BY JENNY ROLFE
Our confidence would appear to be like the rest of nature as it ebbs and flows. Confidence will flow when you feel happy within yourself and also comfortable within your surroundings. This positive energy can also be nurtured by surrounding yourself with encouraging people who offer respect, kindness and honesty. Sometimes relationships do go wrong and our confidence seems to ebb away. There is nothing like a relationship of dependency, where one person depends on the weakness of another to support their own ego and we can all too easily become a victim, of this behaviour.
If within our closest relationships or every day work we feel pressured, unhappy and under stress, then it becomes very difficult to find a peaceful place with our horses.
This is where our self awareness and personal empowerment can kick in! Once we arrive at the stable door, or field gate , we can take a deep sigh and breathe away negative energy, to help rebuild a new positive feeling. This will help us to leave our problems behind us- to breathe them away allowing ourselves some time not to worry or feel upset. Often this time can help us to think more clearly and make positive decisions within our lives.
In this way the horse can teach us, as we find our inner, authentic self and and try to hold close this awareness in the rest of our daily lives.
We all have stressful situations and this is part of the pattern of life. I think building self awareness can be a life changer as we can begin a new journey of conscious empowerment.
Here is a small example for you. You have a ‘friend’ who seems often to question your ideas, she stands tall and in your space- making you feel rather small and ineffective. You begin to notice the changes when this person is around, as your own stress levels rise and uncertainty creeps in. Once this situation is recognised, you have the chance to make some much needed changes!
It is the same with our horses, when we can acknowledge how we feel and find joy and friendship with our horse.
We may be worried about making mistakes but if it feels right then make some decisions and stay with them. If they work then don’t immediately expect that everyone else knows more than you.
No other person is walking in your shoes and it is for us all to walk our own path- and ensure we are only influenced by people we respect who show both humility and kindness. The horse will enjoy the security of knowing you are making powerful decisions.
How can you determine if your horse listens to you and respects you and why is this important?
Horses are always listening-to our signals, our voice, body language and most fundamentally our heart rhythms and energy field. I believe herd language connects with all living creatures by a heightened awareness of heart rate and energy field. The horse will always be listening to our signals when we are often not aware of them. It is important to gain trust in our relationship by becoming aware of what the horse is sensing from us. If the horse respects us he will respect our space and be attentive towards our instruction. If he is dominant and disrespectful he may barge , push with his head into our space, ignore us when we enter the stable or just not listen to more subtle aids when we are riding.
It is essential for us to understand horse language as the horse is physically strong and our most important connection will be our skills of leadership and friendship and understanding the art of communication.
How can you become an effective leader and teacher for your horse?
I often hear students concerned about being too harsh or too soft and finding it difficult to find the balance which suits the horse. Horses respect assertive behaviour but aggression creates anxiety. It is learning to be more confident and feel its OK to expect the horse to listen. For instance you see riders continually kicking their horse when riding. I teach the horse to listen to the breath and if he does not respond then I tap with my legs, just once. If he does not respond to one tap from my legs, I will then tap my own leg with a whip. Very quickly, being sensitive high energy horses, they respond to the breath. I have seen horses give a huge reaction to just a fly landing on their back.
If you need to keep repeating your aids, the horse has not tune into the first aid so he will just switch off to further requests. We can become hugely effective by becoming more self aware. For instance to teach the horse we need him to be calm yet alert to us, so our energy needs to be calm yet focused to mirror this image.
I begin my leadership at the stable door- I take a deep outward sigh to release tension. I then ask the horse to walk back a few steps as I walk into the stable. This practise demands instant respect and with my stallions they walk back from the door before I enter. It is the same at the field gate, ask for a few strides backwards, then stand and sigh and connect.
Our energy field needs to be coherent which means a steady heart rate and a concentrated mind. This energy will speak clearly to the horse about your leadership. When we are full of anxiety our energy field changes to one of chaos. The horse will sense quickly this type of energy and react as a mirror image. His heart rate will speed up and his body will become more tense and it will be hard for him to concentrate or work well unless he can feel more secure.
He is a fear flight animal always seeking the security from the herd.
This is why our energy field and awareness is so important and also our personal empowerment. For instance the horse responds well to clear instructions. Sometimes my students come into the school to work with a stallion feeling rather unsure about how things will go. So I ask them to walk away and just stand quietly breathing deeply. Then I ask them to remember the fun they had as children playing games. This lighter fun energy with a positive attitude, will convey much to the horse. So feel decisive and expect him to respond. If the horse fails to listen, then ask more clearly with more empowerment. It is like tuning into a radio station as it may be fuzzy at first but once you are really tuned in, then the music can begin.
What simple things can you do to become more aware of your ‘self’ around horses?
I teach all my students awareness from top to toe. Once students gain this discipline then calmness and awareness can become second nature but this takes time patience and commitment.
TOP to TOE- awareness for the RIDER
Take a DEEP sigh to release tension.
• Relax your eyes and facial muscles .
• Lengthen back of the neck and relax the jaw.
• Feel your head is light, like a balloon
• Use core breathing into spine, release the shoulder blades
• Create a centre of ‘core’ mobility and balance
• Create expansion and elevation through upper body, through core breathing.
• Relax your shoulders, arms and fingers
• Energize through breathing with calm, mindful and focused energy
How can you maintain a calm energy around your horse and how can you identify when your energy levels are on the rise + what effect will heightened energy have on your horse?
The way to influence your horse with subtle communication is through repeating each day your focus on self awareness. For instance say you walk into the stables with your shoulders tight and up near your ears. You may recognise this and release tension with a deep sigh. In this way you can monitor your stress levels and be aware of your breathing. Calmness is a way of being, just as if you were doing yoga exercises, it is a good place to just ‘be’ with horses.
Energy can change rapidly. High energy can be aggressive or just more assertive or even high fun energy. When I have a horse at liberty not connecting with my calm energy I will sometimes bring my energy up- but the art is to become aware of your energy and watch the horse and how he responds. Sometimes I have to match the energy of a horse at liberty to gain his attention. Once he is listening, I can bring my own energy down and steady my breathing and watch for his connection to my energy and my leadership. Calmness does not mean to be passive without intention. For instance my stallion Maestu had not been worked for while and he became really feisty to handle. He was out at grass all day and able to let off steam. His problem was lack of emotional connection. He had missed his ‘work’ and loves to synchrony of working and being together. When I started to work him I raised both my energy and power of intention to gain his respect and co operation.
A strong minded horse, may need a strength of motivation along with mindfulness to gain mutual trust. Fear creates its own chaotic energy which the horse will feel very quickly. When we learn to master our fears we will gain confidence at our achievement whilst gaining respect from our horse. At the heart of every partnership is a love and respect and wanting the best for our horse on every level.
How important is self-belief and intuition when working with horses.
Be prepared to take time and patience to get to know your horse. Trust between you and your horse, is so important and this is built slowly day by day, listening to your horse, making sure he is listening to you- a two way conversation.
Become aware of what you are asking and see how subtle you can be with your communications. Self belief is the key to success as when we are unsure the horse will pick up these energy vibes very quickly. Herd security is paramount and when horses feel unsure, they feel unsafe and anxious- and the fear and flight adrenaline will start to kick in. We want our horse to feel confident, secure and joyous with us so when we are feeling this way, he will become our mirror.
Intuition is at the heart of communication. Our inner listening or intuition has sometimes been forgotten as technical knowledge expands and opinions of others you feel have more experience, gain more credence.
The spirit of the horse is powerful and when we really try to tune in can teach us much about ourselves.
For instance you may be riding and your horse is not responding as usual , but you cannot figure out why. So take your time to listen and react, as you have probably correctly, tuned into the way the horse is feeling. You may need to change your responses and energy or there may be a problem with the way the horse is feeling, either emotionally or physically.
Horses respond well to positive energy and you can influence your horse by building your own self awareness both on the ground and in the saddle. For instance, does the horse lower his head when you put on the bridle? If your horse resists and raises his head then change this pattern of behaviour. Try to make sure that the handling is quiet, thoughtful without resistance. Soon this pattern of behaviour will be reflected in every day handling.
It is the same in the school. If there is a spooky corner, when you are riding, then try to change the horses mind. So focus on your own state of relaxation and take a deep sigh and and even yawn. Exercises can be used such as small circles towards the corner, until you gradually arrive at that spot, then relax the reins and sigh very deeply. All our communications are to say to the horse that we will not ask too much of him and are sensitive to his nature. This process helps us to become thoughtful so we can alleviate many potential problems. I find with my stallions that every day I learn from them, mostly to listen and be prepared to adapt with changes if needed.
When we go to the stables with a clear mind, feeling calm, assertive and ready to enjoy the time we spend with our horse, then we can gain the best response learning the art of communication through breath energy awareness.
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