It’s autumn, and a beautiful one. We have been blessed with consecutive days of sunshine, and mild sunny weather free of wind and rain. For people in Northern Europe, this bliss is fleeting, awareness that these are out the last outposts of pleasant weather before the winter sets in and we are besieged by months of cold, snow, sleet, smog and if you’re an equestrian… MUD.
It’s at this time that I feel my body begin to close up shop, tiredness accumulated and deferred during the Spring and Summer catches up with me and my body needs rest and hibernation. It is a dichotomy, because I would really rather be outside taking advantage of the great weather. But energetic debts spend months or even years ago now come to the surface, and my relationship with my own energy is changing, I don’t want to always live in an energetic deficit, but in a surplus. The last few days and weeks my body sent me strong signals to slow down, so I listened.
When a caterpillar has gone as far as it can in it’s current form, it slows down, stops and then builds a cocoon. The cocoon is a foil, because to the outside world, it looks like a boring brown package- inert and cumbersome. It looks like nothing is being done. But deep inside, profound changes are taking place. This is how I feel right now. To the outside world, it looks like not much is happening, but inside, profound changes are taking place. When I am ready to shed the shell, who knows how far I could then fly? Or what form I will take?
I use this idea when training horses. Especially with Sanson. He is my own horse that I do not outsource to anyone else at all, he and I have the wonderful chance of experiencing details of time together. When I work with a client, I am very clear they they are the ones who must do the work with their horse, not me. It is their horse not mine and the results I can get with that horse will not reflect accurately the results they can get, so I am teaching them how to make things better on their own. Ideally, I want all my clients to be independent of any trainer at all. One of the greatest pleasures of having your own horse is not dealing with things other people did to your horse to change them. At least that’s how I feel.
Often I will totally put away a task- or cocoon it- for a time being. I will stop certain gaits, exercises, techniques, even spaces of training for a time if it feels right. But just because I am NOT doing something doesn’t mean that I am not working on it. And it is more sophisticated than the following standard classical conditioning understanding: ‘if you educate your horse at a walk the trot will improve’. Yes, this is true and I use this too, but I can be trotting and practising the canter, whilst no canter is visible to the outside world. The canter is then a FEELING shared only between the horse and myself and only the very perceptive can register the small signals that register externally in the horse and rider that are linked to the profound changes that happen inside between the horse and the rider.
Groundwork gives you perspective, but riding gives you FEELING. Both compliment each other.
I was lately finding myself mid-lesson saying things like:
“Now please walk with the FEELING of a trot, let him taste the trot feeling before you ask him to do it.”
If the horse is awake, responsive and on the same page with you, they will share this conversation with you:
please remain walking, but feel a trot energy now
Stand still, but with the energy of gallop
Walk but with the feeling of stop
Trot, but with the feeling of canter
Close your eyes after you say the above four things, and imagine riding your horse and making that request…. that is you searching for a FEELING with your horse and this is the horses language. They communicate in mental, emotional, physiological and even spiritual feelings.
If the horse has a poor expression response from this ‘cocoon request’, do NOT then ask them to DO the things they had a poor response to. Get to the root of their frustration first. “Go back, you missed something” The horse is trying to say.
Last Spring, a well known local trainer asked to film my riding as they had ‘Never seen anyone move on a horse like that before’. Whether their motives were positive or negative I do not know, but unfortunately I suspect the latter. Anyway, my reply was that sure, they can film me, but I am not trotting right now, so there is not much to film.
A few days later they asked me suddenly and forcefully
‘Why are you not trotting your horse!?’ Almost frustrated by my quiet progression.
I wanted to say that just because I am walking, does not mean I am not trotting. But it would have taken too much for me to explain that, and I doubt they would have listened to me anyway.
Instead I said that my horse was not ready, he was just coming out of his first northern European winter with a profoundly different body, and I wanted to give him time to be physically and mentally prepared to go forwards. Ten days after that discussion, Sanson and I were enjoying extended high speed gallops in the forest together. He was absolutely ready for that, because I had ‘COCOONED’ his high energy movements under saddle, for months so they could have rest and time to transform into something better.
The result is that my weak, wobbly and downhill horse is currently giving me form beyond what I could have imagined. I think he too, he often feels shocked at his own power.
My question then is, what are you cocooning? What have you ‘Put back in the shell’ to give it time to change and grow without interference?
Letting horses find their excellent ON THEIR OWN has lasting powerful change that far outweighs any horse that has been micromanaged or drilled into change by mindless repetition.