When it comes to developing a truly willing mind from a horse there is a critical difference between training and schooling. Focused schooling for specific tasks as to exactly when, where and how the rider wants the horse to perform should only begin when the horse consistently chooses not to fuss, challenge or search to find a way out from between the legs and reins of the rider. Once the horse has had enough training to willingly choose the easy path of staying balanced with a rider and is no longer testing the boundaries of the “aids”, then and only then is the horse realistically ready, willing and able to go to school.
Too often people try to “school” a horse for a specific purpose such as a dressage
test, a reining pattern, to jump or to navigate trail obstacles, while the horse still has obvious issues of resistance to maintaining consistent respect, trust and focus for the rider. Not to leave out the harness horses and driving enthusiasts, this could also be known as “putting the cart before the horse”.
For example, and perhaps most notably, this means that before a horse can realistically be expected to be straight and calm and collected it would first and foremost need to be calm without being straight or collected.
“Collection” in a horse is to focus and compress or coil up and thereby amplify the energy of the horse. So, if we straighten and collect a calm and supple horse he or she will develop greater athletic ability while remaining calm and willing. However, if we attempt to straighten and collect a stressed horse showing any signs of fear, anger, distraction or defiance, then we defeat our purpose in the long run because we inevitably find all the athletic ability of the horse working against us instead of for us.
So, where to begin?
We can begin by simplifying the potential for action by both human and horse during groundwork, riding or driving, into 3 fundamental categories or energies of pushing, blocking or drawing.
Pushing is to move forward or to be “impulsive”. To lunge, round pen, ride or drive, is to push the horse forward, tapping into its ‘herd or be herded” instinct for movement.
Blocking is a solid boundary energy. A wall, fence, or closed gate that does not allow forward or pushing energy to pass through it. A “red light” and the plug in your sink are examples of blocking energy.
Drawing is to remove the obstacle of the block or boundary and create an open space to allow forward energy to “pass through”. The “green light”, the “open the gate”, and to “pull the plug” are all examples of drawing energy.
Now, most importantly is to never forget that horses are physiologically hard wired so that their body, mind and spirit work together as One. Simply, the frame of the body of the horse is also the frame of the mind. So, the truest definition of training the horse to “give to the aids” would literally mean that we use our body language and our “aids” of pushing, blocking and drawing energies to shape or sculpt our horses into a frame of body that corresponds to their feeling good in the mind.
Some shapes of their bodies feel better then others for horses. In fact, some shapes feel heavenly because they create endorphins through the central nervous system of the horse while other shapes produce adrenaline and feel like hell. The idea is that a horse is supposed to be “aided” into feeling “better” with endorphins when “in good hands”.
The bottom line is that the vast majority of both good and bad, positive and negative behaviour and performance from a horse is a direct reflection of the body language or pushing, blocking and drawing energy emoting from the movements of the human.
With both our groundwork and riding we must always synchronize and communicate all three energies of push, block and draw, every moment we are with the horse so that our body language is understood by the horse and it aids the horse in feeling better with us then it does on its own.
However, on the other hand, problems flare up with our horses when the energies emoting from our body language becomes too confusing for the horse. For instance, when people don’t realize that they are pushing a part of the horse where they should be drawing this often translates into a “problem” horse full of adrenaline that people then label as defiant, lazy, or perhaps as nervous or lacking in confidence.
Or when we are inadvertently drawing with the reins and the bridle, when we truly needed to be blocking, that horses go “off track” and seem to take us everywhere except where we want them to go.
It’s when we don’t realize how we are pushing where we need to draw and then block that causes so many horses to have “head issues” with regards to difficulty when catching, haltering or bridling.
There are only 3 energies we can communicate with but there are infinite ways to clearly communicate or inadvertently mis-communicate with your horse.
In the coming weeks I will focus on this theme of training before schooling. We’ll begin next with interpreting the “tell tail” signs of the many gestures that horses use to communicate with their body language. We’ll then move on to the fundamentals of equine psychology before beginning to deconstruct the cause and effect of how training before schooling relates to basic groundwork such as leading, work on the lunge line and long lines, and stall manners, before defining how training before schooling relates to work in the saddle. All focused on what it takes to train a horse to discover a willingness to learn how to learn so that eventually true “schooling” can begin.
Meanwhile, all the best to you and yours for happy and healthy trails and remember; ask not what your horse can do for you – ask what you can do for your horse.