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Getting to the Heart of it

We finished straightening up the viewing room, and I was getting a hot drink ready to head out into the cold. All the while, I heard a friendly bouncing of commentary – one person’s horse was bound to have rolled in the mud to spite her, another horse was always a challenge in new places, this person expected to be the first person to mess up, another person was sure she would get there first.

 “Listen up here, ladies, just for a moment.  We’re about to get the horses out, and you’re about to experiment with some things you may not have tried before.  Does anyone know what I mean by a little voice that chants things like ‘oh I did that wrong, I screwed that up, I’ll never get this, I’m the only dunce that can’t do this… I did not do enough… I failed…’?” The noises around the room left no doubt that this was a familiar refrain.


“It is a tough one to crack, that I know. But… as Leslie pointed out to me soon after we first met, if you are talking to yourself that way, you also load your horse up with it. He is responding to your best effort with his best effort, based on the feel you present. If you judge yourself to have failed, you also judge him to have failed.” The room went a bit quiet, just as I had when Leslie painted this picture for me in ‘07.

“Of course none of this was part of any plan I had for my horse, or myself, for that matter. It was compelling though, when she put it like that”.

The question is, how do you make a shift? How do you jump to the other track?

“This is the beauty of going out there now to work through feel. There is no sheet of instructions to go out and pass or fail with your horse, there are no boxes to check and no red ink” I said. Students would be experimenting with offering a certain feel, with a plan for a particular response from their horse. “If you don’t get the response planned, it is just an opportunity to absorb what your feel actually meant to the horse in that moment. Nothing more than a chance to learn about feel, which is exactly what we are here for.” I continued, “It is just a moment in time, in which to consider how you might adjust for the horse to understand what you really meant more easily, and take a fresh start.” 

By now the room had become so still you would hear a pin drop. For a split second I caught myself contemplating the possibility that the feel I was presenting was… bombing.  I smiled inwardly at the irony of such a thought bubbling up at this particular moment.

This seemingly small thing – a moment of self-doubt – runs deeper than one imagines: it literally short-circuits pretty much everything we have to offer. It disables our light, our individual gifts. It is limit-based thinking that manifests those very limits in real life – perception becomes reality. Since it is merely a perception, it is also a choice to go with it, or let it go. Awareness must come first. It feels like the lightness, the joy in you goes thud, as the force of self-doubt weighs you down, pulls you down – it is just a matter of how far. You feel yourself sliding into the abyss of inadequacy, unless or until you catch yourself. Most of us learn self-doubt well, very well, and it is a hard habit to divorce. I’m not sure we can altogether, if it is deeply rooted in our foundation of life experience.  A rather dismal reality in some ways, but one I can smile at, since I discovered you CAN learn to “jump the tracks”, and the more aware you get, the better you get at jumping. And right there, in that room was the spot: I could let that moment of self-doubt pull me down - and in this particular context take everyone down along with it - or not.

I felt the still for the next second or two. It wasn’t subdued, or dull, or grey, or heavy, as it seemed for that moment when I slipped ‘into my head’. It was rich, had depth and a lightness to it – rich in its openness to the wonder of what might just be possible, depth in the dimension added when heart enters what you do, and the lightness in an awakened passion, inspiration and release of potential. 
I had a very good feeling right then about what was to come that afternoon.

I had been swishing my ginger tea around in the cup for about the right amount of time by now. I took a sip and wound the label and string around the cup handle – then greeted a new auditor who arrived at that moment, with impeccable timing to release everyone without further ado. 

Mark Rashid

RashidBookCover

"I see an 'opening' as anything that allows us to help guide, however briefly, an individual in the direction we ultimately would like to go. An 'opening' can be, and often is, a very subtle form of communication between horse and rider that can easily slip past us if we're not paying attention. 'Openings' can and do work both ways. [...] It amazes me just how small an 'opening' can actually be, whether working with horses or with people, and how easy it can be to create an 'opening' when one is needed."

Mark Rashid

"I truly believe developing the ability to see and use 'openings' effectively is only one piece of what one might refer to as the 'harmony in horsemanship' puzzle. When this idea of understanding 'openings' is brought together with the understanding of two other simlar ideas - making a connection with another indvidual, and the role distance plays in overall communication - I believe it is then that harmony in horsemanship becomes a much less daunting concept for us."

Mark Rashid

Leslie Desmond

LDaudiobook

"Bill knew about a place I did not know existed, or could exist, between a horse and a human being [...] Bill included each one of my horses in that information exchange. Over the course of many months,... he took each one by its lead rope and, later, by the bridle reins. Using what he called his 'better feel', Bill showed me and each of them exactly what he meant by what he did [...] It was not long after I made the switch from force when needed (often) to always customizing the feel I offered to a horse, that two tough horses I had misunderstood for years developed into my most reliable mounts."

Leslie Desmond

The lightest hands carry intent that is recognized instantly by the horse, as seen in the maneuvers he chooses to make with his feet. Whether that horse is ridden or handled, the lightest hands can purposefully influence the speed, direction and sequence of each foot with accuracy, in a manner that is reflected in the horse's body and on his face.

Leslie Desmond

Bill Dorrance

bilsbook

"The Real Masters Understood Feel [...] For example, De Kerbrech, (French officer in the cavalry of Napoleon III) really understood horses. He had it fixed up so the horse could succeed. [...] The first time I read Beudant's book was in the 1950s. The way he explained things, there was no doubt in my mind about what a person needed to do to get these little things working for them and their horse."

Bill Dorrance

“Feel, timing and balance: sometimes it’s best to talk about feel, timing and balance separately, and to learn how to apply each thing separately on the start. But when you apply these three things a little later in your training, then you see that each one of these things supports the other. They are interconnected and all three are real important. You really can’t get along without all three.”

Bill Dorrance

Faverot de Kerbrech

FaverotBookCover

“...plus le deplacement du poids est facile dans tous les sens, plus l'equilibre est parfait. En vertue de ce principe, on dit que le cheval est 'en equilibre' quand de simples indications suffisent au cavalier pour modifier a son gre la disposition du poids sur ses colonnes de soutien”

Faverot de Kerbrech

[Translation: ...the easier it is to shift the weight in any direction, the more perfect the balance. By virtue of this principle, the horse is 'in balance' when a simple indication from the rider is sufficient to modify the distribution of weight across the columns of support (four quarters) accordingly]

Duke of Newcastle

CavendishBookCover

"You must in all Airs follow the strength, spirit, and disposition of the horse, and do nothing against nature; for art is but to set nature in order, and nothing else."

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle

"A confrontational approach ‘Astonishes the Weak Horse […] makes a Furious horse Madd; makes a Resty Horse more Resty […] and Displeases all sorts of Horses’. The alternative however is not ‘to Sit Weak […] but to Sit Easie’, in the understanding that ‘The Horse must know you are his Master’"

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle