striking, whip, spurs etc..)
  • Non-physical - indirect: creating comfort/pleasure (treats/praise etc.)
  • Physical - direct: creating comfort/pleasure (contact yielding/therapeutic touch etc..)

So now the question can be answered, 'Why does it matter how you ride?'

It matters because riding is the ultimate opportunity to not only contact the horse, but to use that contact to give the horse both comfort and, moreover, pleasure. If we can develop our own 'contact skill' in the saddle, then we can bring a horse into a physical high, a euphoria which comes from the physical revelation they find in their own balance and power and elegance.

Contact skill is multidimensional, it includes:
  • How each surface of your body which touches the horse connects, and how it acts
  • The orientation of your bodyweight in space, and how that influences the horse

  • The co-ordination of the riders own musculoskeletal system, which directly affects the horse
  • And, of course, the energy connection, which is the magic of all horse people, can shine through louder and clearer than ever when you can directly create a pleasurable experience for your horse.

The therapy and security for your horse of working with this kind of connection will bring them more and more into the present, as well as enhancing your own presence, which comes from seeking balance and co-ordination, so your energy bond will reach new heights.

Our passion for understanding the best way the rider can develop their body to have this positive effect on the horse is the motivation behind our new ebook, The Gymnastic Rider. It is a comprehensive guide to developing the seat, leg, and postural influence necessary to bring about the engagement of the horse. The book is written in a way that is accessible to any rider who is interested in the effect of their own body on the horse's way of going. This page on the Happy Horse Training site gives full details of the book: How To Ride A Horse In Balance

We are offering the 15-page introduction to the ebook for free. It explains the relevance of this way of riding, and the challenges presented by both horse and rider physiology, that can be overcome with the right techniques. This month's Try This At Home Tip is contained in this free introduction. It is an exercise for finding out if the basic intention you have behind your riding will set you on the right track for discovering the wonderful realm of riding in engagement. We cannot underestimate the importance of the underlying reason why we want to ride and train a horse, because everything else flows from there.

Download your free introduction to The Gymnastic Rider here:

Download Free Introduction

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Available from HHT:

The first part in HHT's Training series: How To Train A Horse Without Force. This quality e-book gives you a unique holistic understanding of training horses, from the very first contact with a young horse, through to a thoroughly explained method of lunging that is beneficial for any horse, not just in preparation for first riding, but at any stage of training.

With your purchase you will receive a free bonus supplement on Horse Trauma - cutting edge insights on this subject that up until now have mostly been applied only to human trauma. This supplement shows how to recognise, avoid and deal with horse trauma, which is much more common that we realise.

These two e-books, comprising more than 75 thousand words and richly illustrated, are available for only 19.99 Euros (around $26). Click here for more details.

Other HHT Products:

The Simple Seven-Step Natural Trim eBook

Learn how to perform the ideal barefoot trim with this comprehensive how-to guide.

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