Using Horsenality™ To Match Energy
-by Linda Parelli
This article was originally published in the April 2012 issue of Savvy Times magazine. Recent back-issues of Savvy Times are available for Parelli members in the Resources section of Parelli Connect.
Horses are made to move – they need to move – but often we do not move our horses enough. I am not just talking about daily exercise, although that is a factor. It’s also the speed at which they need to move within their gait. It’s important to know that many behavioral, control and relaxation issues can actually be caused by not moving horses enough to meet their mental, emotional and physical needs.
Being prey animals, horses don’t do well with being held back. Suppression makes a horse claustrophobic, more tense, nervous, resistant, impulsive… it can even affect the regularity of their stride. Believe it or not, you can use movement to relax your horse, and even introverts need to move! Let’s look at how.
Don’t hold a horse back
When your horse needs to move his feet, don’t hold him back, unless of course you need to get control and stop him – which you would do with one rein, bending to a stop*. What I’m talking about here is riding forwards, which will quickly take the anxiousness away. A lot of riders are too tentative in this situation and it is so tempting to hold an impulsive horse back, but it only makes things worse because now you add claustrophobia to the problem. This impulsiveness is most likely to show up in Right-Brain Extroverts, but any horse that gets worried can go there.
When your horse wants to go, simply ride him forwards in a very small circle and almost a little faster than he wants to go. I think of it this way: “You can go as fast as you want… inside this hula-hoop.” Okay, the hula-hoop is about 20-30 feet in diameter, but it is a small circle so that makes it very difficult for the horse to maintain any kind of speed. And because the horse is going forward, he gets calmer… and pretty quickly too. As soon as your horse starts to soften and slow, you soften and slow down too and when they get stronger, rider stronger again. Again, it doesn’t take long for the horse to see the goal and want to attain it. Here’s the good news: you can take that imaginary hula-hoop with you anywhere you go… the moment your horse starts getting antsy, trot forward quickly on that small circle until they are calm again.
* If you have control issues, remember that it is best and most safely sorted out on the ground. Don’t get on a horse that is not calm, connected and responsive. These techniques are for a horse that is rideable.
Match the energy – stronger for extroverts, softer for introverts
Some people ride the same way no matter what the horse is doing, but the secret is to match the energy of what your horse is doing. If he is hurrying, ride stronger to match the energy but not add to it. The moment you match it, the horse will get calmer. This is because disharmony is very unsettling for a horse, so when you match them, it feels much better and makes them less emotional. It might take a little practice for you to figure this out, but the once you do it will come easier to you every time you ride.
What if your horse is introverted and just wants to go slowly everywhere? The worst thing you can do is spur and spank or keep constantly nudging with your legs. Sure, it might produce a surge of energy, but it doesn’t last and then you end up nagging the horse in an effort to keep him going. Rather than being mechanical about it (spurs, sticks), let’s use psychology. You have to get into the horse’s mind or it will never be his idea to go forward.
Here’s a great way to do it… I call it “Thunk-Thunk,” as opposed to smack-smack or spur-spur. The latter will just annoy your horse and result in him putting his ears back, swishing his tail or even kicking up, so you have to use a clever game to get him thinking about what the right response would be. First squeeze lightly with your seat and thighs, and when you get no response, start tapping with your Carrot Stick or Kidz Stick. But how you tap is critical: You’re going to tap him on the shoulder as lightly as possible, and every three seconds you double it. So first it’s really soft tap, then three seconds later double that, then three seconds later double that, then three seconds later double that… do you get the picture? What’s really important is you don’t get faster as you increase it, because spanking faster brings up emotions, and you don’t want that.
Every time your horse chooses to ignore you asking him to go forward, smile and start your thunk-thunk. It’s kind of a fun game… not mean and not emotional, and best of all, the horse gets it and begins paying attention to your seat or the lightest tap, and everyone is happier. Just remember to stop the tapping the moment you feel your horse try to put in effort. Pressure motivates, release teaches.
Thunk-Thunk is perfect for Left-Brain Introverts. It’s how you engage their mind.
Plink – Plink
This is almost the opposite of Thunk-Thunk. Plink- Plink is gentle and persistent, like dripping water torture where a tap keeps dripping on the same place on your forehead every couple of seconds and drives you crazy! It doesn’t get stronger; it just gets your attention – especially after about the 5th or 6th drip. That’s how you’re going to encourage your horse to put in a little more effort but without bringing up his emotions. Also, unlike Thunk-Thunk, Plink-Plink is on the horse’s hip rather than his shoulder.
Here’s how to do it. Let’s say you want your horse to walk faster, or trot with a bit more effort. First bring a little more life up in your body and then, holding your stick over your thigh, start tapping the side of his hip, methodically, softly, once every three seconds… and don’t increase the pressure. At first your horse might swish his tail like it’s a fly bugging him, but after several plinks, he’ll quicken his pace a little.
The moment he does that, stop the plinking. After several repetitions, your horse will get more in tune with your seat and hold the pace or speed until you ask him to change it.
While this can work for any Horsenality™ in a situation where you want a little more effort but without bringing up their emotions, this is the perfect strategy for Right-Brain Introverts because it doesn’t upset them and they can think their way through your request.
What speed is right for your horse?
When I watch riders, I really tune into energy. I try to see if the rider and horse are in harmony or disharmony in terms of their energy. Say the horse is striding strong and energetically but the rider is hesitant or too relaxed, or it’s the opposite: the horse is dawdling along and the rider is using a lot more energy than the horse!
The first goal is to perfectly match your horse’s way of going when he starts to trot. You’ll either need to ride a little stronger with more energy, or soften up and slow down a little until you feel that harmony.
The next goal is to find the right speed for your horse, where he’ll use his whole body instead of just moving his legs but tensing his back and neck. When you get the right speed, your horse will stretch his back and lower his neck and that will tell you that you’ve found the right speed for him.
Some horses (usually extroverts) need to move more energetically forward than you think, but as you gently keep urging him forward until he lowers his neck, he’ll actually lengthen his stride and loosen his back. The tension goes and suddenly you’ll have a horse that is more relaxed and mentally tuned into you. Experiment with this and you’ll see what I mean. If your horse’s head goes up when you begin the trot, slowly and gently urge him faster, little by little, and all of a sudden you’ll see his neck stretch forward and down, his back come up and he may even start blowing out as he releases tension. Trotting your horse gradually faster is also something introverts will need for their body and balance; that’s where Plink-Plink can be very helpful.
Knowing your horse’s Horsenality gives you a great head start because you can pretty accurately guess what kind of speed is going to be needed, and you will naturally learn to match your horse’s energy and find harmony, right from the start.
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