The Shaping
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Monday, September 1, 2008 01:01 PM
Think of a horse in a similar way a sculptor thinks about clay or marble. Only with the horse things are much more complicated because a horse is a living creature with it's own will and power. In a young horse you see power and beauty in a similar way a sculptor looks at the marble stone and can imagine his creation. Now the purpose of a trainer to tame the power and will and to shape the raw energy into a union of balance, control and agility without altering the horse's personality and while doing so developing a close partnership with the horse. Sculptor's marble stone no matter how unique can be replaced with the new stone if ruined. A horse if ruined has scars that stay inside forever altering his vision of humans and making his life miserable as long as he depends upon them for survival. However, in this blog, I wanted to talk about shaping horse's body not shaping horse's mind even though those two are very interlinked and depended on each other.
I know from the experience that the way a horse is ridden can make a great impact on his development. I do not like a word framing when it comes to riding a horse. Probably because it implies something stiff and unchangeable like a frame of a picture or a house. I prefer a word - Shaping. I like to shape my horse when I ride him. And I'm not talking about the neck and the head, these parts of a horse are last to shape. They are more of indicator of how everything else is moving. First, I observe and listen to the way a horse moves, keeps his balance and his posture.
  • Is his rhythm regular: four beat in walk, two in trot and three in canter?
  • Is he tense and/or frightened?
  • Is there any asymmetry to the movement - hips are swinging more to one direction than other, landing heavier on one diagonal than another, leaning more into one side of his body than the other, etc?
  • Does he feel stiff or sort of clunky in his movement or he is supple and fluid? One side stiffer than the other?
  • How does he carry his head and neck when there is no contact on the reins?
  • Does he like to go slow or fast?
  • Which direction he likes to turn and which he doesn't?
So many questions to ask. And then I take time to "listen" with great deal of attention and focus to what the horse is "telling" me about himself. For this I need to be very quiet in the saddle and as balanced as possible. I do not want to create "noise" in our "conversation".
After I get a general picture I start working toward changing his natural idiosyncrasies toward symmetrical, regular and unconstrained movement. This process is what I call shaping. I use my whole body to shape the whole body of the horse. This shaping is slow and methodical process that never cease to exist as long as I'm on a horse. It is not about pulling, restricting or kicking. It is about directing horse's raw energy into the channel of balanced and correct movement.
With green or young horses riding a simple 20 m circle correctly is a challenge and it will take sometime before they can do it properly. They have their own idea how to move their bodies and they do not give up the familiar way of going easily. Being impatient or punishing the horse for not being able to keep the correct posture or balance will not get you far. Imagine that you are trying to learn to write with the other hand you usually do not use for writing. Now, imagine someone hitting you with the stick every time you did it slower or more crooked than that person wants. Now, imagine the hitter changes his mind now and then and hits you when you think you did pretty well for his standards. The difference between you and the horse is that you may sincerely want to learn how to write with the other hand. However, the horse has no intention or desire to go differently than he does. You are only betting on his natural desire to have as minimum discomfort as possible. If you can show your horse that correct way of going is more comfortable than incorrect and you do it the same way every single time you have a chance to convince him to try for you. Even that doesn't guarantee that he will succeed. Remember, trying to write with the other hand. If your messages unclear because of your luck of balance there is very little chance your horse will "get it." If you cloud your communication with emotions and inconsistency your chances are minimum to none. Your brain during riding must work at it's full capacity. There is so much information to process at such speeds you do not have time for emotions, family problems or wishful thinking.
That is what I love about riding and dressage in particular. This approach makes me so sympathetic toward horses and to see things with a sense of humor. The horses are so clever at finding loopholes around our requests for them. The green and young horses are especially because they are not mentally conditioned to obey, yet. They ask so many questions and present a rider with so many challenges. I sometimes feel mentally drained after riding them, because they were stretching my patience and reserves of my abilities to the limit. A few years ago I would brake into pieces, fall into ugly abusive and angry state of mind. That didn't do me or my horse any good. Now, I'm able to stand on my own and keep "conversation" going without "hysterics". I must tell you the progress in training and partnership is so much faster and more enjoyable because of that. Shaping a horse into beautiful and graceful partner who can carry you with ease calmly listening to your requests is long and unique for every horse. Enjoy the process, enjoy the grow you see in your horse and yourself, the only limit is your imagination.
Happy riding...
Comment by Shannon Ardell on Monday, September 1, 2008 09:42 PM
I couldn't agree more. Much like raising our kids isn't it. The critical years are when they are young. They are constantly challenging us, not to be rude or ignorant, but to find out why and to test our values as parents. Perhaps I make the analogy because my kids are 3 and 6 right now. Trust me, if you have a loophole as a parent, your kids will find that too. Correction never works with them when I am upset - I need to clearly explain my expectations and not only tell them where they went wrong. but more importantly tell, and show them the correct behaviour.
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Tuesday, September 2, 2008 07:47 AM
You are so right, Shannon. I found so many similarities between training horses and raising children. I can say with certainty - my son is helping me to train horses and horses are helping me to raise my son.
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