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Accessing the Mind

 

Building a New Foundation: Accessing the Mind

As with any foundation, a horse is only set up to offer accurately what is asked if he clearly understands the meaning in his lessons. He can only achieve this if he is in a learning frame of mind when new information is presented – in other words, if we as handlers can access the horse’s mind in a way that keeps him curious, confident and engaged in what we offer to him.

To begin, I quietly re-worked Spring’s “need” for me to stand by the left side of her head, which she seemed to have learned meant she was safe and could predict what came next. This is common in domesticated horses due to our human bias in handling a horse on the left, a “correct” habit passed down from the mounted cavalry, and encouraged by our equipment fixtures typically being fitted on the left. For Spring, the familiarity in this routine at the ranch had led to this position relative to her handler becoming her elected way to find comfort as she awaited further input.

(Note: it is not a natural instinct for horses to position themselves with a handler blocking their left eye, or standing in their blind spot. It also tends to imbalance the horse and make a crooked ride later, due to the resulting weighting of the left shoulder, the compensating effect propagated to the opposite hip and loss of stability in the left diagonal. This will brew up many challenges, from stalling out in turns to difficulty with canter leads – or any (most!) maneuvers which rely on a solid diagonal base of support.)

Establishing a new “neutral”, with me behind Spring’s elbow, led right into re-working her response to a handler approaching her wither – which was to get tight throughout her body, plant her front feet and evade laterally with her hind quarters.  Not a good thing to practice for a saddle horse either: we need to engage the hind quarter and keep all four quarters connected through the diagonal pairs of feet for balance and cadence, not disengage and disconnect front from back.  There is a use for this at times of course, but habitually exercising this disengaging maneuver adversely affects the horse’s way of going, including stopping and standing – because he will develop a posture that makes it difficult for him to maneuver for you, as he is weighted in front and unbalanced due to disconnected diagonals.

lateralflex

Photo 9: Spring tunes in and offers the root of her neck to the right, towards my float. Note that I had moved back to her hip, because she had still seemed cramped in her offer when I was behind her elbow. It is obvious from this photo that the generous offer she had in mind needed the extra space. It was rewarding to adjust for her, and see her transition from a locked brace in her neck at the start, to this offer, simply by making the right thing obvious and offering up an open invitation. (photograph by Trine Bohnsdalen)

At the same time, this posture makes it easy for a colt to buck if he has a consistent ground foundation that prepares him to liven up his back feet with fronts planted. So this is not the best scenario for a first ride on a colt.

I got still inside, and stayed behind Spring’s elbow, moving my feet as little as possible. When I did need to move, I was sure to move at a slower tempo than her own feet were moving. It wasn’t too long before she tuned into my feel and began to relax a little.

She clearly enjoyed the restored space around her head, neck and shoulders. The opportunity to connect with her mind started to emerge fleetingly. I built on this as I began accessing the mobility in the root of her neck (see Photo 9). I presented a feel for her to flex slowly left, right, up and down, for the asking. This is the key to achieving almost everything or in fact, anything, with quality. Physically, if she offers the root of her neck, she also elevates her shoulders and frees them, helping shape her for any maneuver. As she does this, she gains access to the full capacity of her diaphragm to breathe, which releases her curiosity and interest in learning. This was a good place to start with Spring and a good path to significant changes rooted in those fleeting moments of connection through feel.

This article reports clinic experiences only and is not intended
for instructional purposes.

by Karen Musson, October 2008, V3.0

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