When we talk about connection in the horse world we can mean several things. Connection is a huge label. Connection can be a word representing the relationship we have with our horses. Something we want to grow everyday by being an asset to our horses and pairing ourselves with as many good experiences as we can. Horses can live for a long time and if we are lucky our relationship can spann for over 30 years.
This type of connection is not something we can turn on or off.
Overall, connection represents the cumulative effect of the relationship bank account. Reflecting the level of trust, understanding, and collaboration between the horse and the trainer.
The more we invest in positive interactions, the stronger our partnership becomes. It's not about being perfect all the time; it's about making the better part of our time together enjoyable and rewarding. A good connection will help both of us through experiences and environments that are challenging.
By nurturing and prioritizing connection, us trainers can cultivate a strong and harmonious partnership with our horses.
In training we can have different types of connection. For me, connection and relaxation are aspects of each other. We want to feel good and be able to relax in each other's presence and in the environment we chose to train in. Horses are evolved to react fast to changes in the environment and I think we all know how the weather can affect our plans. Think
Alexandra Kurland says it well: “train where you can”. Some days we are more connected staying close to our horse’s friends and home, some days we can explore and expand the connection to work in very different environments. Leaving the herd and going to new places.
Keeping connection in different environments helps keep us safe. Taking care to train systematically in different environments, listening in to how our horse experiences the walk or the ride. If we feel we need a stronger bit most often this is a sign that we need to work more on connecting in different environments. Yes we always need to have a look at what our aids (actually) mean to our horse and yes we can all have accidents but retraining the aids will only get us so far. If we lack connection in the environment we are working in….for me, there is most often no point in advancing our training. Train where you can.
This can mean starting in the near corner of the riding arena and building connection there, telling our horse it’s cool, I will listen often gets us there so much faster. Imagine if you were afraid of deep water and were thrown in, instead of taking it slowly building confidence on shallow water first. Even building curiosity so you were the one suggesting moving further out.
Connection and Frodi
This week Hannah (Hannah Weston from Connection Training...suitingly enough) been visiting me and we trained my horses together. Showing yet another aspect of this. Since covid I mostly trained alone. Before I used to have students over and also arrange courses here. But the last couple of years they are mostly used to my undivided attention.
For me Hannah is a person I feel very relaxed and comfortable with but my horses only met Hannah briefly five years ago. We have a lot in common in how we train and the cues we use but there's also some important differences so taking time to establish this with a new rider was part of the training. So new stuff for them.
We trained all my horses but especially loved seeing her work with Frodi at the mounting block. Frodi has had a lot of negative associations with the mounting block and having a rider on his back and this is something we have been working a lot with in periods.
More for the reason to offer him a good experience from humans in a situation he finds difficult than it actually being important for him to have a rider on his back again. Which it certainly isn't.
I do ride him sometimes in the forest but not in the riding arena. And maybe I never will. It is not at all important from most perspectives but at the same time, I would see it as a symbol of it representing something important connection wise and expecting good things from us humans. Soooo, here is where Hannah comes in because I have done all the training myself with that. And apart from me, only my mum has actually trained him, but doing long reining and giving cute kisses.
Which is about where we started too. Doing easy well known stuff. First with me, then with Hannah. For both of them to find a mutual language and to find connection in movement.
I was so happy already here, but the luxury of having an experienced trainer you really like and trust at home made me really curious to see if we could add something to Frodis more emotionally challenging training.
This is one of Frodis most favorite behaviors to do. Docking in to a hand target and working a bit with flexion at the poll and weight shift, So a good place to start more movement from.
This is a precision behavior and I think it is important to point out that we should do a bit of "bigger" behavior as well as precision requires a lot more concentration. Like just some free walk from leading position or like above: chilling in each others presence.
At the mounting block. Hannah on the first step asking for hip towards. Frodi doing the behavior but then stepping a bit away again. Keeping a bit of distance.
Clearly a "maybe situation".
How we adapt the following training will determine if it is going to be a "yes" or a "no".
We can choose to stay at the "maybe level" doing super easy stuff or we can lower criteria by stepping down again. The later is often my choice and something Frodi is used to.
Here as a response to Hannah stepping down, Frodi immediately takes a step forward closer to the mounting block.
Giving us clear indication what level he prefers and that he is willing to continue to work. I find that allowing and really making room for the no-answer from the horse only increases the connection and the likelihood for the yes-answer. And this is something I we can and should also reinforce as not to end up in a situation where we coerce our horses by withholding food for them not doing what we ask of them. This is the opposite of building connection.
A few minutes later we can adjust the level of difficulty up again but this time with more connection. As a whole this session is under 2 minutes and why I even mention this is to highlight that adapting to your horse once you established that yes: I am gonna listen to your needs gets us there faster as I often hear the argument that this is the longer road.
What can take time is to prove to the horse that things are different now, I want you to have say and I will try to listen to you every time that our mutual safety isn't threatened. But if we prioritize connection in our training it is time well spent.
Can't even begin to describe how happy I was seeing them work together and with what ease Frodi initiated the conversation.