2017 Communication and Connection Part 4:
Audio, Video and PDF Links
Part 4: Body Language Session 1: Posture Week 1: People Posture
Topics to be covered: What our posture conveys. How posture factors into clarity or confusion in communicating with horses. The importance of being congruent between posture, energy, intention and thought. Utilizing feedback from our horses to help us become aware of what our posture is conveying and then be able to change it if needed.
Welcome to week 1 video
Course Content for session 1: Week 1: Posture
Part 4: Session 1: Week 2: Horse Posture
Topics to be covered: What our horse’s posture conveys. How posture impacts balance and movement and hence our ability to connect and communicate. Working with Postural issues in horse and human.
welcome to week 2 video
Course content for session 1 week 2 horse posture
Part 4: Session 3: Movement
Hello and welcome to the third session of Part 4 on posture, balance and movement. Of course, the deeper I go into this series the broader the topic becomes. Posture, balance and movement relate to us but also to our horses and then of course to our ability to connect and move together. In order for horse and human to move together fluidly both partners must be able to maintain their balance (mentally and emotionally as well as physically). Both partners must carry themselves in a way that facilitates good movement and balance, what I referred to as posture. Without good posture and good balance movement can happen, but it tends not to be fluid.
I know there is a great deal of debate out there in the horse world about what we should and should not do with horses. For some, there is a tendency to gravitate to doing less and less for fear it is unethical to ask our horses to do anything. But the reality is that our domesticated horses have limited room to roam and that means limited opportunities for mental, physical and emotional stimulation. As one of my fellow parkour students (71 years young) recently quipped, “motion is lotion” and I couldn’t agree more! But not just any motion, and maybe this is where we get stuck. Rhythmic, fluid motion is healthy. Tense, worried, stressed motion is not. For the next few weeks we'll explore motion in many forms!
Part 4: Session 3: Week 1 Video: Moving through the herd
Moving in and around horses in a way that is not disruptive and does not create conflict, is a skill in and of itself. I thought I'd start our conversation about movement with a video clip of me feeding the horses here. I have it set up so that I don't have to halter horses to move them around. I can just open gates and close them. It's great and when it works it works really well as all the horses seamlessly flow through the routine. But the fluidity of feeding time depends a lot on me. If I am smooth and fluid and grounded and relaxed then they flow with me and it's easy. If I'm tense or in ahurry they pick up on my energy, I set the tone, they reflect it and all of a sudden feeding feels like herding cats! They are more agitated, more likely to pick fights with each other and more likely to NOT go where they need to go. It is miraculous how quick they are to pick up my energetic/movement tone and mirror it back to me!
I find it essential when I'm interacting with the herd, to be fully aware of myself and my surroundings. It's helpful to notice how they are moving and interacting with each other. To know which horses are more dominant and which ones tend to get picked on. If I can position myself in such a way that I place myself always between the horses that might challenge each other or make extra room for the one that might get picked on, everything goes more smoothly, but I also earn many points with my horses in the trust department. Executing this does require I'm on my toes and able to move fluidly and adapt to the constantly changing situations.
It's great practice to go out and move through your horses. Whether at feeding time or when they are hanging out and notice how their behavior is affected by your presence. I'm beginning to think that in an ideal world they should not be troubled by my presence at all - neither excited nor evasive - wary or in my pocket. When things are really on and I am moving consciously, fully in my body and aware of my surroundings, the horses don't notice me all that much. Then I can begin moving through the herd watching to see which horse or horses might be interested in interacting with me. We begin a dialogue in which we mutually negotiate contact and agree to how we will be with each other. It's the invitation to dance and it's a beautiful thing. But let's start by watching how I move through the herd at feeding time and then take a little time to engage in your own explorations moving through and around your horses and see how they respond.
Adding Music to the Movement:
As most of you know this last weekend was spent teaching together with Anna Blake at my place. It was an incredibly fascinating and inspiring weekend that provided so much clarity for me about this very topic. I have so many stories to tell!
For the moment I want to share this post from a Facebook page entitled Joy in Motion.
“As I led her I felt like we were oscillating around the beat but never quite on it. No matter how strongly I tried to assert that strong moment repeating through time we couldn’t quite sync up. Trying to follow the natural rhythm of her body proved equally fruitless. I asked her to focus on the music, telling me with her body where the beat was. “Oh,” she responded. “I’ve been trying to not do that because I don’t want to stop listening to my leader.”
It’s a common misconception among newer followers, that being active with what you hear in the music, even something as simple as the beat, will render you unable to listen to or feel your leader.
“Let’s just try it and see how it feels,” I suggested. She agreed. We danced the same song again, and this time our partnered steps surged as strongly as the music did from one beat to the next. My own body immediately relaxed. I was now able to enjoy the feeling of moving together instead of trying to place her on each beat to keep us in sync. The level of effort I had to exert went from a lot to very little, freeing me up to focus on the feeling of the music in my body, in her body, and in the way we moved together. Just walking went from feeling like a chore to feeling like a delight. It felt so good I waited until the song finished to stop and ask her how it felt.
“Wow, I wasn’t expecting that. I felt like I was able to listen to you better. And I felt more relaxed and more comfortable. I was actually enjoying listening to the music. That was great!”
Listening to your partner doesn’t just mean listening to their body but listening to the full context in which their body is moving, and a big part of that is the music. Whether you think of it as listening to the music through your partner’s body (one option) or listening to the music in your own body and allowing the two bodies to find their meeting place (another option), this simple truth opens the door to equally active partners finding their place in the music together.” Joy in Motion FB Page
How many of you listen to music when you want to move with your horse? We did that this weekend and it was so great! Rhythm is so important, as is breathing and relaxation. Horses love moving to music as much as we do and music gives us a beat to feel. For the next few days I’d love to hear what happens if you go out and play some music while you seek to move with your horses.
Part 4: Session 3: Bonus Material: Releasing the Poll
Breaking our requests into bite sized chunks:
Sometimes we want to do something with our horses. Maybe it's something we just saw a clinician do or it's something someone told us we should do for our horse's benefit. I don't know about you, but when I find myself in that position I tend to want to diligently practice what I've learned. I'll tell you what, it's been quite an education in that these last few weeks as I record footage of myself trying to implement some ideas that inspired me while watching other people do them. I don't feel so inspired watching myself. Why? Because I'm clumsy and awkward and it reflects in the horse's movement and attitude towards me. This video I posted of the body work with Huey is 24 minutes out of the 40 I spent with him. I moved him around a bit first and when I went back to watch I cannot tell you how many times I would have told myself to let him keep going instead of changing things up. Watching the video I could see how he was exploring finding his rhythm. He'd be focused on that, feeling into his body, and I'd ask him to change direction. Ugh. Poor guy. I can hear Frederic saying "it's too much, it's too much...Do less". Sigh. Back to the drawing board!
The point is that things often don't go as planned. We have an idea of what we'd like our horse to do - the ideal version - they can't do it, for whatever reason, and so we keep trying and trying. Trying too hard breeds tension and tends to remove any concept of a dialogue between me and my horse. One thing I do like about watching my attempts to implement these ideas about doing things with my horses is that I can see how relaxed I am. And that allows Huey, in this case, to clearly communicate how he feels, for me to receive his message and adapt accordingly. So, while it may look clumsy to my eyes, it also looks like a conversation, not a dictatorship and I'm grateful because I can see how much softer I can still become! It's a bit painful, but I highly recommend setting up a camera and taping yourself doing things with your horse. In the absence of someone to be your eyes on the ground, it's a great tool for evaluating how things look versus how they feel.
This particular video clip illustrates how I might approach it if there is something I want to do with my horse that they either can't or won't do the way I was taught to do it. Phew, that's a mouthful!
The question was, "how do I approach doing the stretch where the horse relaxes their head into your hand, allowing them to suspend tension in the neck and poll if my horse doesn't let me do that?"
The answer is, sometimes you have to figure out what needs to be released before that stretch can happen. Sometimes your horse is just telling you they either don't need that stretch or they don't like it. Sometimes it's a question of how we're asking. This particular stretch involves placing your hand on the lower jaw behind the chin. That's vulnerable territory. In fact one of my mentors found a reference (wish I could find it) that talks about the lower jaw (energetically) associated with our identity. When I do this stretch I like to think about how I'm making contact with their identity when I touch them there - how tactful do I need to be to do that?
Often times we can't facilitate a release because we're trying to hard to make something happen. Inadvertently we take hold and pull, trying to actively stretch them. Every body will react to that approach by reflexively defending against the stretch. Particularly when we're talking about stretching a vulnerable area like the lower jaw (which can put traction on the TMJ if we try to pull them into the stretch) and poll/throatlatch. There are a lot of things that can become restricted in this area so the key is to make contact with all the softness in us and wait. Let the horse decide if they want to drop the weight of their head in your hands. Let the horse decide how much of a stretch they want/need, if any. Let them decide where and how to position their head. They'll make use of the contact you give them to support whatever they need. I hope the video clip with Huey gives you some ideas how to approach touch that is intended to be therapeutic. If you can apply the same consciousness to all your interactions it's pretty amazing what happens!
Part 4: Session 2: Physical Balance
Welcome to our second week on the topic of balance. This week I want to talk about the importance of our physical balance. Actual physical balance plays a key role in our ability to convey our meaning through body language, our ability to receive information from our horse and respond in a timely and supportive way. Balance is equally important for our horses. When our horses have good balance the same holds true for them. They can feel, perceive and respond far more fluidly to our requests. When both partners can maintain their own balance points the result is what we would consider a responsive horse! Good balance enhances the way you interact with your environment to move you and your horse will notice!
Update: I removed the welcome video due to an audio problem. The new welcome video will be posted shortly. A second video will be posted tomorrow giving you some visual ideas of how physical balance might come into play in hand with a few horses, along with some ideas for how you can play with improving your own physical balance! In light of all the wildly dangerous weather so many of you have been facing here in the states I felt the need to hit the pause button again. We can explore into our integration week to catch up with each other and on written material.
Part 4: Session 2: Physical Balance in Action
Balance control in a physical sense, is a key component of fluid, dynamic and harmonious interactions with our horses. Horses are so tuned into body language that we can quite literally, 'train' them simply by interacting with them with good posture, balance and movement. They are quite capable to learn to mimic or reference off our how we our moving and carrying ourselves. In fact, they are so good at it that I strongly advise my students not to adopt odd or different ways of moving around their horses (trying to mimic canter in order to get them to canter, for example). I've worked with many horses who had learned to move in ways that were actually causing them harm because they were mimicking their person! It's just not necessary. If you have good posture, you know how to move by interacting with the ground to generate your movement and you have good balance control, that's all you need!
In the following video I talk about and demonstrate some ideas about how you can assess and improve your own balance and then what it looks like when horse and human endeavor to move together in close quarters. In this case, work in hand. I shared clips from 3 sessions with horses who all need some support with their own balance so you can see how I use my balance control to help them find theirs.
Part 4: Session 2: Balance
Welcome to our session on balance! I'm so excited to share this information. In this video you'll get to see Steve and I demonstrating some things that can happen when we move together. You'll see what it's like when we are in balance with each other, when Steve is assertive, passive and lacking in confidence. You'll even get to see what happens when your partner gets bored and takes over! Acting is hard! :-)