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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.

Taking the Pressure off Your Horse

Updated: Apr 8

woman riding a grey arab horse in a bitless bridle
A Lovely Relaxed Horse and Rider

I have always said to my riding students to look ahead and focus on where they are going. But recently in a lesson I found this going to a whole other level. The rider was having trouble keeping her horse straight. He was weaving left and right and she was busy making corrections. I asked her to imaging riding in a straight line, send her focus and energy there, and then feel her horse and only make small corrections if he moved off that line. The effect was stunning. The horse fit into her projected straight line effortlessly. A while later he was being hesitant and almost stopping, it looked like he was thinking about each step. She started asking me what was wrong and why was he doing that. I suggested she lift her head and send her intention and energy forward. He immediately walked smartly off as if it had never happened. It was a wonderful change in his way of going. Both rider and I were stunned by the huge change in her horse’s behaviour when she stopped focusing on him and just sent her intention where she wanted to go. He was then super happy to fit into her wishes.

I experienced a similar effect when I was recording myself painting. I had the camera over my shoulder and was painting a cat. The cat ended up with huge eyes and a very stiff posture. I gave up and decided to quit the session, turned the camera off, but continued painting. Within 10 minutes I had a soft eyed relaxed cat on the canvas, it was totally different! What a huge effect it can have on us when we think someone is watching.

Now imagine a horse. Their sensitivity rating is about 100X ours. They are prey animals, we are predators. The horse is trying to move along but the human keeps looking at them, thinking about them, micro-managing them, analysing their every move and just generally overwhelming the poor horse with their focus. No wonder they can no longer function properly.

Then look at a horse such as a brumby, who’s sensitivity rating is around 1000X ours and it is even more obvious. I discovered one day when out riding my brumby (wild born and captured at the age of 5) this exact thing. We were walking alone on a trail and I looked down at him. He stopped. I thought it was strange and asked him to walk again. Then I tried glancing at his head, making sure I did not change my weight or inadvertently give another aid, and he stopped again! I played around with it and realised that he was feeling the ‘pressure of my eyes’ on the back of his head! He could feel the change in my focus from forward to down and on to him. What an amazing horse! Domesticated horses also feel this pressure even if it is not always as obvious.

The take home message is, taking the pressure off your horse is one of the most important things you can do. Whether you are doing groundwork or riding, give the guys some space. Just focus on your goal and move towards that. Try and avoid looking at and focusing on every single little thing the horse is doing and just feel them. Feel when they need a small correction, try not to think about it. Allow them some freedom of mind space. The change I saw in this horse today when his rider stopped focusing on him and just rode was something else. After riding him this way for a while she commented on how beautiful it felt to ride him with such fluidity and connection. She said she could feel him in a whole new way.

Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.

Happy Horses Bitless

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