Last weekend, I taught my Feb. 2013 #2 of 5 winter workshop classes of “Finding Your Rider Within”. Each class has it’s own theme or topic.
The latest class title was “ Two Halves, One Harmony…Balancing Both Sides to Create a Whole”.
One of the ‘before and after’ learning lessons involved standing on our two feet and legs, and observing a variety of elements the body offered at that time. My instructions were that we were to very slowly shift our weight to one leg, then slowly lift the foot off the floor of the unweighted leg. In the first segment, students often had wobbly results and repeated attempts at the task. It was clear that the goal they focused on was to lift that other leg, rather than focus on stabilizing and grounding the foundation leg that was truly the support system of the goal.
Guess what that reminded me about in my long history of educating horses, as well as horses educating me?
HOW to lift a hoof is more critical to accomplish than that end goal of a foot/hoof in the air.
When I was young, and had been taught to get a horse to pick up it’s hoof for me to clean it, the main plan was to insist that the horse lift the leg and hoof to me, “NOW”. Some horses did this just fine, others often struggled or even quarelled with me about that task. This became especially clear to me when I became the primary training person of young horses at an Arabian breeding farm in Northern California. My job entailed not only early handling and halter/leading work with the current crop of foals, but there was a group of yearlings that no one had made time to handle much during their first year on the planet. When it came to hoof lifting time, they did try to do the deed, but often couldn’t sustain that hoof in our hands for long periods of time, and that was a need for the local farriers.
In my education years with the alternative style of thinking and teaching for humans and horses, I became more aware that the truly important part of the game of lifting any leg was the learning of a body to shift the weight -bearing segment to the grounded, supporting legs FIRST and FOREMOST. Once that layer of weight distribution of the body was established into stability, grounding and confidence, lifting horse hoof or human foot and leaving it elevated became easy to accomplish!
Thus my interest in teaching this to horse riders, before they work with their horses, whether riding or other tasks.
As I instructed a more micro- moment of each stage involved in the task, all human students were amazed to discover how important each tiny segment played a part in the overall results…when they made it a ‘super slow motion’ task, they were better at observing just how long it took to fully stack the entire body, foot to head, in a tall, balanced, non-leaning way BEFORE they should lift the other leg at all! As they improved their abilities each time, they could also move the suspended foot in various directions and never lose their balance!
So when you go to ask a horse’s hoof to rise up, use your lift signal kindly, observe that nano second that their weight begins to shift to the three grounded legs, and praise them for that moment of movement.
With troubled horses, that is all I focus on during our learning lesson of lifting the hoof…I stop asking with that signal once they begin to shift the weight and take the time needed to secure themselves on those three other legs, clearly. They appreciate that way of focus, learning and confidence, that when I continue with my ‘lift your leg’ cue further, they glide smoothly and strongly onto those valuable three legs and offer me a hoof with great respect.
When we humans offer to our horses the process of thinking and understanding life in broader and deeper ways about the Laws of Physics and Biomechanics, your horse will say “YES” more often than not. What a great way to build a Partnership of Respect.