Lots of us talk about timing, but one of the things I notice is that we all think and behave at different speeds - horses and humans - as each of us are such individuals… some of us are quick, some a bit more laid back, some of us so laid back we’re almost horizontal and some so ‘hurry-up’ we’re like lightening rushing about grooming, tacking up and trotting about all over the place.
Horses vary in similar ways too… but what I’m thinking of here is not the thing of how quick we get things done but the question of whether we always give the horses the time they need to figure out what we’re asking so they can give us a tension-free and measured response?
One of the great little details in The Alexander Technique is a thing called ‘Inhibit,’ which means you pause before doing something. That pause is essential in taking the reactivity or tension out of an action, the pause means we have a small window in which the action is made conscious. This is a very useful little technique to put into the interactions with the horse, especially in things like training of the horse’s response to a riding aid.
Of course once engrained into the horse’s repertoire we want the aids to become more and more conditioned and instantaneous, but much of the time horses are not at that level of understanding and if we rush their response to an aid or give them no time in which to process their response we’re likely to get a muddled or tense reaction.Young horses or green horses especially can benefit from being given that momentary pause time in which to feel which part of their body we’re talking to, what we might be asking them and how they’re meant to respond. The same can be true for basic things like leading, so that we put a feel in the rope and allow the horse a moment to acknowledge that they’re meant to follow that feel by moving their feet in an appropriate direction and at an appropriate speed, rather than being dragged along like a stone on the end of the rope or dragging us along mindlessly behind them.
One of the details you can see if you watch dominant horses on the herd is that they put in a measured amount of pause time: they might put back an ear or two towards another horse and hold that pose for an elongated second before upping the strength of the message by swinging the hind-end round, then another moment of pause and if, because they’re not awake enough, the lower ranking horse doesn't move, finally a squeal and a kick out.
The successful dominant horse is not one that gets stuck into his herd buddies without the fairness of the pause in which the lower ranking horse can make its mind up to back off from the space; let’s be honest, horses are prey animals whose safety relies on numbers, so they want to keep the numbers up, not go round harming each other… its useful to see how a more confident lead horse gives his followers these opportunities to get it right and something we can therefore emulate by giving our horses pause time.We want our horses to be light and responsive, and putting that pause time in their gives them the chance to stay light, correctly responsive and therefore relaxed and calm.
Putting space or pause time inside the work is a gift to the horse and to ourselves, honouring the time we spend together and allowing for conscious connection with the horse to manifest more easily and remain as a more constant thread throughout the work… so, relax, give it time, even if it is just a momentary pause in time…