#MasterclassMonday is a collaboration between Horse Network and NOELLEFLOYD.com to empower equestrians. Every Monday we’ll bring you a new lesson from a leading trainer to help you troubleshoot your training, master your mindset, and up your game. This month’s featured rider: Ian Millar.
Balance and body language go hand in hand with developing a sense of feel.
How you use your body position and body language on and off the horse to affect their balance, communicate non-verbally, and enhance your partnership with your horse is something every rider can learn. While body control is a foundational part of every rider’s toolbox, developing what we in the horse world refer to as ‘feel’ isn’t just technical; it fundamentally comes down to learning how to observe your horse’s body language, behavior, and energy and respond accordingly to produce a desired result.
It’s not an elusive, mystical concept: it’s something you learn and build upon through trial and error.
At any level of horsemanship and regardless of what discipline you ride, you can learn to use your body, your observational skills, and your responsiveness to become a rider who has a true sense of feel and is able to use your body as a tool for training and performance.
When we approach any goal in life we should have a strategy, an overall plan for what we’re going to accomplish and how we’re going to accomplish it. Then we employ tactics, the skills we’re going to use to implement the strategy. It’s the same with teaching feel and how to read and utilize body language. Every rider has an entry-level ability and can develop these skills through consistent and purposeful practice. Over the next four weeks, I’m going to share a step-by-step guide to beginning to construct your own foundation.
Let’s start with body language. As we humans can be very influenced by a horse’s body language, so can the horse be influenced by our own body language.
Think, for example, of when you go into the field to catch your horse. If he’s huffing and puffing and trotting with his head up and he’s seemingly grown from 16 hands to about 18 hands, you may feel intimidated or trepidatious, even if only subconsciously. Maybe you take a step back at that point. If, on the other hand, the horse looks at you and walks over in a very relaxed, kind manner, looking for a pat or perhaps a little treat, you’ll slip the halter on without a second thought, and off you go. In either situation, the horse’s body language will influence how you react.
Similarly, we can influence a horse with our body language. If I’m longeing a horse in side-reins and using my longeing technique, and I’m not getting enough animation from him, just by standing up a little bit straighter and puffing up my chest a little bit, I’ll likely get more animation from that horse. Conversely, if that horse is a little too fresh and too emotionally wound up, taking a breath myself and just relaxing my shoulders for a minute might have the same effect on the horse. Horses, like humans, are incredibly perceptive when it comes to energy and body language.
The use of body language is an invaluable tool in training and working with horses, but something that is often overlooked. We all have a natural ability towards interpreting and using body language, but it’s the application of trial and error that allows us to develop that natural ability and ‘feel’ to the point that it becomes art.
This is an excerpt from Ian Millar’s new Equestrian Masterclass, Riding with Body Control & Feel. To access the course, as well as a full library of courses from the likes of Karl Cook, Anne Kursinski and more, go to equestrianmasterclass.com