When I coach riders, one of the major topics we address is how to understand and connect more deeply with your horse.
A fun way to understand your horse and connect more deeply is dancing with your horse on the ground. I am not talking about longeing, but rather communicating with your freely-moving horse in the round pen.
I had seen videos and read books about this kind of ground work but hadn’t experienced it myself. James Sturgeon, in Center Point, Iowa, (www.willowspringsriding.com) is offering this kind of horse experience. I signed up for a session with him.
Levi, one of his horses volunteered, and after connecting to him through grooming, Levi and I entered the playground. James drew an orange mark on Levi’s hip, shoulder and side of his nose and the fun began. We used the orange marks to help me to focus my energy on specific body parts. When you observe horses in a herd, you can see how a look from one horse is often enough to move another. There is a lot of energy in a focused look.
Being new to this game, I found that my dance partner, Levi, ignored my looks. James showed me how to enhance my energy using my whole body. A stiff rope coiled in my hands created even more energy and soon Levi was moving. It was exhilarating to converse in equine language (energy) and observe the results.
I learned how to bring up more energy in my body and enhance the energy through the help of tools in my hand (rope, stick…). In the beginning I would grossly overdo it, but after some time I started to slowly bring up the energy, step by step, in a smoother way. At this point the dance became more harmonious and more fun.
Laughter started to bubble up in my body because I was conversing in a language Levi could understand and it was a joy to see him so attentive and sensitive. The moment I was congruent in my body and gestures, it didn’t take much energy to ask him to move. While I was still a bit clumsy and often needed more energy to convince Levi to move, James was fully attuned to this dance and hardly needed to lift a finger.
Besides creating a deep connection with our horse, this simple interaction in the round pen can provide us with important life lessons:
Just waving a stick or rope around doesn’t produce much energy. It has to be supported with certainty and focus from our body. In our daily life we often just wildly wave our arms or ask others to do certain things without standing fully behind them. The result is that others ignore us. Confidence and certainty have to come from the inside.
When we feel stuck, we don’t need to push through a situation but can step back, realign and approach it from a different angle. James gave me a stick as a tool to create more energy (not to touch the horse). It felt very awkward in my hands and I was distracted when I asked Levi to move. Sure enough he got confused and presented me with his rump. My old habit wanted me to push through the situation no matter what. At the same time I was afraid that he might kick me. I was hesitant, meaning incongruent, and that confused Levi. I stopped pushing him and turned away to rethink the situation and find alignment within myself. I decided to go back using the rope, a tool I was comfortable with, and ask him to move, which he gladly did. Next I practiced with the stick away from Levi to get a better feel for this tool. Then when I used the stick I was more congruent with the tool and my intention, and Levi understood better what I wanted. This is a typical situation we encounter in our daily life. Situations often escalate or get messy because we keep pushing instead of stepping back and aligning ourselves.
Consistency is important. There were times during the session that I would raise my rope to increase energy, but Levi wouldn’t answer the request with increased speed. He was asking me: “Are you really sure you want me to increase my speed?” Many times I would not follow through by increasing the energy but rather let him walk at the same speed. For Levi this was an inconsistent message and created confusion. Next time he probably will require even more energy. Where in our daily life do we make requests without following through?
The round pen is a wonderful playground to become fluent in the language of your horse and deeply connect. The knowledge and new skills gained translate into more fun and ease in the saddle and your daily life.
At the end of our dance, Levi and I stood in the center, relaxed and deeply connected, enjoying each other’s presence. Thank you Levi and James for an insightful, deeply touching, and fun dance.