There is so much debate currently about methods of training: German vs. French, classical vs. competitive, natural horsemanship vs. anything with an English saddle. It can get adversarial.
Most people agree that finesse is better than force in horse training, but we seem to have a hard time agreeing upon a definition of what those words actually look like in technique. That starts the debate on training aids…
The more I am around horses the more I think training technique is not as important to them as rider attitude. Equines might prefer a horse-crazy girl to a competitive rider, or a cheerful dressage rider to a nervous trail rider. Could it be that simple?
I am not saying that a smile trains a horse. Nothing takes the place of a solid understanding of training fundamentals and horse behavior. But the best riding technique in the world won’t get good work from a horse if the rider’s attitude blocks it.
It makes sense that if we want a relaxed horse, we should lead by example -but riders often arrive at the barn with a busy brain -balancing stress, frustrations, financial limitations and a powerful passion to learn and progress toward our riding goals. Of course, horses don’t actually care about those things.
If you want scientific proof, I could come up with a good Laugh in the Saddle lecture including the biomechanics of laughter. (The act of laughing increases circulation and blood oxygenation which in turn relaxes muscles, relieves stress and stimulates endorphins producing happiness. Humor and laughter are believed to facilitate learning.) Not that horses care much for science.
Horses are pragmatic. They live in the moment. The best reason for laughing in the saddle is literal; horses like the way our seats feel on their back when we are smiling. Happy seat, happy horse.
I dont know about you but I think I have learned plenty from mistakes and I want to learn from laughing now. Most of us have survived tense lessons from angry instructors and I know a lighter approach gets better results for the horse -and rider. I take dressage very seriously, but I do it with a sense of humor.
I was hoping that the new 2011 Dressage Intro tests would call for Halt at X, Giggle, Salute. Or eventually Extended trot, laughing. (Maybe in the future, I remain optimistic.)
I do think it is time we get as serious about laughing as we are serious about our training goals.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.