2018 Series 5
Taking Body Language into Motion
Tango with Horses!
Week 5: Tango with Horses
Redefining training to create the dance, under saddle and more
course content for week 5:
Tango with Horses
Welcome to week 5!
Introduction to week 5
We spent the bulk of this year learning to interpret our horse’s feedback, learning to listen, learning to allow our horses to have an opinion. Listening is fairly easy to do when we do bodywork or focus on building a connection in stillness. Continuing to listen and give horses their voice is a far greater challenge when we move into training. I find people run into all sorts of ethical quandaries: do I even have the right to ask this sentient being to do things? Am I doing harm by riding my horse? Do I use a bit or go bitless? Does my horse even want to be ridden, and how do I know? I think these are all valid questions if we treat our horses as the intelligent, sentient beings we know them to be. So how do we know what our horses want? How do we develop the partnership so that we can do more together in a way that is mutually enjoyable, mutually beneficial?
Giving my horses a voice was a prime motivator in finding my own path in horse training. When I was doing rehab work, I always felt there was a cross roads for every horse that came to me. A point in time where that horse tried to communicate to their person something was wrong. That communication either went unnoticed, was corrected, or punished as bad behavior. I always felt that if only that small thing had been noticed and attended to, perhaps this large issue I was working through now would never have happened. It seemed the only way to prevent the kinds of catastrophic injuries and behavioral challenges I worked to rehabilitate was to teach people to listen to their horses better.
When I began learning Argentine Tango, I was struck by how much the terminology of Tango resembled terminology of horsemanship. Out of an intense sense of curiosity about how others interpreted these words, I sent a list of terms common to both training horses and dancing tango, asking an array of horse friends to define these terms, and how they made them feel. What an eye opener! Many terms triggered strong emotional responses. Leader was most often defined as the dominant one, or the one in charge. Most people expressed distaste about the term and had some kind of discomfort associated with the concept of leading. Submission is a term used to describe the yielding quality inherent in a good follower as well as in a compliant horse. This term also elicited strong emotional responses, most associating submission as weakness. People were not comfortable with the idea of leading OR following. That presents a real quandary in training horses!
I realized how important the words we use are, because if we feel uncomfortable with the idea of being the leader, how do we embody the qualities of a good lead dancer to ask our horses to move? Emotional discord and misinterpretation around the terminology we use seriously hampers our execution. So, my first step became redefining training terms in light of the dance rather than in light of herd hierarchy or dominance. For example, rather than define training as ‘teaching the horse how to do the things I want him to do’, I consider training as an athlete might consider training. We train together so as to build our muscle memory, strength, coordination, balance control and connection. We train to perfect our ability to dance, or flow together. Training is not something I do ‘to’ my horse, but something we do together. Horses are quite brilliant at moving on their own, as am I. Like dancing Tango, the trick lies in joining forces, coming into physical contact, and moving together as a unit.