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  • Writer's pictureRachel Ory

Learning the Language - Equestrian Tact

As a horsewoman working for the public, my job is to find the cause of resistance (be it mental or physical) and help the horse to work through it till it's no longer an issue. It's quite easy to get distracted by the symptoms; usually owners come with a list of them when they drop a horse off.

We spend time teaching riders how to improve communication with their horse and why it's important. They must be prepared to embark on their own journey when they leave our barn. The work that has been done in training is not all directly transferable; each rider must build their own relationship with their horse.

At the basic mechanical level, riders learn how to deliver the aids to get the horse to operate a certain way. Often times, it doesn't go any deeper; as humans we are only capable of understanding what we are ready to accept. However, when a rider becomes curious, then I have the opportunity to encourage them to take the next step. In all of my work with riders, I am preparing them to make a choice: Do you stay at the basic mechanical level where this is for fun, for sport, for recreation, or do you choose to commit to acquiring the skills to communicate with your horse on a deeper level?

This is a crucial decision, and since horses are not mechanical -- They are either learning or unlearning, being trained or untrained. It takes a commitment to acquire the skills to truly "communicate with horses;" it's not something that comes natural to most humans. And this starts with making the mechanical part of riding inherent, so we can focus on sculpting the nuances, -- our feel, timing, balance and intention. This is where speaking our language ends and speaking the horse’s language begins.

By changing our thought process, our goals become more incremental, less obvious to the casual observer, and way more apparent to our horses. Human logic starts the training progression counting from 1-10 when it actually begins at 0. The vitally important 0-1 part most often goes unrecognized because we don't understand what really matters to the horse.

Good riders seek help even when their progress is positive. The most common mistake is waiting until we are in a negative place before asking for help. It is so much easier if a horse never learns he is stronger than we are, or how to avoid the subject, or what he can’t do in the process. If you are unsure of what a logical and attainable goal should be, find a trainer that you can trust to help you define them. Even if things are going well, checking in with a teacher that offers new perspective from the horse's point of view is essential to growth.

The commitment to learning based on what matters to our horse doesn't come naturally, and we all will need help from other trainers and teachers who emulate our goals. Riding doesn't have to go any deeper than how and when to apply the aids, but for those who are ready, there is a whole new language waiting, and our horses will thank us! Let's keep contemplating the choices that we have for the sake of our horses, present and future.

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