Guest Post by Mattie Cowherd – Licensed Parelli Professional, 3-Star Instructor
For me, there is a certain peace achieved after a day of riding. In that moment, I can drift away from the past, or my distraction of the future. This allows me to simply BE – soothed by the passing of the moments rather than the struggle of my thoughts. I believe that peace and calmness are essential to developing the true art of horsemanship.
I still laugh when I remember my students’ faces as I galloped past them on a fat little cob during a trail clinic in Wales — eating an apple! The concept of peacefulness in full motion didn’t make sense to them. But, if I have true harmony and partnership with my horses, not even galloping at full speed should separate us.
Peacefulness should also extend to teaching your horse something that is scary or new. Pressuring a horse when it is on adrenaline is never a good idea. This natural drug in the horses’s system sets off its flight-or-flight responses. Horses don’t think when they are on adrenaline. Yes, you can force a horse through the experience, but you are likely going to have to repeat this lesson – again and again and again — because the horse is not mentally present. The horse’s brain is shut off, and it is operating strictly on instinct. If you use calmness, clear communication with your body, and patience, your horse will learn that he can make mistakes, and retreat when he is fearful. He will trust you to show him the way through a problem.
I believe that peaceful horsemanship starts with awareness – first of yourself, and then of your horse’s internal and external states. Are you tight? Are you worried? Is there a good reason for this? Can you foresee any issues during your groundwork session or your riding and if so, can you simply avert it by being passively proactive? And can your horse check in with you and see that things are indeed okay? Can he see that you have been a patient and progressive leader for him? Can he trust that you will not be afraid or offended by what he needs to do?
Perhaps I notice more strongly now what a true partnership feels like because I also know what a false partnership feels like. I can feel the lack of attention and the lack of trust. I feel the discordant communications when a horse is terrified and unable to think.
I can also feel the harmony and the moments of true oneness. I can see my horse reaching across our communication to ask me a question or answer confidently when he understands.
I feel the moments when my horse and I are slightly out of sync, and yet, I can refocus my energy and my intentions to bring us back to harmony in an instant. If I feel my horse and I are out of sync during new lessons or a moment of fear, I can ask my horse to trust me and let me guide him to the right answer.
It’s like a dance. You can’t dance with another person when you are both intent on correcting or defending yourselves.
You need silence between the notes.
Stillness between moments of movement is vitally important to your horse’s understanding. If you do not pause or release completely, your horse does not have a chance to learn.
It is in moments of stress or learning with our horses that our attention to PRESENCE is so important to our communication and relationship with them. Horses are only in the now – adjusting to the present with reference to memories of past experiences. Create your best self when you are with your horses. Strengthen the positive responses with reassurance and attention. Your horses will seek this praise with enthusiasm and will approach future learning opportunities knowing that their partners have their backs.
To learn more about Mattie, go to her website here.