Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Light Hands

One of the highlights of my year is emceeing the Light Hands Horsemanship Clinic each May in Santa Ynez, California. It’s always a learning experience for me and it renews my dedication to being light with my horse. Now, I’ll admit right up front that I’m just a pup in all this compared to the great horsemen who teach at Light Hands. But I’m learning, and I can tell my horse is grateful for the effort.

What is so good about being light in how you cue your horse? Well, it’s more humane, for one thing and that means it’s more worthy of a human being. It’s also more just in the sense of being fairer to the horse, allowing him to respond to the smallest amount of pressure possible. But here’s the real kicker: it works better! I’ve been experimenting with this, being as light as I can with the reins and legs. It means being really tuned in to the horse because the response may be just as light as the cue. But when you feel that and reward it and are able to build on it, well that’s one of life’s really special moments.

The other thing about getting light in the hands is that it requires you to be light throughout your whole body, even your mind. For us humans, the hands are so special. I mean, think of what is done with the hands. Everything from a piano concerto to brain surgery. The eyes may be windows to the soul but the hands are hardwired to the heart. You can’t be impatient or angry or aggressive and still have light hands. Conversely, when you consciously and deliberately lighten your hands, your heart, your entire being must follow. It has no choice. Exquisite prey animals that they are, horses respond to that.

So here’s my parting suggestion, which can be applied with horses and with people: the next time you are inclined to turn up the pressure, first try turning it down. You just might be surprised at the result.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Someone Else’s Horse

Does a little voice inside scream, “Don’t do it! You could die!” when you think about riding your horse? If so, you might consider exercising someone else’s horse instead.

You don’t have to ride a horse fast to exercise him. In fact, walking is great for horses just as it is for humans and all that extra riding will give you confidence and skill you can put to work later with your own horse.

How do you find a horse to exercise? Fate has a way of stepping in at times like this, but you can help Fate along by spreading the word. Friends, feed stores, saddle shops, boarding stables … there are many ways to network with your horse community. What you’re looking for is a calm, well-broke horse that isn’t ridden as often as he should be. Simply lay out your proposition to the owner – you exercise the horse for free – and see what happens.

The horse on which I cut my teeth was an 11-year-old paint gelding named Thunder. He was the pride and joy of a family friend who could no longer ride. She was thrilled that I wanted to ride him and for years we essentially shared Thunder. She benefited, I benefited, and Thunder benefited.

If the first horse you try doesn’t work, no big deal. Just calmly move on until you find one that’s right. He’s out there, I promise. Once you find him, do your best to ride a couple times a week. A shorter session in the arena and a longer trail ride would make a nice combination.

Remember, action is your friend. Inaction is your enemy.