Note: Read the comments - they make some things clearer.
Apologies for a second somewhat long post, with lots of links, in one day - it's one of those days where stuff is just coming to me and I have to write it down. If you haven't read the prior post, "Being Aware", you might want to before you read this one, as the two posts are related.
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Last year at about this time I did some posts on my history with horses and where I thought I'd been and where I thought I was going next. These posts were:
The first post was about where I'd been in my horsemanship journey, first climbing the mountain of traditional horsemanship, then breaking it down and starting all over again to climb the mountain of using non-coercive methods to ask horses to do what I wanted in a way that was more respectful of the horse, and much more effective. At that time, I felt that I'd come some way climbing that mountain, and could see the next mountain beyond, where I could further develop my attention to the horse and not just use pressure and release "technique". As I said then:
I've learned not to use force to "make" the horse do things, but to ask, using pressure and release and the softest cues I can. But I've been focussed on doing one thing, and the next thing and so on - building links in the chain so my horse better understands what I am asking and can comply. But I've still basically got a mechanical horse - just one that responds to more humane and thoughtful cues than I used to use.
For me the next step on the road was learning to pay even closer attention to the horse and what the horse is saying, and to start to have a dialog with the inside of the horse, not just working by cuing the outside of the horse.
In looking back at the past year, with all its ups and downs, I feel I've made progress and have been slowly climbing the mountain of attention to the horse. But now I've got to really work on me - my body and mind - so that I can communicate more effectively and subtly - this is the next mountain I need to climb. This will require me to break down and rebuild once more. I always try to remember that a horse can feel a fly land on its skin - no wonder so many of our interactions with horses must feel to them like shouting - as I said back then: "A lot of resistance to our cues comes from the horse objecting to how we make the request, not necessarily the request itself."
Here's a partial list of what I need to be aware of - and all of this has to happen while I'm attentive to the horse and our dialog:
What is my goal - what, exactly and precisely, do I want the horse to do?What cues will I use to ask and what are the progressive steps of the task - how many steps can I break it down into if it's a more complex task? Can I direct the horse's thought in order to direct the horse's feet?Precisely what intent will I communicate to the horse - level of energy, direction, speed, destination?What is the exact level of the very softest physical cue I can use, and exactly when (in terms of space and also the horse's body position and footfalls) will I use it?As the horse understands what I'm asking, using a very soft cue, is there a way to reduce the cue even further so it becomes just a whisper, or just a change in mental energy or focus?What's the exact release and how subtle can it become while still giving the horse the signal?How should I be breathing as I work on the exercise? Are there points in the exercise where I can use my breathing to cue or assist the horse?Where is my mental focus? Can I cue using mental focus?Do I have a focus point to move towards together with the horse?Where are my eyes looking and should this change through the exercise? Can I use my eye position to cue?What's my head position? Can I use a subtle change in head position to cue?What's my spinal position and posture?Where - what joints/muscles - are carrying tension or braces and can I release those so that tensing a particular muscle or stopping the movement of a particular joint can communicate something specific to the horse? (I want to do this during a loose rein walk warm up so that I start working from a point of relaxation and intention.)How am I breathing - both mechanically and in terms of rhythm?What is each body part doing - head, neck, shoulders, back, pelvis, hips, and down each leg and arm? Is each body part where I want it to be in relation to the horse and the other body parts?Am I able to activate any body part independently of each other part while the horse and I are moving together so I can communicate precisely with the horse?Are there any twists or tilts in my body in any axis? (Sometimes an observer can be helpful with this.)Am I riding in a balanced position - and I don't care whether I'm bareback or in a Western or English saddle - if the horse were to vanish would I be in a stable position with my feet on the ground, or would I fall over?Where's my center of gravity - am I "in" the horse or ahead, behind or to one side?Am I actively riding at every moment - am I "there" with the horse, moving with the horse without braces and feeling the horse - so that I feel what the horse is thinking and if the horse makes a sudden movement I'm "with" the horse?In ground work (in addition to most of the questions above) - how am I moving my feet and each part of my body? (I don't believe in standing still, even when lungeing, as I think this takes away an important means of communication and also doesn't give the horse the feeling that we're working together.) How is each part of my body and focus oriented and what is that telling the horse? Am I using my center of gravity to stay in a balanced and effective position?
And finally - this is the biggest one and the ultimate objective - can I make my body join with that of the horse, so we are moving together as one, where my thought and slightest adjustments in body position communicate with the horse, and I can really "feel" the horse communicating back to me in dialog - the horse's body becoming my body and the horse's feet becoming my feet as we do the work together with mutual joy and understanding. This is very exciting stuff, and I'm looking forward to climbing this next mountain together with my horses.