Dianne Lindig Tobin

Part I: Introduction
My passion is riding and horsemanship. My partner, Peter, likes riding, but he is passionate about golf. He finds it amusing that I can spontaneously launch into a one or two hour conversation about training or behavior with only the slightest spark of encouragement from a fellow aficionado. However, he takes his golf habit very seriously, as reflected by the many hours he spends exploring and analyzing every detail and nuance of his chosen sport. Sometimes, at the end of a day when we’ve each engaged in our chosen pursuits, we’ll come together to compare notes. When I ask him, “How was your day?”, he sometimes replies with disappointment, “I had a really bad day on the course. How about you?” My honest reply is almost always the same, “I can’t really have a bad day when I’m riding.”


Those of you with a passion for riding understand what I’m saying. No matter the level of technical performance achieved, the rider almost always receives something satisfying from the experience.

Nevertheless, each of us will admit that there are certain days or sessions when the experience goes beyond being “good”, and enters the realm of “extraordinary” or even “magical”. When this happens, the seamless interaction between horse and horseman makes it impossible to tell where one being ends and the other begins. It is what we all hope and strive for each time we ride. Yet, it can be elusive and hard to identify.

The well-known trainer and clinician Ray Hunt once said, after he had outlined the basic concepts that he uses, that there is “one other thing that makes it all work, and I don’t know what it is.”1 No wonder this skilled and respected horseman had trouble describing this “one other thing”. Language, especially English, is woefully restrictive in its ability to describe any phenomena which relates to feeling, intuition, or unconscious insights. In some ways, it’s a miracle he even mentioned it, since many teachers and trainers are afraid of being discredited for acknowledging an aspect of their craft which cannot be fully described in familiar or scientific terms. I believe that when Mr. Hunt said of the “one other thing”, ... “I don’t know what it is”, that he mis-spoke. On an intuitive level, he knew with every fiber of his being exactly what it was. He simply realized that he couldn’t reduce its essence to words.

In a 1994 Dressage and CT magazine article, world-renowned trainer and writer Dietrich von Hopffgarten wrote... “Only if we listen to our partner the horse...only if we try to achieve with feeling and not force will we discover a certain degree of the secret. For me, this secret is the magical connection.”2

I believe that what these two highly regarded horsemen are describing, what many of us have experienced and observed in the finest riders, and what we try to convey to others seeking it, is a state of shared awareness between horse and human, one that integrates intuition and intellect, sub-conscious connection and conscious skill, from which a collaborative spirit is born between horse and horseman. I call it Whole Horsemanship.

In many ways, Whole Horsemanship shares much with current methods of sports psychology which use meditation, visualization, and the repetition of mental and physical cues or routines in order to create or repeat a desired result. The main difference, of course, is that instead of inanimate equipment, horsemanship involves another large, living participant which must be equally involved in the process. While this makes it more complex and challenging, it is also the aspect of horsemanship that gives it a richness of experience which transcends pure sport.

Part II: The Sensual, Sub-Conscious Connection

In order to experience Whole Horsemanship, one must overcome many of the prejudices of Western culture, which typically values intellect over emotion, mind over heart, objectivity over compassion. In business, the workplace, politics, and beyond, those qualities associated with “the feminine”- such as intuition, empathy, creativity, are considered weak and ineffectual, and are often abandoned for the “masculine” qualities of objectivity, dominance, and the hiding or denying of emotions. But in the ultimate horse and human relationship, these seemingly opposite qualities must coexist. Without the “feminine” qualities, the human inhibits his or her ability to connect to the horse on a subconscious, intuitive level, while denying the “masculine” leaves the participant with little way to develop and access the focus and problem-solving skills needed to engage these intelligent and powerful animals.

Because the first premise of Whole Horsemanship, a sub-conscious connection between two living beings - in this case two separate species - is the more difficult for people to understand or access, I’d like to offer some alternative ways of understanding how it can be possible. When people first read or hear me speak of it, they often leap to the conclusion that I’m referring to telepathy. While I personally don’t rule telepathy out as a possibility, there are other ways of explaining this phenomenon. As you read further, you’ll see that in this case, science and intuition are not really so far apart.

First, consider how two people who spend a great deal of time together tend to know each others’ moods and needs without need for the spoken word. Or how athletes who play together on a team for a long time can predict each others’ movements and are able to react to them without having to take time to analyze a situation. Similarly, dancing and skating pairs can move as one, but only after hours of rehearsal time through which their “chemistry” becomes gradually stronger. In the same way, a horse and a human bond can develop gradually, through hours of time spent together, especially if it includes non-training time, such as grooming, massage, or just “hanging out” in the same space. As the two beings become familiar to each other, an element of trust develops through the predictability of each others’ actions and reactions. This mirrors the process by which members of a herd form relationships and find their yearned-for place within it.

Now, let’s take a look at the nervous systems of both species. Both have, of course, a central nervous system consisting of the brain and spinal chord, but we both also have an autonomic nervous system - named for its ability to function automatically - consisting of the sympathetic, enteric, and parasympathetic nervous systems. Traditionally, the brain has been given credit for being the control center, overseeing the process of interaction between these systems. Recently, however, science has recognized the enteric nervous system - the nerves around the intestine, stomach, and esophagus, as a complex, integrative brain in its own right. On a biomolecular level, emotions can actually be initiated and responded to here, before the brain even becomes aware of them, creating a “gut reaction” to a stimulus.3 More neurotransmitters and neuromodulators can be found in this system than anywhere else in the human body.4

Now consider the phenomena of sympathetic vibration and resonance. We all recognize the traditional examples, such as the spontaneous vibration of an un-plucked string when it receives vibrations from one of the same resonance, or the spontaneous breaking of a glass when its sympathetic pitch is held by a singer, etc. In her book, The Tao of Equus, author Linda Kohanov asserts that “one of the ways in which the autonomic nervous system interacts with the outside world is through resonance. Horses, who have much larger and more sensitive guts than humans, arguably have a much larger brain in their bowels - and more resonant surfaces with which to detect nuances of information.”5 It’s possible that the ability to transmit information between members of the herd in this way is an evolutionary adaptation that has played a role in the survival of horses as prey animals.

Is it so great a leap, then to assume that a similar phenomena could take place between horses and humans as part of their sub-conscious bonding, particularly if, through extensive physical contact and time spent together in a meditative type of state the two have essentially become tuned to the same physical and emotional “wave length”?

In ancient cultures which are still more attuned to their intuitive natures, such species to species interaction through resonance is not only thought of as “possible”, but is considered a natural part of their day-to-day lives. In the Oscar nominated documentary movie The Story of the Weeping Camel, an ancient ritual is employed by members of a nomadic tribe of shepherds in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia in an effort to persuade a female camel to accept a foal which she has refused to feed or nurture since its birth three days earlier. The ritual involves the playing of a horse-head violin as a cantor chants the letter sounds H-O-O-S while gently stroking the young female camel, which has been traumatized by the difficult birth of her first foal. The ritual works and nobody seems surprised. According to the grandmother of the film-maker, herself a member of the tribe, the ritual and its effects are “as natural and predictable as drinking a cup of tea.”6

Personally, the possibility of sub-conscious interaction between living beings through resonance is certainly no harder for me to imagine than the scientific fact that waves from various parts of the brain can be detected and measured by electrical receptors outside of the skull. And while many traditional trainers would be reticent to claim a sub-conscious bond through resonance to their mounts, consider the example of NRHA Hall-of-Famer Bob Loomis, who says that he likes to “hum” when he wants a mount to slow down.7 Sounds an awful lot like sympathetic vibration to me.

Next, consider how horses see the world. Whereas we tend to focus on one or two particular stimuli at a time, horses see one big view (their eyes, larger than those of an elephant or whale, are placed on the sides of their heads), with all stimuli - sight, smell, touch and taste - being experienced at once, and having equal weight until something unusual draws attention to itself. This, again, is an adaptation upon which their survival as prey animals has depended. While we notice big, obvious things, horses’ attention is drawn to subtle but significant changes in the multiple sensory stimuli they are receiving, ones which our mind might disregard as superfluous. For example, in the wild, subtle body language reveals whether a nearby predator is simply taking a nap in the brush, or is stalking its next prey. A movement or sound that seems artificial or out of place (one which would seem insignificant to us), will immediately draw the horse’s attention and focus to it. When we move or act tense or out of character, or use a voice that seems out of place or inappropriate, a horse will notice and apply significance to it immediately.

When a human approaches a horse, the first observations the horse makes are the details - respiration, heart rate, muscle tension or relaxation and mood - if not through resonance, then through the subtle nuances of posture, facial expression, and body language that express them.

Regardless of how you think that the subconscious horse-to-human connection is possible, it must start from a basis of mutual respect on equal terms as living beings. This is not to say that you should let the horse “walk all over you”, but rather that you shall not consider the horse’s way of viewing and dealing with the world as somehow inferior to your own, but rather simply different. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself handicapped when entering their world by your inability to adapt your way of thinking to one that works with theirs.

On more than one occasion, I’ve seen evidence that horses sense whether a human respects or disrespects them. In one such case, a man visited our ranch with his family. We’ll call him Mr. D. On their first ride, Mr. D was jovial and talkative while he proudly told what he thought was a humorous story, about how when he was growing up he would ride his father’s farm horses with only a halter and hit them in the side of the head with a stick to turn them. While he didn’t do anything particularly abusive to his mount, Impy, on the ride he treated him like a machine, made no attempt to connect with him, and took no responsibility for his part in the riding experience. The whole thing was, for Mr. D, just another silly thing to do with the grand kids, like taking a roller coaster ride at an amusement park. At the end of the ride, Mr. D showed Impy no appreciation for balancing his clumsy body throughout the ride.

The next morning, we were tacking up for the family to ride again, and I noticed that Impy was unusually agitated. Although the man had not been physically abusive to him the day before, the horse seemed to be dreading carrying him again. From past experience, I knew that Impy would take care of the man fine, once we had begun the ride and he had a task to focus on. To avoid any confrontational issues arising before mounting our riders up, I and my assistant asked Mr. D and his family members who were milling around the barn aisle to please “just leave Impy alone” until we were ready to mount up for the ride. For a few seconds, I then turned my back and went inside the tack room to retrieve a bridle. I walked back out of the tack room and into the aisle just in time to see Mr. D sticking his fingers under Impy’s girth and tugging, which in turn solicited a major head-swing in Mr. D’s direction with Impy’s teeth bared and his ears back. Before I could get any words out, Mr. D’s hand was raised and about to strike Impy’s left ear. Quickly, I placed myself between man and horse, and explained that, “If Impy had really wanted to bite you, he wouldn’t have missed his mark. He’s just asking you to move out of his space.” I wouldn’t have taken the horse’s behavior as a reflection of the man’s attitude toward him, had I not seen this same big, gentle gelding, on two other occasions, immediately relax and bask in the presence of another gentleman whom he recognized as someone who had gently cared for and ridden him on a previous visit to our ranch several months before. Moreover, it wasn’t that Mr. D’s’s tugging had been painful for Impy. It was the same sort of motion I might do to check his girth with no reaction whatsoever. What I observed was Impy’s sensing a lack of respect and appreciation for him on Mr. D’s part.

So, what are some ways that you can encourage the subconscious bond to form between you and your horse, or between you and all horses, for that matter? Whereas it is a process that one must feel one’s way through, here are some guidelines:

· Simply acknowledging and seeking this subconscious connection is a start. Your very awareness of it and receptiveness to it will encourage it to develop.

· Spend time with your horse, both training, and non judgmental time such as grooming, massage, t-touch, and just “hanging out” in the horse’s area. You can fix fence or do repairs, or read a book if you want. You’ll probably find that the horse won’t leave you alone.

· Go through a brief, pre-session routine of deep breathing, balance, and stretching exercises to release tension in your body and lower your heart rate. Develop a sense of non judgmental calm that underlies everything else in your awareness. Maintain this feeling and demeanor as you begin working with your horse, and maintain it throughout the session.

· Engage your horse’s attention with body language and eye contact that mimics how they engage one another in the herd. The signals identified by Monty Roberts in his “Join-Up”8 process can be helpful. Take time to place your hand on your horse’s neck or other fleshy area, breathing with regular, rhythmic breaths for 20 to 30 seconds before you move on to more focused, complex work together.

· Develop a relaxed, rhythmic pattern of movement and breathing that encourages your horse to relax, and maintain it throughout the session.

· Experiment with your voice to see what tones are soothing, as opposed to demanding of your horse’s attention. (Each can be useful in a training situation). Be aware of them and use them consistently to praise, calm, engage, or cue your horse accordingly. A word of advice, usually less is better when it comes to how horses perceive human voices.

· Leave other emotional issues elsewhere when you go to work or play with your horse. Meditate or “breath through” any uncomfortable feelings until they dissipate.

· If something unrelated to your horse is upsetting you, and you choose to interact with your horse in spite of this, don’t try to hide that you are upset. The horse will sense that you are “acting” your way through the situation, making you appear similar to a predator who is hiding his interest in his prey before he actually intends to attack. Allow yourself to talk about it to your horse, to the air, bang a feed bucket, or cry. As long as the horse knows the bad feeling is not directed at him, he’ll be OK with it. A sympathetic horse will even try to calm you down with their own quieter bio-rhythms, and often it works. Don’t expect your most technically perfect rides on these days, but enjoy the other aspects of your horse and human relationship.

· Practice meditation on a regular basis to calm yourself, or to clear yourself of other emotional issues before arriving at the barn.
· Try to find or create an environment with few distractions which leaves you and your horse available to connect with each other.

· Avoid time constraints. Take your time. Horses pick up on it when you are “in a hurry”, and it makes them uncomfortable and less willing to engage with you.

Part III: The Development and Interjection of Conscious Skill
Now that we’ve explored the subconscious connection element of Whole Horsemanship in some depth, it’s time to turn our attention to the equally important aspect of the development and engagement of conscious skill in our interaction with horses.

There are several reasons why I chose to address the subconscious side of Whole Horsemanship before addressing the development of conscious, technical skill. As I mentioned near the beginning of Part II, the idea and practice of it is for most people, more difficult to grasp.

Another, more significant reason is that true Whole Horsemanship must start from a basis of a quiet, subconscious connection to which conscious skill may be added. It does not work well the other way around. Before you can start giving a horse specific cues to influence its movement or behavior, you must establish a stable, centered, consistent, starting position, both mentally and physically. The meditation and breathing techniques suggested to help you access your subconscious connection to your horse will also help you to accomplish this quiet starting place. Take your time finding and perfecting a position that is properly aligned and relaxed but alert, and recognize the sensation of it before adding more complexity to the mix. Slow, detailed lessons, including some on a lunge line or with an instructor working beside you, will allow you to relax, even to close your eyes in order to feel what is going on with your body. Visualization is also key to this process. Centered Riding techniques emphasizing the fundamentals of proper skeletal alignment, breathing, centering of your weight, “soft eyes” awareness, and the sensation of grounding are helpful.9 So are methods which emphasize body awareness, such as work on a balance ball and Pilates. Yoga combines body awareness, flexibility, and meditation in a way that strongly compliments the development of riding skills.

Once this position becomes automatic and intuitive for you, you may interject subtle changes in your posture, breathing, leg, and rein aids as cues for influencing acceleration, deceleration, collection, balance and direction. However, your stable, quiet position must underlie any variations or cues which are layered over it.

In his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra gives a visualization of meditation interjected with intent as a means to fulfilling one’s dreams which is, not surprisingly, a good model for an effective Whole Horsemanship session. In it, he describes how, through meditation, one’s mind becomes quiet and clear of conscious thoughts as though it were a pool of water which becomes free of turbulence and eventually completely calm, like a still reflecting pond. Then, a single intention tossed into it like a pebble produces a series of rings which eventually settle to complete calm again, at which time the process can be repeated. He explains that ...”if you do not experience stillness in consciousness, your mind is like a turbulent ocean. You could throw the Empire State Building into it, and you wouldn’t notice a thing.”10 Likewise, starting your horsemanship sessions from a quiet, stable, and balanced position, allows the cues that you interject to be discernible and to have significance to the horse.
There are other ways in which meditation interjected with individual intent characterizes a Whole Horsemanship session. This state is described as the coexistence of opposites - stillness and dynamism - simultaneously. Our awareness of the underlying stillness allows us to maintain calm and to focus even as we respond instinctively to unexpected movements. This same awareness is also an essential element in developing the timing aspect of our cues and releases.

On a broader level, maintaining our connection to the quiet, or subconscious underlying the interjection of conscious skill in our riding sessions, allows us, in “the gaps between our thoughts”, to have a connection to the imagination and creativity that allows us to respond and adapt quickly to different training and riding situations. When we become frustrated or run out of answers to a training problem, the creativity that flows naturally from the subconscious can sometimes provide a solution “out of nowhere”.

In spite of my emphasis on meditation and relaxation, I don’t want the reader to assume from my foregoing remarks that I think a handler or rider should begin or conduct a horsemanship session in a passive, zombie-like state, or with a dissociative attitude. On the contrary, the effective horseman must engage the horse’s attention, and hold its focus with his own from the time that he approaches the horse until the session is over. The Conscious Skills of planning and assertiveness are also essential elements of effective horsemanship. They are the instigators of the cues which are dropped like pebbles into the quiet pool of the horsemanship process. Furthermore, the horseman must be perceptive and alert in order to adapt to how each individual horse responds.

For instance, I typically start with my most subtle cues of posture and breath to initiate a departure or transition to a higher gait, then only add verbal cues, more leg pressure or a dressage whip if needed. But occasionally I come across an individual who responds better to a stronger cue immediately, at least at the beginning of a session, then may become easier to motivate as the session progresses. Similarly I find that one individual responds best to only light “brushing” contact with the calves, while another responds best to a quick but light “bump.”

When it comes to personality types, I find that most horses are willing, respectful participants in the horsemanship process, but that occasionally I will come across one that has a very high disrespect quotient and a lack of interest in interacting with me. I find that I have to spend a great deal more time driving them out of my space and being more assertive about behavioral issues on the ground. Under saddle, I have to use stronger, quicker cues that elicit a response before the horse has time to think about how to resist them. I have to be more creative with his workouts to keep him interested in interacting. (Once he is engaged and forgets about resisting, he actually enjoys the process.) For a more willing, but reactive horse, I would make the workouts more predictable, to promote confidence in the horse through familiarity with the process. Remember, it is not cruel to treat individual horses differently. It is simply a recognition that while most of them share certain characteristics, they are, nevertheless each unique creatures in their own right.

Of course, it is always important to have a clear intellectual picture of how you want to develop and improve your Conscious Skills. One must understand correct and effective bio-mechanics of both the horse and rider, including the concepts of proper position, quiet hands, and a following seat, and those of lateral flexion, vertical collection, balance, engagement, and impulsion to name a few. The beauty of Whole Horsemanship is, however, that improving your abilities in one area will enhance your abilities in the other. For example, your understanding of proper technique can help you to find the right “feel” more quickly. On the other hand, better feel will take your technical skills to a higher level.

Whereas you shouldn’t rush to the next level in the saddle before you and your horse have mastered the skills you are working on, you needn’t feel hesitant to explore your passion for horsemanship at will on an intellectual level. Always be exploring a step beyond what you are already familiar with, and seek to broaden your knowledge and understanding into other areas or styles of horsemanship and riding. Develop an understanding of equipment including saddle fit, bitting, saddle pads, and study nutrition, shoeing...any and all issues that affect your horse’s well-being and comfort. Read books and articles, watch tapes, and take classes, clinics, or lessons from instructors and trainers whom you admire, and whose work you admire, not just as professionals, but as people. There is a lot of information available covering many styles and sports within the horsemanship world, and almost everyone has something to offer. But don’t feel like you have to take every piece of information you receive as “the gospel truth”. Ask questions, and try to draw parallels with information that you already know and trust through experience. Carefully and creatively try things that make sense to you within the context of your existing horsemanship knowledge.

Part IV: Putting Whole Horsemanship Into Practice
Although each horse, rider, and situation is unique, here are some guidelines and exercises that can help you to apply Whole Horsemanship to your own teaching, training, and riding:

· Remember to establish you sense of relaxation and calm first, before you approach your horse. Stay present, and take this calm with you as you begin your session with your horse. Your session begins when you first approach your horse to put on a halter or lead, or if they have been standing tied or in a trailer, when you approach and untie the rope, not when you get to the arena, or when you mount. Add alertness to your calm, and approach your horse and engage his or her attention. Be observant of his or her expressions and reactions as you do so.

· There is never a time when you are interacting with your horse that disrespect is acceptable. Practice moving your horse out of your space by making yourself “big” and creating energy, and practice calming your horse by applying firm, repeated pressure, (released as the horse responds), on the halter via the lead rope, while keeping your body as quiet as possible. Practice situations like loading and unloading in a calm, controlled way before you have to do them in an unfamiliar place. When your horse acts upset after unloading in a new location, calmly but assertively re-engage their attention with yourself, and do not allow them to ignore you.

· Be absolutely consistent with your horse in what is acceptable or not acceptable behavior, in applying and releasing your cues, in all things.

· When you are spending non judgmental time with your horse, such as grooming, massage, etc., you do not have to insist on your horse’s attention the whole time. However, if you are leading, holding, maneuvering, mounting, or working with you horse in any way, their attention should be equally engaged with yours. Make a distinction to your horse between non judgmental time, and training time, both on the ground and in the saddle. My signal to the horses that I handle and train is that any piece of equipment being on them and in my hand, or in my hand and directed in their direction means their attention should be focused on me. If it is not, I will use my body language, breathing, or a light cue first, followed by a repeated or stronger cue if necessary to engage or re-engage their attention until our session is over. Watch and respond to your horse’s reactions. Remember, your calm, subconscious connection underlies all cues.

· Think ahead and mentally map your path as you move your horse from stall to aisle to arena or work area. Breathe and move rhythmically, and choose a route and way of maneuvering your horse that gives both of you room to move, and that allows him or her to move in a balanced, coordinated way. This tells your horse before you ever mount that you understand his world and can help him to move gracefully through it.

· Treat your horse not like an object to be pulled around, but like a dance partner. Move in a flowing manner that matches you horse’s natural rhythm and way of going. Don’t pull around on your horse’s bit via the reins when you are on the ground, or when you are placing the reins over your horse’s neck. This just sends false signals to your horse, ones that he or she will quickly learn to ignore, along with the ones you want him or her to respond to! Don’t desensitize the parts of your horse’s body that you want to remain sensitive - like his mouth! When you want to begin leading your horse forward, do so with your body and energy. Start by standing tall by your horse’s poll, and focusing your intent forward. Breathe in and grow tall, signaling your horse with your change in posture that you are about to make a change. As you breathe out, you and your horse should flow forward together. Reinforce the departure with a slight jiggle of the lead rope only if you need to. You can use the same routine to transition from a walk to a trot. Practice this a few times, and you will find it works like magic. (Occasionally, you will find a horse with which you must reinforce the impulsion forward with a dressage whip in your outside hand, but this should be a temporary learning aid that you will not need for long). Transition down or halt by exhaling and shortening your body slightly, slowing your steps for 2 or 3 strides before you plant your feet together to indicate a halt. The word “Whoa” is the period at the end of your body language sentence, not the whole cue to stop in itself. Don’t pull on your horse to move forward. Remember, a light, maneuverable horse on the ground is a light, maneuverable horse under saddle.

· Immediately after you mount your horse, take the time to drop your stirrups and get perfectly centered. Be sure your saddle is perfectly square, that your seat bones are equally weighted, that your legs are long and relaxed, and that your shoulders are level. If anything is “off”, reposition yourself until it feels right. Take several deep breaths, and continue breathing deeply and rhythmically as you stretch arms, back, neck, shoulders, legs, feet, and hands. Hold your arms straight out from your shoulders, and swivel your shoulder girdle each direction, keeping your shoulders level, your rib-cage tall and straight on both sides of your body, and your hips in their original, relaxed and centered position.

· When you are ready to depart, center once more, focus your attention forward in the direction you want to go, and signal your intent to your horse both physically and mentally. Take a deep breath in, and exhale as your body grows taller. There should be a sensation of leaving your hips behind as your upper body grows taller away from your pelvic area. Your trunk is lengthening upward from your center as your legs simultaneously grow longer downward from your center. (Your center is in the middle of your abdomen, just above and halfway between your seat bones.) This is an energizing breath, not a deflating “sigh”. The subtlety of this particular cue can be difficult for some people to master, but try until you get it. You and your horse will know it immediately when you do. It will make any up transition or departure effortless. As your breath leaves your body, add subtle calf stimulation appropriate to the horse and style of riding. Be soft with your legs. The effectiveness of the breath will lessen the need for strength in your leg cues.

· To transition down or to stop, breathe out as your body shortens, tipping your tail bone slightly down and forward as the front of our rib-cage drops down ever so slightly. You may also open your legs slightly or put a bit more weight in your stirrups to take it off of your horse’s back, depending upon the style of riding that you are doing.

· Continue to breathe regular, rhythmic breaths through any riding session. If your horse starts to drop gait, “breathe” him forward. If he jumps unexpectedly, breathe to maintain or regain your calm, quiet foundation. Breathe, breathe, breathe!

· When you horse is learning something new, and responds correctly to a combination of cues, give him or her an immediate signal to let them know - a soft rub at the top of the whither or a stroke along the neck, or softly spoken verbal praise. You can also stop occasionally to reward them with a brief rest, but avoid interrupting the flow of a good learning session.

· Plan your session so that there is a flow physically and mentally to the learning process. Link simpler movements and ideas into related more complex ones. Be ready to alter your original plan if the workout is going a little bit different direction but feels good. Go with the flow.

· Give your horse what to us are the most subtle cues first - body/ posture/ breath cues, then add leg and rein aids. If a series or grouping of cues doesn’t work, repeat it, adding a quick repetition of the leg aid or aids, then add strength to the leg aids if necessary. This gives your horse a chance to use his or her sensitivity to your advantage, instead of having him or her become desensitized by always receiving more stimulus than he or she needs in order to respond.

· Sweat the small stuff. Horses notice everything, and especially things that we often ignore. Be aware. Remember, body language and position, breathing, energy level, and eye contact or lack thereof are all strong signals to them that you can either use to your advantage or ignore and thereby desensitize your horse in a negative way.

· Keep training sessions interesting and no longer than your horse can focus. Always build on what your horse is confident doing, from simple to more complex, breaking things into as many steps as possible, and always try to end with something your horse is successful and confident doing, even if it means repeating a maneuver or movement that they already know.

· Ground work should relate to something your horse will subsequently do under saddle. For example, running your horse around a pen with a saddle and no bridle as he looks out in every direction away from you has no relevance to good horsemanship. As in all training sessions with your horse, his or her attention should be on you. Use the most subtle body language, breathing - yes, even from a distance - and voice cues, just as you will from the saddle, to signal your horse. Use reins and other equipment as appropriate to balance and collect your horse, and engage and re-engage your horse’s attention as necessary throughout any groundwork session.

· In both teaching and improving your own skills, use imagery that brings the body and the mind together - the “growing tree” image in Sally Swift’s Centered Riding11 is one of my favorites. I use it not only for finding my quiet, stable starting position, but I add a breath to it and exaggerate it for departures and transitions up to a higher gait. I also like “dragging my big, long, feet on the ground beside the horse” in order to ground and stabilize myself. Sometimes I think of a cannonball in my gut, sinking deeper into the horse’s back to stabilize me, rolling backward in place to create quiet energy and follow the horse’s movement. Flowing myself and the horse forward like water as I exhale is also one of my favorites. You can find other examples in Centered Riding and Centered Riding 2, or be creative and come up with your own that help you. If you are taking lessons, let your teacher know what your most helpful images are.

· Put yourself in the horse’s place. Imagine how it feels to perform certain skills that we ask them to. Using your arms and hands as their front legs and feet, practice transitioning from gait to gait as they do. Feel how it feels to shift your weight back into your hindquarters, to bring your jaw down and in, or to tuck it to one side, to move laterally with your head pointing away from the direction you are going, or toward the direction you are going.

· Use video-taping in teaching to add visual input as a learning resource, and to help the student see whether their mind-body map is accurate or not. I have found that a moving picture truly is worth a lot more than a thousand words I might yell at a student.

There are many, many more specific ways in which Whole Horsemanship can be applied to each of your day-to-day horsemanship experiences. I hope this presentation inspires you to explore your own relationship to your horse or horses even more deeply. By being open, aware, and creative, you may discover ways of connecting to your beloved equine that you never thought possible. Or when thinking through your past and current experiences, you may realize why many of the things you have already been doing intuitively have worked well in your horse/ human relationship.

Wherever your walk with the equine world leads you, remember why you began the journey in the first place, for the pure bliss that your interaction with these amazing creatures brings to you, and your passion to know and feel more.

Although not every horse you meet will be the most talented, the most trainable or your personal favorite, remember that each one has a place and a purpose for being on this earth, just as each of us does. Don’t try to fit a “square peg” into a “round hole”. Look carefully for your horse’s innate talents, nurture them, and let each individual shine accordingly. Treat each one with the dignity that each of God’s creatures deserves.

Remember that your horse doesn’t care how attractive you are, how much money you make, or how intelligent you are in human terms. The contemporary American poet Maya Angelou once said, “When you’re gone, people won’t remember what you did. They’ll remember how you made them feel.” At the end of the day, I think this pretty well describes how our horses relate to us. If in all our dealings with them, we strive to give them a sense of confidence, security, appreciation, and affection; in return, they’ll give us the honest, trusting and straightforward affection that fills us with a sense of happiness and fulfillment like nothing else can. May all your future horsemanship experiences be filled with the magic of the horse-to-human connection.


1. ...one other thing...Linda Boston, “Ray Hunt: A legend in His Own Time,” Ranch and Country, voL. 3, #4, August/ September 1977, 9.

2. ...only if we listen...Dietrich von Hopffgarten, “The Magical Connection,” Dressage & CT, No. 92 (255), May 1994, pp. 12-14, 14.

3. Candace Pert, Your Body Is Your Subconscious Mind (Boulder,CO: Sounds True Audio, 2000).

4. Candace Pert, Molecules of Emotion (New York: Touchstone/ Simon & Schuster, 1999, 1997).

5. ...One of the ways...Linda Kahanov, The Tao of Equus: a woman’s journey of healing and transformation through the way of the horse (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2001)

6. The Story of the Weeping Camel, Thinkfilm, 2003. Directed and Written by Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni. US Web-site: www.weepingcamelmovie.com

7. Bob Loomis, The Bob Loomis Program for Training the Reining Prospect, (Virginia City, NV, Video Velocity, 1994).

8. Monty Roberts, The Man Who Listens to Horses, (New York, NY: Random House, 1996, 1997).

9. Sally Swift, Centered Riding, (New York, NY, St. Martin’s Press, 1985).

10. ...if you do not...Deepak Chopra, The Seven Spritual Laws of Success, (San Rafael, CA, New World Library,
1993), 16.

11. Sally Swift, Centered Riding, (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1985), 58, 73.

12. Sally Swift, Centered Riding 2, (North Pomfret, VT: Trafalgar Square Publishing. 2002).

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