I really like the above quote by horse trainer, Nahshon Cook. The issue of developing feel in our horsemanship is a tough one for those of us who tend to live in our heads.
Some folks just seem to naturally stay in the moment with their horses and can absorb every movement, every gesture while also responding to the horse automatically.
Others of us feel something from our horses and then start thinking about it in a way that is not particularly helpful in the moment. “What just happened? Why did he do that? Now I’m scared. What is wrong with me? I wish I were a braver rider. What do I do now?”
Thinking is good in general, of course. But staying in my mind while absorbed in my own spiraling thoughts? That is usually not helpful to my horse. As with so many things in life and horsemanship, there is an ideal balance between thinking and feeling and thinking about what we are feeling.
When I am staying in My mind, focusing on MY thoughts, MY feelings, MY past, MY future, I have stopped thinking about the horse. I suspect it feels to the horse like I have stopped riding and abandoned him to his own devices.
Too much thought and the emoting about those thoughts as Nahshon Cook mentions? They take me right off the horse in the middle of the ride. No wonder some of us riders can get really good at creating anxiety in our equines.
What if instead I can stay in touch with how the horse feels underneath me, in each moment of each stride? That is how I can create calm for me and my horse.
What if instead of thinking and emoting about the last big, scary moment during my ride (say a big spook), I can take a deep breath and go back to feeling my horse underneath me, feeling each next stride? If so, the rest of the ride goes so much better than if I dwell on that incident.
If I keep on focusing on that spook during the rest of the ride? There I go again, mentally dismounting. Maybe even right when the horse needed me the most to help regain his own sense of safety and composure.
I also like Nahshon Cook’s imagery of floating within the ocean. I imagine myself making small adjustments to keep swimming along in the direction I want to go while keeping my face above the water. I am going with the water and yet still charting a course, whether further out into the ocean or circling around back to the shore.
In making lots of those small adjustments, I am not fighting the water (horse). I am learning how to move with the water (horse) while at the same time accomplishing my goal of us arriving safely at my chosen training destination. It is an interesting give and take.
Trying to maintain this frame of mind is definitely a work in progress for me, particularly on days where I seem to have misplaced my confidence and can’t find it anywhere. But it is exactly what I want to aspire to with every horse I ride.