Stiffness: the horse's perspective


Sometimes when I get on my horse and I am about to get to work, I immediately get the feeling that this isn’t going to be an easy day. He is against me from the start, whatever I want to do there is a push back of sorts. It has occurred to me that maybe he is reacting to my energy and that none of this feeling has anything to do with him at all!

Over the years I have had several horses, and on occasion I have had the opportunity to have a couple at a time. From those experiences, there is some evidence that I have a weak side and a strong side, which is reflected in every horse I have had. Funny how they’ve all been one-sided the same way! More often than not my strong side becomes their stiff side.

In a related way, sometimes I get on my horse with the intention to get a lot done in that ride, and right from the beginning he is against me. I stopped to wonder the other day if maybe he isn’t really the one with the issue, but rather I might be the one that’s energetically stiff, intentionally too strong, and therefore not as ‘with’ my horse as I should be to clearly communicate with him. I could be creating the resistance just by overwhelming the situation with what I’m bringing to the table before anything has happened.

Intention is a good thing, but maybe sometimes we get too set and rigid in that approach that we forget the ebb and flow of our riding relationship – the dialogue that we should have with our horse. It’s not a good thing to only ever be a disciplinarian, or a drill sergeant. We should strive to foster a good relationship with our equine partner in order to accomplish our goal of the day.

Almost always when I go into my ride thinking, “This can be a light day,” without an agenda, I end up with my best ride, we actually get a lot done and he seems so willing to work.

On the contrary, when I was riding the other day I was in a mood from the get go, irritated with every imperfection that rose up, and although I didn’t physically do anything in particular, my horse was getting stronger, faster and more against me as the ride went on. To me there is no better explanation for this than that he was feeling my energy and was getting worse as we went. The really interesting part was that when I took a walk break and discussed with my trainer what to do to fix the exercise, I picked up the canter again with a fresh mind and he was instantaneously soft, agreeable and with me. This is the magic of the horse!

Now as I’m thinking forward to my next show and my nerves that will inevitably ramp up, I should be armed with this information and be watchful for any kind of distracted, strong, stiff resistance that I might be sensing, and remember to look inwards that it may be my emotional or internal cues that are sending my horse in that direction. I hope this might be helpful for you too!

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