Updated: Aug 10, 2020
I LOVE watching my quarter horse mare, Zena, executing a sublime collected canter. Her withers elevate and her hips sink toward the ground as she shifts her posture to achieve perfect longitudinal balance. Her canter pirouette, levade, and slow jog illustrate true excellence. My heart soars when she stretches long and low through her swinging back and moves in a lovely steady rhythm. She can curve her body like a cat, driving from behind as she moves laterally with awesome grace. She also has a killer rollback and sliding stop. The icing on the cake is she is supremely supple and completely relaxed while performing these maneuvers. She is also performs them enthusiastically and joyfully.
I wish I could say that she and I have achieved these accomplishments together, but she doesn't need me at all to display her athleticism. She demonstrates these intricate and beautiful maneuvers nearly every day in her pasture while she's playing or avoiding a pestering pasture-mate. This is the coolest thing about our horses: They can already do everything we want them to! Sidepass, leg yield, half pass, spins, flying changes, etc are just waiting for us. I think it was Michelangelo who said the masterpiece already existed within the untouched block of marble. All he had to do was chip away at the excess stone that surrounded it. That's our job: to create the space and circumstances for our horses to reveal their natural talents. Easy right? Not at all. It takes time, skill, and practice to prepare a horse just to carry a rider in balance and comfort. Even developing the strength and carriage to travel downhill safely and comfortably (to reduce stress and strain) on the trail with a rider astride requires proper conditioning and clear communication between rider and horse. Executing the complex shifts in balance and posture for more advanced movements requires even greater depth of knowledge, sensitivity, and skill. On the other hand, devoting energy toward "making" our horses perform is counterproductive and a sign that we are working against our horse's true nature. We shouldn't have to work hard if our horse can already do what we ask, right? Instead we should focus on developing the language we need to communicate clearly and conditioning our horse for the tasks we'd like her to carry out. When riding is as it should be, it is effortless. By allowing (and I know how hard it is for we controlling humans to allow instead of control!!), freedom of thought and movement, we allow balance, strength, and suppleness to emerge, and allow our horses to express their true nature. If we find that we are struggling with our horse, we may be asking for more than she has been physically or mentally prepared to do, or more than her conformation or comfort allows. We may have a horse that is in an emotional state that is overriding her ability to focus and relax, making it difficult for her to stay connected and fully utilize her body. The highest level of performance requires your horse to be physically and emotionally balanced. That fosters deeper levels of cooperation, and willingness in addition to enriching your horse's life experience. We have to learn how to stay out of our horse's way so she will share her amazingly beautiful abilities with us, but we also have to prepare her body and minds to do so. That is the fun part! That is the life-long endeavor to achieve the goal of perfect balance between creating and allowing. That is also where the hard work and training comes in, but the payoff is huge and totally worth the effort - two species working together to create something truly magical.