Monday, September 24, 2012

Analogy of the Dance

I'm thinking about the analogy between working with a horse and a dance between two people, which may help make what I'm talking about in my prior posts on my two challenges a bit clearer.  Despite the fact that the horse is big and the person riding/working with the horse is much smaller, and the two people are roughly the same size, I think this difference matters almost not at all to the analogy.  If you haven't already, it would probably help if you read yesterday's post in order to understand what I'm trying to say.

So, imagine two people dancing together - no words allowed, with a leader and a follower.  The way most of us were taught to ride, this would involve one person (the leader) pushing and shoving on the other person (the follower) to get them to do what was wanted, and occasionally jabbing, jerking or whacking the other person when they did something "wrong" or didn't understand what was wanted quickly enough.  Some of this would be characterized as "you're the alpha", "your partner has to respect you", or "get after them and make them obey you".  It might even be characterized (in some respects wrongly, I think - I think this phrase is often misunderstood) as "make the wrong thing difficult".  Doesn't present a very pretty picture, does it?  The dance that resulted would involve a lot of frustration, resentment, anxiety and missed opportunities.  Most human dance partners wouldn't put up with it for a minute, but most horses unfortunately do.  (This is why Mark Rashid often jokes that all horse people should have to start with a mule - he says that would result in a lot fewer, and a lot better, horse people, since most mules won't put up with that sort of stuff.)  I was certainly taught to ride that way.  You see a lot of this style of riding in all disciplines, and it can even be successful, but only because a lot of horses are so darn forgiving, although some aren't - the ones that get labelled as "problems".

But perhaps the leader in the dance wants to work in a better way, and produce better results.  The philosophy shifts to one of mutual respect, but with one person still being the leader.  The leader still uses physical touch and body cues, but does so in a way that allows the follower a legitimate opportunity to offer a try, and then rewards the try with a physical release.  There's still some pushing and pulling possible at this stage, although the leader can learn to apply physical cues offering softness, without bracing. If the follower doesn't understand what is wanted, or can't do what is wanted because of a physical problem, the leader doesn't physically discipline them, but tries to understand (without words) what's going on. This attitude of mutual respect by the two dancers, and the elimination of physical discipline as a training "tool" allows for better learning and the beginnings of a partnership involving mutual understanding.

The next stage is a refinement of the last one - the leader now looks for ways to minimize physical cues, and use the direction of energy, breathing, focus and intent to lead the dance.  The dance is getting pretty good at this point, and the follower is much more willing and more "with" the leader.

Finally, you get to the point - I'm seeing Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in my mind - where the two dancers are moving together on feel alone.  In the case of horses, there's still a leader - the human - who offers the thought to the horse - and a follower, the horse - who connects with the thought and performs the action.  But at this point, there's very little separation between the two - they act as one, connected by a live "feel", and perform the action together as if they were both doing it.

That's where I want to go - it's the work of a lifetime but that's just fine with me.  Even at the ultimate stage, or between the last two stages, there's a place for cues and aids, but I think their use at that point is a bit different than our usual way of thinking about them.  More about that later . . .

10 comments:

  1. Kate, this is wonderful stuff you are writing here. It really takes what should be obvious (but often isn't) and puts it into a mental reality for me. The Fred and Ginger analogy is perfect, as I have always wished I could dance like that. Here is what I just realized about my self from reading this blog.
    I want to be soft and easy with my horses.
    I also wish I could dance beautifully and smooth like Fred and Ginger, but I am clumsy and akward most of the time. I suspect that if I worked on my muscle memory a little more I could do better with the horses. But maybe I need to back up and take this from a different point of view. Maybe instead of being the leader in all things I need to be a follower just for a little bit. Maybe I need to be the horse. So how do I accomplish this? Well my man loves to dance, and he is a wonderful dancer. We have tried unsuccessfully to dance together but I always end up clutsing it up. I think I am so caught up in my head with letting go of the control, I cannot read the signs of what is coming next. I cannot follow his lead. So perhaps the answer for me is to start slowly, letting him do some "ground work" on me, so that I can learn to read his cues. Perhaps if I can learn to read the slight cues, then I could learn to give the slight soft easy cues.
    I am so thrilled I found your blog to follow. Your insight and ability to share from a new perspective is refreshng and oh so helpful!
    Thank you.

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    1. Cindy - thanks for your very kind comment. Your idea of learning how it feels to be the follower is a good one!

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  2. Good, good stuff!! You're on the right path Kate. Thank you for sharing. :)

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  3. This very analogy -- and my love of the process -- is why my training blog is called "Dances With Horses." :-)

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    1. Michelle - you're right about the dance!

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  4. Thank you so much for these wonderful posts!!! I agree with every thing you say but it is so easy to forget. Thanks for reminding me of what the real goals of connecting with a horse are.

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  5. My rides on Cowboy this summer have been like an effortless dance--like two people who have danced so long together that they know where the other one is going. I don't feel like I've done anything different, but maybe we've just worked out a new dance language. I definitely don't feel like his "leader" anymore. In fact, if anything it may look like we've taken steps backward in some areas because I'm listening to his discomforts and making adjustments that I wouldn't have made in the past. There have been a few times that I've felt kind of bad for making these "adjustments"--like I'm giving in, but the proof is in the saddle and in that area he has been amazing.

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  6. Awesome!

    A really good dance looks like it was memorized, so the audience may not even appreciate the level of communication achieved by the dancers. :)

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  7. Wonderful analogy. I'm hoping that my work with Rio will be a dance, so far he is looking to me for leadership and I don't want to be the kind of leader that manhandles you into the next manoeuvre- I have danced with people like that, and it causes bracing and annoyance in me, so I'm sure it would in a horse! My husband is an excellent dancer, but has his own style and I have learned to dance with him through intuition rather than correct form- so this is something I can take with me to the training pen.
    I've had plenty of those dance moments with Beamer, but it would be lovely to be there 100%.

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  8. Kate - thank you for sharing. You have a gift for explaining with words things in way that makes them understandable and believable. I think we have a similar passion for the end goal…to experience that live feel where the horse and rider become one. To me it would be like in the movie Avatar when the tsaheylu or bond is made with the banshees or direhorses. I strive for this oneness – but I have so much more to learn about quieting myself. Getting to that mindfulness state where the horse would welcome that connection and be able to feel something more than just static noise. Pleasant journeys…Jackie

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