Riding with Your Mind (for horse lovers everywhere)

This is the core of an article I co-wrote recently for the Riding with Your Mind Magazine. It’s about the concept of using your emotional and energy state to be effective when working with horses. It also applies to being around people and dogs! The Mary referred to is Mary Wanless, the originator of ‘Riding With Your Mind’. The ‘voice’ is Nicky’s.

Being present on purpose –

By Nicky Smith (Riding With Your Mind teacher) and Jen Tiller (NLP Trainer, Reiki Master, EFT Practitioner, Buteyko Breathing therapist)

A group of riders I teach challenge me to talk on a different subject each month in the form of a dismounted lecture/ workshop/ discussion group. The subjects chosen are those close to their hearts, from where they are on their journey. Some of these have been on safe subjects like the rider’s framework, enabling me to lift all the info out of, “For the Good of the Rider”, others are more challenging. One such subject was, ” being present”, what does it mean and how do you do it ?. In her dismounted workshop’s Mary talks about staying present to the situation, of being in flow and about running mental rehersals to improve your confidence and your performance. This subject is tricky ,as like many other riding skills you either have it or you don’t and the other side of the coin is outside of your experience to date or your imagination. So you either are present and so don’t know what the issue is or you are not ,or not often, and don’t know the way there.

In situations of stress both horses and humans will mentally exit the scene. Once a horse has reached crisis point in his own mind he is in fight or flight and there is little you can do short term to bring him back down to earth. He has, as it were, already left the building and is no longer receiving communications. This is not only frightening for the horse, but in the wrong environment very disturbing for the human. Humans too can leave the scene mentally, many riders will become less aware of what is around them when approaching a fence, others freeze in wide open spaces, or if their horse becomes excited and grows a hand taller.

Our discussions centred around how to notice these stressful scenarios before they start and strategies for coping with them. Months later I was knocking this topic around with Jen Tiller who through her NLP training showed me there was even more to this subject than I had thought and many more useful tools to play with and to enhance our relationship with our horses .

Firstly there is the ability to stay present to the situation to continue processing. This requires an absence of fear, to maintain awareness and to choose your response to stimuli. The next level is to be a presence, in RWYM circles we would call this being un-ignorable. You can organise your body in such a way that you become a being who has to be considered. Most experienced “professional” horse people have mastered this presence to some degree even if they use whips and gadgets to reinforce the message of send or ignore me at your peril. However there is another way of being present. Think of Monty Roberts or Kelly Marks, when they enter the round pen they have the horse’s attention.

To become this presence Jen talks about using the hara (Japanese word); this is a ball of energy centred at the ‘one point’ between naval and pubic bone. You imagine/become aware of this ball of energy spinning rapidly, creating a centre of calm and strength that radiates out. This ball of energy can be made any size you choose, all you have to do is pay attention and intend it. Where thought goes, energy follows. You might also like to pay attention to the spin direction – increasing it in the wrong direction can make you feel slightly sea-sick, whereas you will feel immediately stronger and more grounded if it’s the right one for you. Simply play with the spin to find the best direction (forward, back, clockwise or anti-clockwise)

Horses (other people and dogs too!) recognise and respect this state. In NLP terms if your state is stronger you win. Strength in this sense means potent and stable, so other emotions can’t have an effect on you – not aggressive. It’s a great place to start building a healthy relationship. Simply standing still you become un-ignorable and a presence. You can engage with a horse’s energy field while maintaining your own strong presence.

By paying attention you can direct this energy like a laser, widen it, speed and ‘lift’ it up to increase the feeling of energy, slow it down to soften it, and even cause it wrap gently and supportively around an animal. Intensifying it will make you appear stronger and in many cases may cause a horse to back down. By calmly and firmly directing this hara/ energy you can send a reluctant horse up a ramp, in to water, down a drop fence or past the dustbins without being aggressive. May the force be with you . You can use a deliberate change of energy intensity to both send the horse away from you and bring him back to you. This is the skill of join up (Intelligent Horsemanship) or yo-yo game (Parelli) .

Holding a good state while softly connecting and staying aware of another person’s energy is also what Mary is talking about in keeping rapport with clients when teaching. A certain level of acceptance and even matching (but not any fear or anger!) is really useful. How I get here is a mystery to me, but I generally know when I am here. Once in rapport with clients or horses I can stay there, but I struggle with leading them somewhere they consider difficult. Mary would describe this as not biting the bullet. Jen would say that it is about creating a secure space by maintaining a state that is stronger than the client’s and therefore influential, while lifting or directing the energy in gradual stages. Too sudden a shift, and it’s possible to lose rapport.