Our journey of Horsemanship: Leaving Room for Interpretation
I’ve never had an “English” language conversation with a horse, but over the years I feel that I’ve found some degree of a “common language” with which I use to communicate with them. I explain to students there is no “one” way to do things, and I always tell people “take what you like, leave what you don’t” from any learning situation. I finished reading a horse blog the other day and realized that in this day and age I don’t think you can participate in any aspect of the horse world without hearing the word “pressure” in reference to communicating with the horse.
Over the past few days while I worked around the property, I casually watched the horses happily grazing. As they meandered about the field, I started thinking about what “pressure” might mean to others; ideas and questions started to pop into my head, thus creating the platform for this blog.
Most moments of every day I have horse related thoughts floating through my brain. After enough years of “the lifestyle” I often forget what it was like to NOT live this way. I believe that the qualities with which you understand and the clarity with which you communicate are reliant upon one another. As I’m sure you’ve heard me say in other blogs, I feel it is my responsibility as an equine professional to attempt to explain, help interpret and teach in a manner to those unaccustomed to spending most of their day’s energy focused on their horse.
With that in mind, the word “pressure” can have multiple interpretations as to “what it really means” such as in the scenario of the horse within the herd, in the horse’s interaction with its handler, as in to the rider, as in to the coach, etc.
I believe that the word “pressure” is just as casually “thrown out there” as often as you hear people talking about “collection.” As with most things within a language, there is always room for further clarification and interpretation. There of course is also plenty of room for lack of understanding, as what all too often happens when a word, explanation, statement or example is taken out of context. For example take religion, philosophy and written literature, how many times have documents been “re-interpreted” for better or easier understanding and clarification? I think it is human nature to “want it better.”
For me, the “wanting it better” applies to all aspects of my understanding, teaching and ability to communicate both to equine and human students. I’m continually revisiting previous thoughts, ideas, epiphanies, etc. in order to propel my “forward moving” journey of horsemanship. I find that my teaching often improves my training, just as much as my hands on training improve the clarity with which I teach.
As much as I talk A LOT, I’ve also learned over the years to ask questions of my students. To assume that they understand my words as I meant them to be taken would be wrong. So questioning the student is never done in a challenging way, but rather in trying to understand their mindset. I want to hear them have to “think through” and explain the how, why and when to be sure they are not just “repeating” what I’ve taught them, but are able to grasp the theories, which in turn will help them when they are on their own and will “have options” in how they influence changes in their horse’s brain and body.
So I want to play a bit of a game for a moment- I’m going to use one word, and I want you think of the first scenario that pops into your mind in response. Here it goes, the word is:
Did you think of applying leg pressure to your horse’s side when in the saddle?
Did you think of using rein pressure?
Did you imagine a horse yielding from creating physical pressure with the lead rope?
Did you think of working at liberty and using your own physical movement as spatial pressure to influence your horse?
Did you think of your horse either spatially or physically “leaning on you” creating an uncomfortable spatial pressure from him being in your personal space?
Did you think of a horse showing physical signs of stress due to mental pressure such as swishing its tail, grinding its teeth/the bit, short/tight and inconsistent movement?
Did you think of a tool such as a lead rope, flag, or whip, to create both spatial and physical pressure to get a change in your horse?
Did you imagine changing your energy (increasing and decreasing the pressure of your seat) to influence the energy of your horse’s gaits?
Did you imagine walking past the “scary” spot and “pushing” your horse forward with pressure from your entire body?
As you can see the list can go on and on. My point being that depending on your past education, exposure, riding discipline, and experience, your interpretation of the word pressure could mean many things to you. As with all horse things, there is no definitive “right and wrong” as we explore translating a theory, word or manner of interacting with our horse.
For me, as both an ongoing student and current teacher; I don’t just accept a theory or statement. I don’t try to “beat it into the ground,” but over time I return to it to explore and experiment with the concept presented. Every encounter with the horses offers the opportunity to fine tune “what I thought I already knew.”
Someone once asked what my goals are if ride with a mentor to continue my own education process, and I said, “I go not to ‘work on’ a specific problem, but rather to recognize the things I don’t even realize might be happening.” This often is the case with folks who come to me with "only one problem," without realizing their issue is a symptom, rather than the root cause.
Here’s to keeping an open mind towards what you think you know, and realizing you may have change your assumed understanding to improve the relationship with your horse!