Most equine enthusiasts have heard the phrases “black and white, no shades of grey” or “there is a full spectrum of colors in horsemanship” or some variation of these comments on the aspect of communication as it relates to the art of horsemanship in its many forms. One may think that these two phrases are in direct opposition to one another upon hearing them for the first (or multiples of) time. Yet, when we dig deeper into our studies of our equine partners, it becomes clear that these two phrases are actually in harmony with one another and that, when combined properly, actually create a level of communication that leads to clarity, confidence, and control for the human and the horse.
In a recent clinic hosted by Lucky Star Horsemanship entitled “Establishing Communication and Control” the participants experienced the combination of these two concepts first hand, and reaped the rewards of clearer communication, enhanced control, enriched confidence and a stronger connection through effective leadership with their own horses. The workshop (part one of a three-part series) focused on the human being clear in their intent, focus and application of certain communication concepts (black and white, no shades of grey) as they learned to read the needs of their horse, and the needs of other participants horses, while asking for a specific action (full spectrum of colors in horsemanship).
Each horse in the workshop required that the concept (example: the application of pressure to encourage movement) be applied differently in order to achieve the same results. Some of the horses simply needed the human to be clear in their intent, in the right place/position and a lifting of the hand in order to engage. Other horses needed a bit more pressure, like the slow spin of the lead rope, as well as proper place/position and clarity of intent in order to engage.
While others required all of these things plus a verbal “cluck” to find the encouragement to engage. Each horse required of its human partner clear communication and empathy to its needs in order to achieve the goal. When the human failed the horse by giving it unclear signals or not allowing enough time to pass in order for the horse to process the request, thing went poorly. However, when the human strove to be clear, patient and empathetic in the process of communication the horse found confidence in the leadership being offered and found the “right answer”, gaining self-confidence and emotional stability in the process. The transformative effect of the combination of clarity and empathy was truly an inspiration.
It is often said that the art of horsemanship is simple but not easy. Those students of the horse who embrace and practice consistently the concepts of clarity, patience, pressure/ release, and reward often find that their communication is “black and white” while their application of techniques that request an action are “full color spectrum” in nature based on the needs of the horse. This is, in many cases, where the human fails the horse. They take a “my way or the highway” attitude, which leads to the horse feeling insecure and confused. By failing to recognize that the horse, like the human, needs times to process the request and find the right answer, which is confirmed through a clear release and reward, the human compounds issues and breaks the horse’s trust in the leadership down to the point of becoming ineffective.
Humans struggle with being black and white within themselves. They struggle with finding the clarity of intent, position, focus, and energy required to be an effective and fair leader. Humans fail to consider the full spectrum of the horse’s communication needs and emotional support required for it to confer leadership upon the human. It takes the setting aside of the ego and opening the sensitivity for the needs of another breathing, feeling and thinking creature on a level that so many find challenging to discover on their own, in order to be able to reach the full potential of the partnership. It takes being clear, fair, kind, honest and sensitive on the part of the human in order to be a positive influence in the development of the horse. We must combine the black and white with the full spectrum in equal measure to secure solid communication and long-lasting leadership with our horses.
To learn more about how to do just that, consider participating in a workshop or clinic that focuses on these aspects of horsemanship in your area. If you are in Northern California, you are invited to participate in the next Establishing Communication and Control workshop, hosted by Lucky Star Horsemanship happening in October of 2018. Just visit their Facebook Event Page for more information. May your communication be clear, your heart filled with empathy and your adventures with your horse be excellent!
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