Saturday, July 17, 2010

Being Aware

In so much of the work we do with horses, we need to be aware of the horse - its body language, weight shifts, foot placement and footfall, movement of various muscle groups, attention to us (or lack thereof) and feelings about the work. I think we humans often tend to go around in a fog, pretty much unaware of what is going on, either outside us or even with our own bodies - we tend to be preoccupied with our own, often jumbled, internal monologue. It was a big wake-up call to me in my horse work to learn to be more aware of the horse, and the horse's responses to my asks and the horse's own asks of me.

I'm at a point now where I feel the need to be attentive to and aware of the whole horse as I work - now that's not at all to say that I can always sustain this awareness reliably or for extended periods of time, but I'm getting better with practice and at least I have some idea of the need to be aware.

For me, the next step is to be more aware of myself in my interactions with the horse, but without losing the awareness of the horse - I need to have both. Once again, we humans - I'm generalizing from my own experience but I'll bet the generalization applies to many of us - tend to be pretty unaware of our own habitual "expression" - by which I mean the level of energy we usually carry, our posture, how we move our bodies and how our bodies interact with the body of the horse. Once again, we live so much in our heads, and our internal chatter, that we tend to lose this fundamental awareness of ourselves.

Dawn is really helping me with this work - she's a great teacher. She's exquisitely sensitive and objects to the too big, too clumsy movements, cues and degree of energy I often bring to her. I just do what I usually do and she points out to me where I'm unaware or overdoing it. To the extent she gets bracey or inattentive, it's often her telling me "you're too dull/too big and I'm tuning you out"; to the extent she gets nervous or rushy, it's often her telling me "you're too tight/not soft enough, your energy level is too high and you're overcuing". If she gives me "mareitude", it's usually a protest against something I'm doing that's careless or thoughtless in my interaction with her - her self-respect requires that I treat her with a corresponding degree of respect and care and softness. She's teaching me to refine what I do to the softest and quietest I can be - or even less - Dawn is capable of responding to the slightest change in mental energy or focus.

Dawn's a great horse for me to work with right now. But although she's extremely sensitive and interactive - she's glad to have an active dialogue with you if you'll just pick up the phone and listen to what she has to say - I actually believe almost all horses can be like this and can teach us these things. I just think a lot of horses are more tolerant than Dawn is of our human ways, and how overdone they are from the horse point of view. Many horses either are forgiving and just put up with us - and we assume that what we're doing is what's needed when it's really a lot more than what's needed - or just tune us out altogether. Sometimes getting bigger or louder or more forceful isn't really what's needed. Instead we often need to get smaller, quieter and softer to help us get the work done together with the horse, and a happy horse is one that's willing in the work.


  1. Watching the horse: Thats the clue and the key. I find.
    I was an ignorant horse person, when I first started, somr 30 years ago! I am now, less ignorant!
    But thats it, as I get older, I expect less, and recieve more by not assuming that.
    Your article has struck many chords with me. I have a young filly, she has been handled and allowed to take a path, that will in the end, keep her as a horse, and allow me to ride her, this I feel is THE two way give. Sounds wierd, but for me and the horse it works, I honestly feel that other humans experiences, and their knowledge, is the way. But sometimes, you have to take some things from each persons teachings, and apply it. I believe, that there are no hard and fast rules with anything.

  2. Sounds like you are continuing to do good work with your horses.listening to them and their bady language and seeing what your actions create takes a lot of focus ,but is so worth it when you connect the dots

  3. Great insights Kate. I know exactly what you are talking about. I have the same thing with Dusty, she is extremely sensitive and a great teacher. There have been many horses in my past that I see now were just tolerant or able to tune out what they didn't want to cope with. Although I was never an abusive rider I may have been guilty of not picking up the phone and listening to all they were trying to say. Thankfully, as I've gotten older and learned more I feel I am listening now and the truth is I am having much better rides with my horses and am more in tune with their feelings.

  4. Fantastic and well said Kate.
    Dawn is such a good teacher and most horses want to be..but if they are ignored and put upon by the human rider..they simply must over react or not act at all..and become dull and hard.

    Sometimes I wonder if it is me or the memory of times before me that my mare reacts to. I really try, but not having a consistent schedule kills our work theory to bits. She demands a nicely groomed work space..that is even/soft..and that is difficult to find around these parts, aside from HIGH End -snooty I am not able to work the way I wish too.
    I agree with all you have described. it is our responsibility to be attentive to the horses as we ride..they speak volumes!

  5. Are you familiar with somatic education? It's a great tool for learning from within one's body, namely the little talked about sense of proprioception (sensing one's place in space). And as a side benefit it also helps get ourselves out of our heads. I've had good experience with Feldenkrais, but there are several such modalities.

    Animals have such a strong sense of their bodies (I'd imagine horses are on the higher end as well, being such intuitive animals) so are great teachers to keep present and aware of oneself. In the end just by connecting and communicating with them, we learn about ourselves.


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