Since most people do not have the luxury of being able to use their horses for work, the next best thing is the purpose of exercising minds and bodies.
We all know that the worst disease of our time is the sedentary lifestyles we are tempted to live. If we think about horsemanship in the most genuine way, it will exercise our minds and bodies. Usually exercise by itself is associated with pain, discomfort, and drudgery. But when we have a goal of smoothness and flow, we push those three negatives to the back. It always comes back to envisioning two or more dancers in motion.
The most exciting part of horsemanship is beginning to feel that teamwork flow that gets us feeling like we are moving on a cloud. If the communication is not there, we will never get the smoothness we are aiming for.
I like to emphasize all the areas of communication we have available to us. I like to explain God’s Third Commandment (“do not misuse God’s name”) as the most important, because it rightfully puts God’s name on all the things he has available to us to excel in this area as well as many others. In horsemanship, God shows us three dimensions of body language: “pressure” (I call it mom-something), “rhythmic pressure” (I call it dad-something) and “combination” (I call it God-something). Knowing and using all three of these, can get dance moves from horse and human that truly give us a high.
It is nice to find a high that costs us more in sweat than it does in money that we don’t have. A high that helps us to run faster and jump higher when most people are making excuses about getting older. I used to think groundwork with horses was for wimps who were afraid of getting on the horses back. I know now that it is like the prayer of Jabez that God granted him (1 Chronicles, 4:10). It expands boundaries, helps us avoid needless pain and frustration, and gives us the ability to do far more.
When getting a workout on the ground with a horse, I will put together all the “hovercraft” moves in different combinations. Forward and back, sideways, front end turns, hind end turns, up and down, will all be choreographed in different combinations and patterns to keep us all thinking and moving. Props such as jumps, barrels, bridges, pedestals and cones help provide more to interact with. We can also work on slowness, and then transition up speed, making sure we do not sacrifice smoothness in our transitions.
Slow is a great challenge, because there is a point at which it has a tendency to be stop and go rather than smooth. Speed tests whether we have been practicing good form at the slower speeds. It is something that must be slowly added, so that form is not sacrificed. To get the “Simon says” element, we have to add in the second commandment of God: “No false Gods.” These are all the things we do with our bodies or equipment that the horse should ignore, or not move (depending on the situation). Examples are found in the three “nothings”: mom nothing (stroking, or petting motion), dad nothing (repetitive noises, swinging equipment, jumping motions) and kid nothing (spontaneous noises, and movement from anywhere).
To help a horse hang in there and not fail, we will usually have a line attached to their halter while we are dancing with them. I also like a bridle with a roping rein on them at times, so I can help put the horse in position with that also. We try to guide them as though we do not have that equipment and only use it when body language itself was not enough. If we practice this in the corral, we don’t have to worry about a horse getting away. This prepares us for a liberty situation in which equipment is relied on less and less. One real practical use of this is getting a horse easier to catch when we are not on their back. But the most important part of this is getting horse and rider more comfortable with each other.
Next time we will explain the purpose of getting better, so we can help others get better (a good pyramid scheme!).
Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot trimming specialist from Raymondville. Email: email@example.com.