How you can rise to harmony in the training ring by creating connection and calmness with your natural aids.
We as horse people are inundated with tools of every size, shape, color, and use to help achieve our goals. But the reality is that we are all born with almost everything we need to create a harmonious connection with our horses, both in the saddle and on the ground. As we explore our natural aids, let’s bear in mind the wise words of the late Miss Sally Swift, the founder of Centered Riding© — “Whisper, don’t shout. It works better.”
Start with the subtle aids
“Whispering” is only possible when we begin every interaction by mindfully using the tools we were born with. These include our hands, seat, weight, and legs – natural aids that should always be used prior to any artificial aids such as whips, spurs, reins, and bits. But there are other more subtle natural aids that you can also tap into even before you bring your physical body into the equation.
Awareness of self: it all begins here
Awareness of our emotional, mental, and physical state is one of the primary keys to creating trusting relationships. From the moment horses see us they are sizing us up. They are reading and decoding our body language, sensing the energy we emit and determining our overall well-being. You cannot fool the horse. Congruency is essential. Use this exercise below to help ensure that you are bringing your best self to every interaction with your equine friend.
- Stand or sit comfortably, spreading your toes and feeling the ground beneath your feet.
- Close your eyes to increase your awareness of the world around you.
- Take five calming breaths, releasing tension upon every exhale.
- Listen to the sounds. Feel the warmth of the sun, or the coolness of the breeze.
- Become truly present in the moment and open your heart to your horse.
Now smile and approach him like he is your long lost friend.
Awareness of the horse
Horses only know how to live in the present moment. As prey animals their brains are hardwired for survival. All that matters to them is how it “feels”. When you show up, everything in his world changes. Then it is your turn to size him up – emotionally, mentally, and physically. Does he seem content? Is he concerned about anything? Is he distracted? How is he moving? Knowing how to assess him and answer his questions, in his language, is imperative.
Communication – learning the true language of the horse
You have taken care of yourself and assessed the horse, but can you answer his questions? Do you know his language? Enter “Horse Speak®” – the kinesthetic language system of the horse created by Sharon Wilsie. Learn the meaning behind horse’s gestures, postures, and signals, and most importantly, how to respond back to them in their own language. Horse Speak is the most comprehensive, easy, safe, enlightening, educational platform for learning the true language of the horse that has ever been created. (Visit heidipotter.com and click on Horse Speak for more information.)
The basics of Centered Riding
Mastering the basics of Centered Riding is an essential component of applying your natural aids, whether you are on the ground or in the saddle.
Your breath is your most important tool, enabling you to release tension and access all the other basics. Exhaling audibly in the presence of your horse sends a clear message of relaxation. (Horses breath shallow and/or hold their breath just like we do when feeling anxious, frightened or are feeling pain.) You will be amazed how often they take a deep breath or sigh upon hearing yours.
Your center lies beneath and behind your navel. Remembering to initiate everything you do from your center provides clarity, improves balance, and makes grounding possible. Turning from your center and allowing your body to follow its lead offers you a chance to steer your horse without the use of reins.
We’ve already addressed your emotional and mental balance. Here we consider your physical balance, the best gift you can give your horse while in the saddle. Try to keep yourself vertically aligned using the “ears, shoulders, hips and ankles” rule. The fit of the saddle for you and your horse plays a key role in your ability to ride balanced. Request the help of a professional to assess your saddle fit if you are unsure.
Achieve a soft gaze by relaxing and expanding your peripheral vision. Harder, more focused eyes happen when we are in our thinking brains, thus creating tension throughout our entire body. Breath, relax, look around and use your peripheries to activate your soft eyes.
Breathing enables you to have soft eyes and become centered. Being centered allows you to find balance. If you have hard eyes or are out of balance (physically, mentally, or emotionally), you will struggle to access your diaphragm for deep breathing. Taking the time needed to find relaxation, softness, clarity, and balance sets you and your horse up for success!
Studies done by the HeartMath Institute revealed that human energy can be detected up to several feet away from our body in all directions. Our heightened energy can quickly bring a horse’s energy up. Likewise, when we relax, soften our center, and aim it away or downward, it can help quiet the horse. This brings us full circle, helping us to becoming aware of and be in control of our emotional and mental state.
Intention and imagery
Setting an intention and using imagery creates congruency, which we know is so important to the horse. Intention becomes very clear when you invite the horse to do the task with you versus doing it to the horse. Adding imagery is a game changer whether you are approaching your horse, leading your horse, playing with obstacles, loading a horse into a trailer, or riding a Dressage test. These two natural aids combined are essential to your success.
Horses think in pictures. The horse will get the message if you send your intention out from your center and send an imagine to him of what your desired outcome will look and feel like. This step may prove to be the one that amazes you most!
Our visions and dreams for what we and our horses can accomplish together are often possible with nothing but our naked self – although clothes may be best for the comfort of all present! Enjoy your climb to success as it is all about the journey, for both of you.