Integrate… A verb and by definition is to make into a whole by bringing all parts together, to join as one, or the organization of organic, psychological or social traits and tendencies into harmonious unity. In layman horse training terms, it would be to combine what you are as a human collectively with what your horse is in a horse in a fashion that is beneficial to both of you. Whether your goal is to enjoy the mountain scenery on the trails or it’s in the arena in a performance aspect, good riding and good training does not matter what seat you ride or whether a ribbon and prestige hangs in the balance. Good horsemanship is just good horsemanship, as simple as that. So how does one accomplish this task of integrating themselves with their horses? Where do we begin our journey? I only have a few thoughts on it, though it’s a topic I constantly think about, the more I think the more the idea develops itself and the more complex it gets. I tend to be a geek in more ways than one when it comes to horses. I shall spare you the thoughts in their entirety and stick to the simplistic format.
In all these musings, I thought it would be most simple for us to break it into two parts, before we unify the two. Starting with our minds. An Integrative Mind; or being present enough with one’s self to be able to communicate to the horse what we want from them, and being able to know what you horse might need from you in the sense of support, and knowing when to time your thought or intent, with the movement of your horse. The second is becoming an Integrated Rider, being able to maintain body awareness and control in the saddle or on the ground and carrying over that intent or thought to an aid such as your leg, seat, hand etc. while not interfering with the action of your horse.
AN INTEGRATIVE MIND – Developing an Intuitive Rapport with your horse.
Horses are adept at reflecting back at us what our emotions may be at any given time. All of us have started a session with our horse, and gotten scared or frustrated, the horse in turn will mirror that fear and frustration and a struggle has begun. It feels at these moments as if someone has put a wall between what you want and your horse at this point just wants to know what it is that you want so that things can go back to being peaceful.
As horse owners we have attempted to educate ourselves by watching masters of horsemanship demonstrating the maintenance of an emotional balance while a horse quite literally has a mental meltdown due to the horse’s lack of confidence, previous lack of understanding and or history of abuse. It often appears as though this person is timing their cues before the horse realizes that they will react. However, what is left out of the program is how you as a horse owner can become that calm in the face of adversity and be able to remain reflective throughout the entire process. How we can manage our emotions well enough that we do not get angry, lose our temper and are not only a good leader but a good translator with our horse.
We can learn the exercises, we practice the motions, but what we don’t learn is how to develop that socio-sensual side of our own minds enough to see the task through from start to finish with feel and understanding that creates that lasting partnership with your horse that goes beyond their interactions with you being an extrinsic reward and becoming an intrinsic part of their life and ultimately your partnership together.
Socio-sensual means instinctive, or the primal part of your psyche that communicates through reading body language, facial expression or energy balance, the part of us that is usually subjugated by the day to day activities of life. Most of the time we are doing this without really knowing we are doing it. An example of socio-sensual communication in the animal world would be how a school of fish or herd of mustangs all can turn in unity to change directions. Horses understand this communication no matter how much domestication they have or how much we attempt to breed and train it out of them. Since us humans use reason so much more in our decision making process, our rational thought generally overrules our feeling response. Horses learn reason in much the same manner as we do however they don’t have as much access to certain portions of the brain that process rational thought as we do. Though I am still holding onto the opinion that a horse is wiser than us since they can read into a situation using their “gut” feelings much easier than we can.
To bridge the distance of human and equine learning, I will give a brief explanation of how both species learn. A great deal of a learned response from an experience stems from an emotional attachment to the experience itself, which we have seen in horses that have developed fear or anxiety of an object or exercise. The system in the brain that regulates this is the Limbic System, this portion of the brain is responsible for emotional tagging or coloring, bonding, receipt of smell, and ultimately any emotional attachment that you may have to a memory, lesson, or experience. Which is why it is believed that smell has such a profound impact on triggering a memory in both humans and animals alike. Our sense of smell is the only sensory perception we have that is not filtered through the Thalamus first before it is coded into the brain. The Limbic portion of the brain also deals with “hard-wired” responses, such as fight or flight. Using this knowledge imagine setting up a lesson where your horse as a one time learner by nature; they have to be as in the wild since horses only get once chance to get it right or they are another animals meal, that your horse can have a positive response to a lesson or exercise. Therein is our end goal – to accomplish this positive emotional response each time you interact with your horse. We know as horse owners that our horse never ever forgets an experience – especially we focus on the negative ones. Why not focus on the positive ones as well?
This is more than enough for now, to be frank even being the geek that I am I find this a bit intense!