This is the part where you invest the sweat equity. To be successful it is important to put the principles and your knowledge of the training methods into practice with your horse. So, you need to dedicate the time necessary to build your skills and feel.
The work you have to do on your sense of self is a big part of this. Horses live close to nature; in general we humans do not. Horses are sensitive to themselves, the herd and everything in nature that surrounds them. We need to retrain our senses to be more attuned to all the elements of nature .
First thing you need to reflect on your mental and emotional state and learn to control them. If you walk into a horse paddock feeling nervous and insecure horses will sense it instantly. They will feed off it and react to it. Often people are not even aware of their emotional state. They suppress feelings because they get in the way of their plan, their goals and most of all their schedule . They just have to get x and y done by z time. We are conditioned to this from the time we are children. Our sense of self is suppressed in deference to material reality and THE SCHEDULE. The phrase “Stop and smell the roses.” Is a rule you should follow.
A common course of action is to read a book on horse training or watch a DVD. Then we grab our equipment march smartly out to the paddock and give ourselves a time line of half an hour to catch and halter our horse and complete the first two tasks of the course. The horse sees you coming and heads for the other end of the paddock . It takes 20 minutes to catch the horse and you can`t get him/her to do anything. First you get frustrated and then you get mad. Bad becomes worse and you feel like a failure. I know. I have been there and done that. The only thing you did right was to read and watch to gain some knowledge. What you didn`t do is prepare yourself mentally and emotionally.
For the purpose of this discussion i assume that you are not afraid of horses. The most common fear is the fear of being on the horse. The principles of “natural horsemanship” indicate that confidence and trust need to be established on the ground. Both the horse and the human need to be prepared for the experience of riding. To prepare yourself to deal with fear, I recommend the work of Dr. Stephanie Burns, “Move closer, stay longer”.
Working on ground exercises is important. However, I have found that it is easy to get trapped in an endless cycle of new exercises and perfecting technique and performance for these exercises. For me, the most important part of ground work is the development of “feel” for yourself and the horse. As you develop your physical execution skills you also develop your mental and emotional skills of perception and observation. You will begin to see the horse as a reflection of yourself.
It was Tom Dorrance who talked about “true unity”, he wrote a book about it. My interpretation of his concept, is acquiring the ability to see our reflection in our horse. We become a unified image. This is an ultimate goal to strive for. Do not expect to fully achieve it. If you do, you have become a horse.
Your horse will begin to see you as part of the herd. Most important you will be seen as a leader of the herd. This will mean the horse has given you trust, confidence and belief in your leadership. You have given the horse your trust, confidence and belief. You have become a unit.
The term “horsemanship” is used very loosely. Who says you are or are not a horseman. It is not some clinician, a committee, an association or organization. The only valid judgement is made by your horse. You may not have ribbons, buckles, plaques, saddles, special strings or certificates but you will know you have respect of and partnership with the horse. You are a team of two, a herd, a unit.
To achieve this level of connection with your horse, your need to dedicate yourself to the study of and development of the skills of understanding of, and communication with horses. The results are rewarding for both horse and human.
When your horse has become your partner, if you want to see your soul, look in the eye of your horse.