Relaxation and impulsion are an interesting combination when working with horses. If there is too much impulsion and forward energy, the horse is not relaxed, it can run through or ignore our aids. On the other hand, if there is too much relaxation, the horse can lack impulsion and reactivity to our aids. We need a balance between these two states. That is, in itself interesting, because when we have equilibrium of relaxation and impulsion, we can help to create balance for the horse. We can never have too much balance!
Relaxation is the priority for all that we do with horses. It’s evidence that a horse is ready to listen. Nothing productive or joyful can happen without it.
If a horse is not relaxed… we must find some way to help it relax, but we need to know the differences between tension, fear, tiredness, pain and resistance.
I may know the signs of tension in my horse, but sometimes I may not be attentive to catch them before they become problematic.
Knowing a horse intimately, reading the signals, being sensitive and attentive to the slightest body language is, I think, the first key to managing and creating relaxation. But we also need leadership.
I can’t ignore, be flippant or dismissive about any tension in the moment it happens. To be a good leader, and to stay safe, I have to be alert and attentive to every little sign of tension. With empathy, I can help him find trust to try something different, and to relax.
Each moment of tension is opportunity for him to learn a little more… to feel safe, to feel brave, to find freedom in the training. It helps a horse feel understood, rather than over-faced.
If I tell my partner I’m worried about something, I want him to listen. I want his positive attitude, to give me confidence to go ahead. I trust him, I know he wants to protect me and keep me safe. Or otherwise to say… its ok, you are right, I agree, its not safe or maybe you are not prepared for that yet. I don't want to be ignored, or pressured to do something I'm not comfortable with. Its the same for the horse - they need our reassurance, our understanding and our confidence and consideration. Force or dominance is never the answer.
Being attentive is key to horse training. Horses are incredibly forgiving, but they also have great memories and are great teachers. They teach us to have a plan, and to look forward. They teach us to be relaxed, balanced and flexible and to collect out thoughts and our energy in a coordinated way. They teach us how to be more aware of our own body language, more clear and balanced in our aids, more precise and timely, and hopefully as kind and forgiving of their mistakes and misunderstandings as they are of ours.