Today we had a heat wave - it made it to almost 20F! Early this morning it was about -8F when I went to the barn. When I went out to visit with my horses in the pastures, all the horses had frost on their eyelashes and muzzle hairs, and several unblanketed horses had frosty hair all over their bodies. I wish I'd had a cameral - it looked amazing.
I've been thinking/feeling/musing . . . and you know where that leads . . .
A lot of what we've learned about riding and working with horses - or at least what I've learned - is about technique - this method, practice, aid or cue to use to produce this desired result. It seems to me that this is a very mechanical way of thinking about things - this input to produce this output. Even if you attempt to do it with softness, it has a flavor of doing something "to" the horse - there's a separation, a disconnect, between you and the horse. But of course there's technique that respects the horse and technique that doesn't.
Now, I'm not saying that technique isn't important, and learning to use technique with softness is very beneficial - I'd say that describes many of the years I worked with Mark - I've been riding with and learning from him for over 13 years now. I learned a lot about my body position (particularly posture) and how to read/improve it, relaxation, not bracing, breathing, use of energy and timing - this is all valuable technique and benefits my work with my horses. And I think this is an important stage to go through - it greatly improves awareness of yourself and your horse and your horse's responses. And there are always refinements - last year, for example, Mark had me make a very, very tiny correction to what I was doing with my left leg to solve Pie's issue of falling in to the right. And I can always continue to be aware of and refine how I am addressing the horse with my body and breathing - awareness - really paying attention - is critical. Hours in the saddle - many, many hours - really have helped me with this - it's one of the reasons I ride so much (I also love it) - to become more aware, skilled and effective. Many of these things are becoming automatic for me, and I work every day to make them more built-in.
But there's more . . .
You might have noticed some small changes in how I write my posts about my rides with my horses - our rides. I've started consciously writing - and thinking/feeling as we ride - about "we" and "us". It isn't any longer about something I do with the horse - it's about something the horse and I do together as one. Not: I rode the horse; but: we had a ride. Not: the horse did this and then I did that; but: we did this. Not: my horse had a problem with this; but: we are having an issue with this. Anything that happens, we're in it together and doing it together as one.
The real deal for me and my horses now is to improve our mutual confidence and connection. And that has to start with me. I have to be confident, in myself (calmly and softly, not demanding), and provide leadership to the horse - to us - from that base. And I have to offer the horse connection - an intense awareness and openness - as continuously as possible - there's nothing a horse hates more than a dropped connection. If the horse knows the connection is available, they take it up - it feels like locking on - and then you're really there together - there's nothing in the world that feels better.
My three rides yesterday were very good examples. I couldn't let our "heat" wave go to waste - I rode Red, Missy and Pie in the afternoon. Red had had a day off and Missy and Pie had had three days off, all due to our extremely low temperatures - Pie and I and Missy and I managed only 8 rides in February and Red and I only had 10 - this is about half or less of our normal. (Dawn and I had only two rides in early February since it's been way too cold in the morning.) I just got and rode all three and we had three wonderful rides. All three horses were intensely connected to me and I to them. Missy's still dialing in to this, but every ride she and I have it just gets better and better. If we - Red and I together, Pie and I together, Missy and I together - were distracted or startled by something, we came right back to the connection and went on with what we were doing.
This is where our horsemanship needs to go next . . . the horses are ready and waiting, and I think happy about it. Pie, who has a tendency to be a bit of a grump, has actually been looking out of his stall expectantly at me - I think he's actually asking to come out for our ride - this is a new attitude on his part and very exciting. Missy, who really loves her food, leaves it and comes right to me when I go to get her, and Red usually waits at his stall door and won't eat until we've ridden. Maybe they feel that I'm finally starting to get it . . .