A swish of the tail...
As in any language, there are a plethora of ways that horses can communicate their emotions. The joy of Pippsway is that Pip teaches us how to understand what our horses are saying. It takes time to learn, as it would learning any new language, but the payoffs are huge!
I’m pretty confident with interpreting my horses communications during groundwork these days and it’s been truly life changing! I don’t get it right all the time by any means, but even then I now know the signs that I’ve made a mistake and know how to correct that and reaffirm my leadership. This allows my horse to trust me and he’s so well trained now, thanks to Pip, that providing I remember to ask, ask with conviction and clear intention he will do whatever it is that I am asking. It’s absolutely marvellous! He is my dream horse!
Having had a few months off from being able to ride, I am back to only riding when Pip is about, for a time. Bronson is a rehabilitation horse and, whilst he is the most calm, gentle and patient horse when I am giving him leadership and riding with complete awareness, if he were to get very frustrated he has been known to do enormous bucks and, in extreme cases, rear. Pippsway is all about being able to understand and communicate with our horses so that there is never any need for them to engage in these larger, more dangerous behaviours. It’s testimony to Pip’s approach, that he has only ever done two very small bucks with me and has never reared with me, thus far! So, whilst I regain the ground I have lost during my break, Pip is keeping her watchful eye upon us, to keep us safe and ensure that I am not upsetting my horse, she is always my horse's advocate and just as well too!
I’m stunned at how much balance and awareness I have lost over these months of not riding and had naively expected to be able to pick up pretty much where I had left off! I had a lesson today and Pip worked with me to resolve my balance issues by giving me clear instructions on how to ensure that every single time I sit back in the saddle, during rising trot, I am evenly spreading my balance across Bronson’s back and am sitting on the correct part of my rear end. All good stuff! But I became so absorbed in what my backside was doing that I let everything else slide. Pip has taught me that I need to have a broad focus when I am riding and to be constantly monitoring my energy, intention, body language and my horse’s, that I am precise in my instructions, am dictating our direction and pace and to ensure that I am paying equal attention to every element. It’s a lot to be getting on with but, up until my hiatus, I was doing well with it. Even when I was making mistakes, I had awareness of them and was able to correct them myself.
Pip encourages independence and so likes to give me the opportunity to recognise and resolve any issues, having of course taught me how to respond appropriately in the past, and only when I am clearly not figuring things out for myself or if I am upsetting my horse, will she step in and correct me. This is super helpful as it means I am able to continue to improve in between lessons under my own steam, being able to interpret what is unfolding, knowing how to respond, understanding what I need to be doing and why I need to be doing it!
Anway, back to today’s lesson. We were working on a large circle, allegedly, as my circle wasn’t circular by the stretch of anyone's imagination! I was completely absorbed in the goings on of my derriere and Pip was forced to intervene. “How many times has he broken into canter at that same spot now?” Er…..I had no idea! Instead of a broad awareness I had lapsed into tunnel vision. Yes, I had some vague awareness that Bronson may have cantered a few strides here and there, but was flabbergasted to learn that we had cantered at exactly the same point each time. Pip went on to explain “The first time he cantered you probably shifted your balance inadvertently”, Bronson is so highly trained that he will respond to the slightest shift in weight, “At that point you needed to respond and let him know that, despite your accidental weight shift, you wanted him to stay in trot. Then on the next circle you needed to make sure that your intention was clear to him”. Instead, I had carried on regardless and so he had thought the right thing to do was canter again. When I didn’t respond after the fourth time, he was now both in the habit of doing it and feeling insecure and agitated because I wasn’t giving him clear instructions. I was being wishy, washy and he was communicating his upset by swishing his tail, hence Pip’s intervention.
Pip explained that whether it’s a horse invading my space on the ground, changing pace or gait when I am riding, it is simply a different expression of the same thing. He is not feeling confident in my leadership and is seeking reassurance. If I fail to respond, then I am effectively telling him that he has to be in charge, after all one of us always has to be in charge, so if it’s not me, then it’s him! The conversation we are always having is “are you in charge? or am I?” in this case, my lack of any answer at all, was the only answer he needed. We set off again and I extended my awareness from just being about my balance to include maintaining our pace, which we did, but this time I managed to kick the fence at the same point each time we went around. “You’ve swapped cantering for kicking the fence”, Pip said. Pip has always taught me that every step Bronson takes needs to be in the precise direction and pace that I have asked for, so I knew that hitting the fence was entirely my fault.
It’s been a wake up call to realise that I have lost so much ground. The old saying ‘use it, or lose it’ definitely applies to our horsemanship. That said, I felt completely elated after my lesson as I now have a really clear path of what I need to work on and know exactly how to resolve the issues we were having. I can’t wait for my next session and to make a better job of it! When I have my head in the right place and am being all the things Bronson needs me to be, riding him is sublime. It is such a privilege to be learning to ride properly and on such a fantastic horse. Thankfully Pip will be working with Bronson before my next ride, to correct the mistakes I have made and to continue to bring him further along in his training, I then get to reap all the rewards of her endeavour. It’s so important to have my horse trained, as well as myself, to ensure that Bronson is being taught how to work correctly and to address any confusion I have caused with my inevitably less than perfect horsemanship, whilst I learn to ride.
I’m loving my journey into Pippsway of Classical Natural Horsemanship with Bronson. It’s given me a completely new lease of life and I’m so excited about what our future holds. We are attending one of Pip’s Horse Connection Clinics this weekend and it’s going to be a wonderful opportunity to progress and get back to where we were, hurrah!