Learning Body Language
When your posture, energy, relaxation and movement are congruent with your intention, your body language will be universally understood. If you do in your body what you want your horse to do in his, the horse will flow with your intention and body language. It is easy to experience this by having someone sit on your back, where you can feel the body language for "go," "stop," and "turn." The body-to-body communication is crystal clear. After first feeling this on your own back, you will go out and use the same body language on the ground with the horse at liberty and discover that the horse understands you and mirrors you.
Learning Balance and Relaxation
To use body language, you must be balanced on the horse and relaxed as it moves. If you are using your legs or hands to stay on the horse, they will not be available to communicate your intentions. The best way to acquire balance is to ride the horse bareback and without reins, focusing solely on staying relaxed and balanced on the horse's back as it moves, accelerates and stops. When you mirror the horse's movement in your own body, you create a harmony that becomes addictive to horse and human. You can then ride the horse's movement in balance, flowing with your horse, and the horse will flow with you as you change your body language.
Using Body Language on the Horse
When you are on the horse, you will use the same body language you learned on the ground, to ask it to go, stop and turn. One of the most difficult concepts to learn is "feel." If you want more energy from the horse, you must feel that energy. If you want the horse to relax, you must relax yourself. If you want your horse to turn its body, you must turn your own body in the direction you want it to go. By starting without reins to pull on, you learn that the horse will flow with your body language as long as you remain relaxed and balanced, using consistent body language. Size and strength are not important, as you can see when this 3-year-old turns Mystic by rotating right!
True leadership requires that you understand those you want to lead - their strengths, weaknesses, desires and fears. A good leader only asks the horse to do things it can safely accomplish and that the horse feels are likely to be rewarding. The trick is never to make your horse do something. Instead, you prove to your horse that you would never ask it to do something that wasn't a good idea. Leadership requires keen observational skills and good judgment - about your horse, the environment, and what your horse can do in any given moment. When your horse asks you a question by flicking an eye and ear towards you, you must have an answer that meets your horse's needs.
It is relatively easy to learn to have a horse choose to follow you at liberty in an arena. The enclosed and barren environment gives the horse few choices and distractions and the horse may feel constrained to follow your suggestions. Things change when you ask the horse to follow you at liberty in wide open spaces, with meadows, spring grass, woods and wildlife. Human doubt, irritation or any attempt at coercion will drive the horse away. Only by becoming an icon of safety, joy, comfort, and good ideas will you be the kind of leader that the horse will sync up with, follow, lead, and return to when things go wrong.
Becoming that Leader
As you become trustworthy, clear, calm, balanced and a source of safety in times of trouble, you will experience the magic of the horse returning to you again and again. These skills carry over, whether on the horse, at home, or at the office. Humans and horses share the same need for trustworthiness, clarity, and safety. Both respond to clear, relaxed and confident body language and are attracted to and willingly follow a leader who protects their interests. Learning to inspire trust and enthusiasm in the horse and to remain relaxed and confident when things go wrong are skills that you will take with you into all other aspects of your life.