Question: I know you talk a lot about different training techniques but my question to you is what YOU think the most important or valuable thing is or to know when training a horse?
Answer from April Reeves: I’m going to take your word “training” and expand on it first. Training is everything we do with a horse. Everything we do communicates something back to the horse, whether we’re leading them with a tight rope or just standing around in the middle of the ring talking to each other on our horses.
Everything you do is training.
The most important thing I believe, and what I also believe is missing from 90% of the horse owners?
What exactly is feeling?
Have you ever watched someone work with your horse and they just seem to be able to get that horse to do everything, or most things, without a fight or argument? Then you get your horse back and he balks and resists? It’s frustrating because you did the same movements and followed the instruction perfectly, yet something was missing.
We learn to ride through the logical part of our brain first. Our actions are mechanical in nature as opposed to actions that come from a more intuitive part of you. That is the difference between mechanics and feel.
Horses are not mechanical in any sense of the word. While we may ask them to turn in a specific, mechanical manner, it’s the ‘feeling’ behind the turn that distinguishes whether that horse will turn at all or turn on a dime without resistance.
Take time to watch how other people work with horses. Try to note the very small things some people only need to do to get a horse to respond softly. What is it? Where does it come from? What does the opposite look and feel like?
Throughout this blog you hear me refer to the term “follow a feel”. I’m asking the reader to take the mechanical information and process it intuitively. While you can’t teach feeling to someone, you can change how they interpret the mechanics by consistently asking them to feel.
Energy Dynamics and Intention
There is a transfer of energy to your horse whenever you ask him something. It’s the understanding of this energy that is missing from the relationship most people have with their horses.
For example, when I am longing Max, I barely have to speak. I just have to think it and it is done. I do use voice commands but he is receiving my “intention’.
When I ask for a down transition, I speak it and feel it. I feel the walk and I picture the walk in my head. I send out that request to him with my thought, and my body speaks the request as well. When you are working with intuition your body and ‘all that is you’ will ask your horse. Because I am asking him to slow down, my energy lowers as well. That energy is not shown through nervous actions. It is deep within.
Try this exercise. Stand straight and still and breathe. Relax every part of your body, limbs, head (drop it if you want) and just soften. Now, in the same relaxed position, begin to bring your energy up. Start with one big deep breath, and raise your energy to ‘elation’. Do not change your body position. You should not need to thing of anything in particular. Ask this energy shift to enter you as a pure form. It is what it is.
Tough not to change your body isn’t it? You just want to bring your head up and your shoulders back. Your face moves from a relaxed place to a big happy smile. Now try the same exercise again, standing very still, and this time change your body if you need to.
Did you feel the need to change physically? While your feet probably didn’t move, and your body didn’t look as if it had altered much, there was a dramatic difference in the appearance and energy surrounding you.
That is what your horse picks up.
That is what he is reading every second you are with him.
That is why your horse responds to you the way he does.
If you come down to the barn mad, your horse will react to you the way he would if one of his herd mates was mad – he would get out of the way, quickly. What horses don’t understand with humans is “why do they STAY mad?” Horses do not do this. How confusing it must be for them!
Feeling is Timing
Understanding the ‘magic moment’ where a horse is fully cognizant and aware of what you want him to do, and applying your ‘training’ just at that moment is timing. Knowing when to release the horse from pressure, knowing how long to wait – these things are all timing.
Timing is not an easy thing to learn and process because it requires a good deal of time spent between you and a horse. While some people may appear ‘gifted’ with horses, you can bet they have been around them for most of their lives.
Being 5 or 50 and just buying your first horse does not mean you can’t achieve a good level of timing and feel. A mind can learn anything it wants to when it applies itself in the lesson.
Take away the daily distractions when you and your horse get together. This is the gift your horse gives back to you. They ask that you be with them in the moment and to leave the control, resistance and pressure behind.