Being aware not only means being alert and mindful; more importantly, it means having knowledge about something – in this case, horses. Part of this knowledge should come from your DIAGNOSTIC ABILITY, meaning your ability to:
IDENTIFY – determining what needs to be developed, “fixed”, or eliminated
EXAMINE – being able to “see” things not just “look” at them
ANALYZE – determining what is or is not happening and why
EVALUATE – being able to observe, reflect and compare
FORMULATE – building a plan to develop what you want, fix what is not to your liking or eliminate what you don’t want
EXECUTE – putting the plan into action
REINFORCE – building on the plan if it is working to your satisfaction
RECONSTRUCT – revising the plan if things are not working
The first thing that you must learn to do is to ride in the “NOW”, i.e. the present, not the past (one second or more ago) or the future (one second or more ahead of the “now”). Why? Because the present is the horse’s world. That is where he operates. “NOW” is the only reality. The past is history. You can’t do anything about it anymore and the future is not here yet so you don’t know for certain what is going to happen. This does not mean that you should not have a plan; it just means that you must retain your FOCUS when you are with the horse. If you repeat this saying with your hands placed on the horse it will help you to stay focused – I AM YOUR WHOLE WORLD AND YOU ARE MY WHOLE WORLD AND TOGETHER WE ARE ONE WORLD. Part of being focused is having the ability to CONCENTRATE. This is a learned behavior for the human. For without concentration during the entire time you are with the horse, both mounted and dismounted, you will lose some, and possibly all, of your effectiveness.
Once you have mastered the skill of CONCENTRATION you can then start to apply some things which are very important to the horse. These are:
CONSISTENCY – a uniformity of behavior toward and treatment of the horse; thus avoiding the human tendency to be a little “uneven” at times. For example, one day holding the horse to high standards of behavior /performance and the next day not following through on given signals or correcting the little “tests” which he is always presenting to you.
INSISTENCY – meaning to be firm in your requests. Most people get into trouble and then don’t know how to get out of it because of two principle reasons:
- committing acts of OMISSION, i.e., doing nothing or not enough when they should have done something or,
- committing acts of COMMISSION, i.e., doing something when they should have done nothing or very little
PERSISTENCE – meaning to hold firmly and steadfastly to your purpose or undertaking despite being presented with obstacles. Of course, you must begin by having a clear idea of what you want to accomplish
FOLLOW-THROUGH – having the ability to get a response or at the very least, in the beginning, an honest try to your signals or requests; regardless of the level of effort it takes or the amount of time it takes. But always striving for less effort and time on your part
PRESSURE/RELEASE – the above principles will be difficult to achieve with any degree of long-lasting success and lightness to your signals if your timing of pressure/release is slow or too prolonged. Pressure/release is how the horse learns to respond
PATIENCE – means being able to remain calm while awaiting an outcome (of something) and not becoming impulsive or hasty. Only you (the teacher) know what you want to accomplish with the horse, not the horse (the student). Of course, if you do not have a clear idea of where you want to end up, then it would be wise not to begin in the first place. Furthermore, if your knowledge base is only a half-page ahead of the student [this pertains to teaching humans also] and the student asks you a question that is four pages ahead in the lesson and you cannot answer it then the student will lose confidence in your ability to teach and may not trust you so much in the future to provide the correct answers. However; bear in mind that horses learn as fast as horses learn (and they all vary in the time it takes to learn) not as fast as the teacher wants them to learn – providing the teacher (you) is presenting the material in a manner that is LOGICAL TO THE HORSE and is UNDERSTOOD BY THE HORSE. So patience is “hanging in there”, and providing guidance, support and direction when required to the horse. It is also well to remember that WHERE KNOWLEDGE ENDS, FRUSTRATION BEGINS, FOLLOWED SHORTLY THEREAFTER BY FORCE OR VIOLENCE. So it would be better to stop, step away from the problem, take a break, get control of your emotions and seek help from a more knowledgeable person before you reach that point
Use of these principles together with your awareness (knowledge) of when, where, why, and how to apply and release your signals will help to develop a pattern of COMMUNICATION which the horse will be able to understand and which will help you avoid the following errors when working with the horse:
-achieving no response from a given signal
-allowing responses that are not in connection with your signals
-maintaining continued pressure of a signal when the horse has already responded to it (or given an honest try)
-releasing pressure of a signal before the horse has responded to it
-poor timing (giving a signal when the horse’s structures are not correctly set up to respond to the signal or when the horse is not capable of executing the request because of lack of balance, strength, of understanding)
-using the same signals for different requested responses causing confusion for the horse
-giving signals simultaneously for two or more different desired responses, e.g., go-stop, shoulder-in – leg-yield, etc. Make your signals simple and singular
-allowing your hands to override your legs and not developing the opposite way of riding
The list could go on but I believe the above to be probably some of the more important things to avoid. In essence, it means that you are not being effective. If you can control or eliminate these errors your horsemanship will improve dramatically and you will be RIDING AWARE.
As a closing thought, remember: YOU MUST OWN THE RIDE AND RIDE EVERY STRIDE OR ELSE THE HORSE WILL TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE.