The older I get and the more I teach and coach and spend time with horses, the more I believe that our intention as well as our intuition plays a key role in communicating with our horses and human beings in life for that matter. It doesn’t start with your foot in the stirrup iron, but it starts from the first moment you pick up the halter to go get your horse, whether he is out in the paddock munching on some grass, or in the stall waiting for you.
If you arrive with the halter and your mind is still full of what happened during the day or the argument you had with a friend or with what you have to do for the rest of the day, there is no way you can be present enough or intuitive enough to tune into your horse. Your horse will already know that you are physically present, but are you emotionally and spiritually present? The same goes for our human relationships. Your first handshake, fist bump or “Hello” will set the tone of how the other person perceives you. Does your “Hello” come from your heart or is it just a formality? Never underestimate the ability of another human or a horse to read your emotions and respond to them. Being fully present allows them to fully connect to you. The definition of intention is to have an aim or a plan. The definition of intuition is the ability to understand something immediately without the need for conscious reasoning.
Once your foot is in the stirrup iron, I believe it becomes even more important to operate with intention, which eventually will become your intuitive dialog with your horse. Every action you do on or off the horse, starts with intention. Your brain has to create a thought process to guide you to a desired outcome. As a teacher and coach, my only ability is to teach your intellect. I cannot move your arms or legs or increase or decrease your energy, I can only communicate to the cognitive understanding in your brain. Sitting in the saddle, you are the one who has to translate that into a discernable dialog which your horse understands, and that dialog starts with intention which again we want to turn into an intuitive dialog between horse and rider.
The more precise and clear you can be about your intention, regardless of what you are asking your horse to do, whether it is basic or more advanced movements, the process remains the same. By being able to create the same intention pattern, your horse will eventually pick up on it earlier and earlier in that process which will make your connection more intuitive. The intention of you creating that pattern in your mind, and then having your aids follow up with the physical part of the dialog will allow your horse to understand your pattern more quickly and respond in a more timely manner. This way you will be able to communicate with your horse with the slightest amount of aids and you are completely connected through your intentional and physical dialog. The ultimate goal would be to have your intentional-intuitive connection be your first line of communication before your aids.
A great exercise to work on this is at the walk, with your horse on a loose rein, (be sure you are in a safe place and your horse is calm enough to do this). Stay in your center balance position and create a picture in your mind of your horse lightly responding to your aids, and moving forward in a working walk. Allow your intention to generate enough energy without moving your body to facilitate the horse walking forward with more energy in balance and rhythm. Then, create the picture in your mind of your horse slowing down to a halt without ever touching the reins by simply taking the energy out of your body and your legs, and just sitting still, patiently waiting for your horse to respond. Don’t be tempted to pull on the reins and force the halt to happen. (If your horse is very green, or not educated to any of this, and you have the right intention and body energy, but there is no response from your horse, gently use a single rein stop to bring your horse to a halt. Look at my blog about “Single Rein Stops” to help you understand this part of the process.)
Allow your horse to dial into you and give him the time to figure out what you are asking him to do. Be sure you hold the picture of the halt in your mind, and your body stays relaxed. If your mind gets anxious, thinking that the horse should already be halted, you are inadvertently putting negative energy into your body, confusing the horse. Take a deep breath, relax, and just wait. Once your horse is halted, generously stroke him, and pet him, lavish all kinds of praises on him, then start all over again. Create your intention, allow that to become a physical flow of energy, just enough to invite your horse to walk forward, and hold onto that walk through your intention. Then create a new picture of your horse halting, take a deep breath, allow the energy in your body to dissipate, and again, patiently wait for your horse to respond. If you keep repeating this numerous times, every time you ride, you will find that his response to your intention will get faster and faster.
Pretty soon the intention will turn into intuition. When you create the thought process, intuitively getting picked up by your horse, you will need less and less physical communication, and you will get faster results. This is simply a building block for other exercises, more transitions in and out of gaits, and eventually you will use this while connected laterally and longitudinally. If I can teach my horse my intention through intuition on the smallest component, and get a response, I can carry that response that has now become intuitive over to more complex exercises.
My goal as a rider is to continually refine my dialog with my horse to where “less is more“ and being able to have intention turn into intuition is a huge step in achieving that goal.