Thursday, May 31, 2012

Clarity


I consider clarity to be an essential quality of a horseman. Without clarity, I’m expecting my horse to guess what I want. It’s unfair to her, increases the likelihood of conflict, and decreases the chance I’ll get the results I’m after. On the other hand, when I communicate with absolute clarity, the sky is the limit. Most horses are very willing creatures when they know what we want.

Clarity is not so difficult to achieve, really. It’s a matter of developing a good habit. Sports psychologists tell us that creating a vivid mental picture of a successful outcome increases the chance that it will occur, whether the outcome is making a free throw or sidepassing your horse.  The more vivid the picture, the better this works.

Note that creating this vivid mental picture occurs before the performance. This means that taking a moment and focusing my brain on exactly what I’m about to ask my horse to do can pay big dividends.

Why does this work? To be honest, I don’t know. I think it’s entirely possible that under the right conditions, there can be a telepathic connection between a horse and a human. Maybe it’s just that when we have such a clear sense of what we want, our body language projects that. We know how well horses read body language.

Let’s go back to the sidepassing as an example. Before asking my horse to do this, I conjure up a very detailed picture in my mind. I see more than one lateral pair of legs crossing in front of the other. I see the left legs crossing over the right. I see the hairs on the legs, the texture of the hooves, the grains of sand on the arena floor. This is a lot of mental energy focused on one picture. Maybe my horse picks that up.

The other good thing about clarity through mental imagery is that it makes it easier to recognize a try and reward it. And as we all know, it is the reward that produces a learning effect.

For me, clarity is another part of the journey. It’s a way of aligning thought, action, and expectation. I’ll continue working on it and report how it goes. I know my horse appreciates the effort.

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