Almost anyone can sit on a horse, given the horse is calm and basic in his movements. Fewer people can sit on a horse that’s excited and sporadic in movement. But fewer still can guide a horse to be a better horse in general. And better in the ways of mental and emotional fortitude, clever and resourceful thinking, calm, responsive, and consistent. These “guiders”, not riders are what we aim to be, and the cool part is, we don’t have to be great riders to learn how.
Even the least skilled participants in my classes learn about guiding very quickly. First on the ground and then on the horse's back. But let’s not jump ahead too quickly. Let’s all make sure we agree on some basic ideas because perspective is powerful in this situation. If you have the perspective that a horse is to be “used” and not celebrated and honored, we won’t get very far together here. If you have the perspective that a human is similar to a horse on an instinctive, emotional level, we can go a long way today. I believe, and my colleagues as well, that a horse is an emotional being just like us. Knowing that gives us insights into how they would feel under pressure because… if we put ourselves in their shoes, that’s how WE would feel. That insight gives us grace in our communication rather than frustration. After all, if we walked a mile in their shoes, we’d behave in the exact same ways.
This perspective can make us great leaders and guides. The ability to see us in the same role changes how we communicate. So the first step in being a guide is holding in your heart a simple truth that we are not that different. The second step is learning to read the situation you’re currently stuck in. Great riders simply stick to the animal like glue, regardless of their movement. You can easily train and condition your body to become a better rider. In contrast, however, great “guiders,” don’t rely on their sticky butt. They rely on reading, adapting to, and changing the situational circumstances. And in particular, there are three things you need to read, all the time. (Alignment, Energy, and Connection.) The acronym I use in my clinics is, “Always Eat Chocolate,” or “AEC.”
Reading alignment is usually pretty easy for people to catch onto. On a basic level, it’s simply asking, “is my horse facing the right direction?” On a more advanced level it’s asking, “is my horse shaped correctly for the maneuver I’m attempting to perform?” Ironically, riders, not guiders, don’t notice alignment. They miss the cues as the horse steps into new spaces. They don’t seem to notice or care if the horse is twisting their body or hollowing their back or looking off into the distance when the task is close at hand. A great guider will notice and correct for those things.
Reading energy is a little harder to do. It’s simple enough to understand but it helps to agree on some terms. For reading energy I use a scale of 0–10.
3. lethargic and slow
4. easy going
5. perfect (responsive, quiet, patient, ready, willing)
6. a little tense
7. very tense but holding it together
8. feet are coming off the ground (very excited)
9. out of control (anybody’s guess what happens next)
10. blind panic leading to hospital bills
If we can agree on the definitions of energy on this scale we can start to share a language which leads to tips on how to manage a horse’s energy. Again… riders just ride, guiders lead. For instance, to get a horse to come back from a six or seven, a guider will often double down on turns and transitions to refocus the horse and bring the energy to a five. To bring a horse up from a four or three, a good guide will often play games that offer rewards at different points, giving incentives to the horse to reach a destination and feel accomplished. That feeling of accomplishment and praise leads to more sensitivity and a greater desire to perform. Managing the extremes requires a few more tools we can, and often discuss in our mastery group. check it out.
Finally, reading connection is just as important as the others. A rider doesn’t care if the horse is connected, a guider cares deeply. The first time I learned about connection I couldn’t believe I missed it all those years before. In the simplest form… it’s asking if your horse sees you. Will he or she reach for you? Will he or she touch you when you reach back? On an advanced level, it’s asking if the horse responds to your signals with ease, and smoothly, and without delay. It’s reading how quickly they recover from a task and move back to an “at ease” mindset. It’s reading how aware they are of you and their surrounding without being too aware of either. Reading connection is of primary importance to truly be a good guide and not just another rider.
Becoming an expert at reading Alignment, Energy, and Connection is something to aspire to and we have the tools to help you master it. The best part is… you don’t have to be a glued down rider with a sticky butt and fantastic balance. You can be anybody. All you need is a passion for learning.
We would love to serve you. Thanks for reading and please comment below. Don
With Mastery Horsemanship
I write to inspire, educate and encourage you on your horse and personal journey.
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