My work with the horses is progressing. I’m gaining confidence and improving my skills, and all the while learning how to communicate better with these wonderful creatures. What a world of relationship that opens up! This hasn’t been an easy process, though.
Watching Jay work, it looks simple. Not so! I’ve been so surprised at how hard it is to learn the training methods that Jay uses. The theory isn’t difficult at all—everything pretty much follows from the fact that horses learn by release of pressure. Once you know that almost anything can be “pressure” to a horse, it’s just a matter of applying the principles and releasing that pressure appropriately.
But putting that into practice is definitely not an easy task. In the first place, it requires such attention to the smallest details: the twitch of an eye or an ear, the swish of a tail, the slightest “lean” the horse makes as he thinks about doing what you ask. All these are signals, and every single one is important. You have to learn to spot them, and then learn to use them to monitor the horse’s attitude and emotional state, as well as his understanding of what you’re asking.
You don’t just need to be aware of what the horse is doing—you need to be aware of what your own body is doing, on just that subtle a scale. His slightest twitch is significant; so is your tiniest movement. Horses respond to subtleties that humans don’t consciously notice. A horse's life can depend upon it. Learning to be anywhere near as aware and sensitive as your horse is seems, at times, impossible.
The often subtle movements that are required for clear communication with the horse—bending, focusing your gaze, moving toward or away from the horse, energizing or relaxing your body, and about a million others—must all be mastered to the point where you don’t have to think about them. These are the things that look so easy when Jay does them—and they are amazingly difficult to reproduce. He dances with the horses; my body, which is so graceful in a waltz, feels big and clumsy and sluggish. Yes, it’s getting easier. But I’m a long way from the fluidity of motion that’s needed for this dance!
And the timing! So critical to get it exactly right. And that’s not to mention the fact that you have to be able to react in a split second, when required, to the tiniest of the horse’s cues. But when you do, when you reward the movement or even the thought of the movement, the horse understands.
More than just understanding what you want, the horse understands that you can communicate with him. With some of these horses, Jay and I are almost certainly the first humans who have consciously and deliberately sought to communicate with them in a language they understand. Immediately, the horse’s willingness to engage increases exponentially, and you can see it happen.
So it’s worth all the hard work. Teaching a novice horse what you mean when you ask her to “back up,” watching for those slightest moves, smallest tries, and then rewarding those—it’s so satisfying to watch the light dawn as the horse realizes what you’re asking and responds.
What a gift this is.