Saturday, February 23, 2008

Less Is So Much More

My friend, Grey Horse Matters sent me a beautiful video of trainer Stacey Westfall riding her horse bareback without a bridle or reins at the Quarter Horse Congress. You can go to Stacey’s website, to see a video of her performing. It is awe-inspiring to watch communication between a human and a horse at that level. There was so much love that it overflowed into the whole stadium full of people.

The horse is unbelieveably relaxed and calm,so completely absorbed in Stacey that thousands of screaming fans don’t distract it in any way. I thought about Tom Dorrance , one of my favorite cowboy trainers. He talked about how important it is to calm the inward part of the horse. Many trainers only work on the surface, at the mental and physical levels, not getting right down to what’s really going on inside the horse. “No one is going to get this without it coming right out of the inside of themselves. The rest of it has to come from inside the horse.” We’re talking about Spirit and self-preservation. “A person’s approach can assure the horse that he can have self-preservation and still respond to what the person is asking him to do.” Dorrance said.

Billie, over at camera-obscura wisely mentioned to me that people have a tendency to be too loud around their horses. Take it down a few notches and they listen better. It’s the same idea of “less is more” that I strive for in my Feldenkrais exercises. If we live our whole life with the same intentions that we bring to training our horses, it’s going to improve our own Spirit too.

This morning, Silk and Siete were dying to go out in the pasture after staying inside for yesterday’s snowstorm. Almost as soon as they stepped deep in over a foot of freezing, crunchy white stuff, they were ready to come inside again. I mucked quickly, spread shavings, filled water buckets and threw down a couple of flakes of hay. In less than a half hour, I asked Silk if she wanted to go home. Leading her into the barn, I could feel her Spirit singing.


Emmaretti-Louigi said...

I think you're horses are lovely. I love chestnuts. I have a chestnut gelding and personally i think they seem to have a lot of character, i have always had chestbuts ponies and horses and they always make me laugh. I am quite interested in clicker training and other methods like that. I recently saw a Parelli masterclass which amazed me. I wish i could get into that sort of thing. I always believe that methods like that could create an amazing bond between the person and their horse. It amazes me and it's nice to hear that you are having success with it and your horse seems to enjoy it too!

Grey Horse Matters said...

Less is always more in my book, no matter what you apply it to, why over do it when you don't have to. I agree with Billie too, some people tend to be so loud around the barn, I think it unnerves the horses, I know I jump at loud noises and they have much better hearing than I do. And your pictures are lovely, what a pretty setting to look at, but I don't blame the girls for wanting to come in.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful, peaceful photograph! Very calming view!

The video of Stacey Westfall is breathtaking! I don't think she moves an inch off the back of the horse.

Check out "Simply Marvelous"
(hope this url works)

You might like to see some photographs of Stacey both riding without bridle/saddle AND with another horse beside her.

Just amazing!

billie said...

I have seen that Stacey Westfall video before and it's so amazing. Thanks to Grey Horse and to you for reminding me of it!

When I say people are often too loud around their horses, I do mean audibly, but mostly I mean in every way. Our aids and cues are so often far too "loud" as are our gestures. Horses don't need all that commotion, they're expert at reading energy and the tiniest cue.

One simple thing to experiment with in trying this out - when you have your horse in the barn aisle for grooming, ask him/her to step over. But notch your usual cue down about 3 notches. I used to give a gentle push with all four fingers, not hard at all, to get the step over. Now I barely touch with a forefinger and I get an even better response. Everything we do can be toned down that way. And I think when we do that, we're much closer to speaking Horse and much more likely to earn trust and genuine compliance.

On the longe line, instead of lifting the whip, lift your shoulders to get the upward transition. Lower them to get the down transition. My 4-year old QH only needs visual cues - if I look to his hindquarters he transitions up, to his shoulders down, and to his face he halts. Imagine the confusion when I tried longeing him with the standard cues. It was far too loud for him and he often ran around the circle, not at all sure which set of cues to follow.

Mounted, give the softest aid you can give to get the desired response. I start with simply thinking "half halt" and I get it a huge percentage of the time with just that thought.

It's not just our voices that are loud, it's our entire bodies! Even our emotion can be loud to a horse - think of how horses respond to people who are silent but very angry, or quiet but grief-stricken.

Thanks for the provocative post, Victoria, and to everyone commenting. It's such a pleasure to have a place to immerse myself in this topic!

Victoria Cummings said...

Billie - Thank you for sharing those insights with us. I really agree with what you are saying. Most of the time, if I really know what I want to do and I think about asking Silk to do it, she does without me having to say or do anything. It is one of the most exciting things about communicating with horses.

Rising Rainbow said...

I have seen this video, it is pretty darn cool.

Cassi said...

As I watched the video of Stacy Westfall - my heart felt like it was going to explode. Oh the connection she has with her horse... I sooooo long for that again....
Your comment about we are always teaching them something (I don't remember if it was in this post) ... I am the Director of our Beginners Church (3 - 5 yr olds) at our church... and I had a meeting with the teachers last Sunday and just told them the very same thing. Good or bad - everything we do is teaching the children something...