HORSES NOTICE AND SENSE OUR MOOD, ATTITUDE AND GOOD OR CLUMSY BEHAVIOUR. THE SMALLEST GESTURE REVEALS OUR STATE OF MIND.
Our mental attitude, our ability to listen and the way we communicate our energy have much more influence on horses than our gestures and actions. This is why we should always pay attention to how we’re conducting ourselves.
Our task is to adapt to the personality of each horse: if we learn how to do this, we’ll soon realise that horses are better off with a friendly and understanding person. It’s possible to be convincing and demanding without being forceful. Our goals can be achieved through understanding. This works with humans and even more so with horses. Besides, horses learn very quickly – we’ve all seen that nothing gets past a horse! Our smallest gestures reveal our state of mind and the most insignificant out-of-place thought can interfere with our communication. In order to be receptive to the signals our horses give us, we must start by emptying our mind of all thoughts. We should remain firmly planted in the ‘here and now’ without thinking about the future and without any particular intentions. We must try to become aware of our mental state: are we nervous, angry or afraid? Or are we hopeful? This insight allows us to free ourselves of many of the thoughts that drain us and helps us to regain our focus on our relationship with our horse. We will therefore be more open and willing to receive the messages they send us. We can also use this approach for human beings: before we have exchanged a single word, we can sense the attitude of the people standing right in front of us. We must use this skill in our relationships with horses because it allows us to adapt our behaviour to each horse.
Horses ask us questions
At a later stage, we can express our intentions and then request our goals. We must be clear and determined but give the horse enough freedom to articulate its questions: “is this what you want from me?” Let’s take a closer look at this silent dialogue. In most cases, questions are expressed in the form of barely perceptible movements: the horse starts to respond, testing the waters to understand whether this is what the rider wants from him. For example, when a horse is advancing with its nose down, it’s important to be very careful and indulge him. It’s a chance to submit to the horse, telling him: “Yes, that’s what I want.” If we are not attentive and our mind drifts elsewhere, we may not give the horse the freedom to lower his nose, thus blocking his movement. The horse will interpret this as being forbidden from stretching his neck. It is precisely in these moments that mutual incomprehension and the initial use of force sometimes intensify to the point of becoming violent and imposing. The more distant and incomplete the answers the more difficult it will be to make amends. We must always keep in mind that horses need constant guidance and reassurance about what they are doing. They’re pack animals, after all.
Posture, a means of communication
Once we’ve taken on board what has been said above, we should reflect on one of the fundamental principles of Michel Robert’s riding: posture. It’s all about balance and agility. The rider’s posture must be stable enough to prevent him from clinging to support himself with his hands or legs. A good posture allows the legs to be intelligently close to the horse and the hands to be in contact with the horse’s mouth. The manuals codify the ‘type’ of posture, giving precise indications on how the rider should correctly position himself in the saddle. However, it should also be noted that complying strictly with the instructions does not always lead to a good result. Whilst respecting the codified guidelines, riders must aim to position themselves with a relaxed body.
Balanced relaxation of the body, starting from the back of the neck and moving down to the shoulders, torso, pelvis, arms, legs and ankles… allows the rider to instinctively enter into the right posture and limits the movements of his own body so that he can naturally complement those of the horse. Many riders conform to the ‘textbook’ saddle position, however they are unable to ‘feel’ their own body unite with that of the horse and are rigid and stiff; they bounce on the saddle during a sitting trot and are almost too straight, with a rigid torso and arms and fixed hands. On the contrary, if the rider adopts a soft posture, bringing his centre of gravity closer to that of the horse he will be able to adapt to any type of riding because his posture will always find a way to ‘fit into the economy of forces’. This means that the rider must always limit his interventions to the minimum amount necessary which depends on the horse’s ability to understand and respond. The effectiveness of an aid depends much more on the intelligence with which it is used than on the intensity with which it is used.