We all want to have a strong connection with our horse, don’t we?
But to effectively communicate with your horse, you first need to be in control of your mindset. A rider’s position is obviously important, but your mental state carries a deeper influence than many realize.
The way you envision yourself riding has a tangible effect on your physical position; as you become more aware of your emotions and intentions, your horse becomes more receptive to them.
Achieving a Strong Nonverbal Communication
I recently spoke with a horseman named Domenico who can gentle a mustang in an afternoon.
His ability to gain a horse’s trust quickly is masterful. He explained how the intuition of the horse allows him to advance his training, telling me that “a lot of the time I’ll be thinking about something, and the horse does it before I gives him the cues.”
To achieve this nonverbal “language”, he ensures that his body language and emotional attitude always express confidence and patience— in spite of the repetitiveness and difficulty that comes with gentling a wild horse.
Though he acknowledges that people connect with some horses more than others, he retains the belief that trainers and riders can always improve if they utilize all their senses. Doing so allows them to come to a deep understanding of how the horse reacts to them and enables riders to accomplish more with less.
A Nervous Horse
I experienced this for myself while riding a horse named Roulette. Over 17 hh, Roulette’s leg-to-body ratio mirrored that of a newborn foal. He never quite knew what to do with his feet and was rather sensitive and neurotic, spooking at anything from bunnies to shrubbery. The slightest shift of my weight would alter our course, making walking in a straight line seem as unachievable as Olympic gold. These were not charming attributes for a dressage horse.
How I Conquered My Own Nerves – And His, Too!
First, I took a step back and evaluated what I was doing.
I stopped trying to overcompensate with my position, and I sat quietly. I put more effort into developing my core strength to stabilize my seat so I could assess Roulette’s behavior without my own interference.
When I was nervous, he was nervous. And when he was nervous, he was distracted. When I took a deep breath and calmed down, so did he.
It was then I realized the effect of my mindset and began focusing on my own mental posture.
When he would act up, I would focus on my breathing and on calming my mind. The more relaxed I was mentally, the more relaxed I became physically and the quieter and more supple Roulette became.
When we worked on downward transitions, I would focus on quieting and slowing my own mind.
For upward transitions and extended gaits, impulsion came from my own excitement and energy, as it caused me to shift my weight slightly forward and inadvertently add leg.
As I became more focused and composed, our half passes got steadier and more rhythmic. I didn’t allow my mind to wander, but focused on what each movement should feel like, and my position reflected it subconsciously.
Roulette began to anticipate my intentions. It developed to the point where I would think about a canter transition, and Roulette would do it. We no longer wobbled through our lateral work or stumbled over our centerlines. Even bunnies no longer posed a threat. Roulette’s composure and focus dramatically increased.
Control Yourself, Guide Your Horse
Gaining control over your nerves and your mind has a big impact on your riding.
Anxiety can come from many areas of life— the stress of a horseshow, the frustration of a difficult lesson, the nervousness of a spooky horse. When these issues arise, slow your breathing and sit quietly. Relax your mind and steady your body, allowing both yourself and your horse to focus on the task at hand. Take care of yourself mentally.
When you are well-rested and energized, you can be more intentional in how you communicate with your horse.
Training shouldn’t be a battle. When your horse acts up, identify your thoughts and feelings. Your nervousness or distraction could be getting in the way.
Being in control of your mental posture will strengthen your ability to communicate clearly and deepen your connection with your horse.
Do you have any stories of a horse that you had a significant connection with? Or one that you had difficulties with? Leave a comment below!