The incredible thing about working with horses is they provide us with physical metaphors for understanding the rest of life. I had a lesson recently with a student who was having a hard time figuring out how to get her horse to turn on the forehand and the hindquarters consistently. I kept noticing how hard she was trying but how awkward and stiff her gestures seemed. I couldn’t shake how labored a task it was for her to get her horse moving in arcs around her. I kept thinking: this looks like walking a dog that is straining at the end of a lease. It’s just not fun.
Afterwards, as I was puzzling what I could do as her trainer to coach her from “a breakdown to a breakthrough,” it dawned on me: moving with a horse is supposed to be effortless, like two partners steering each other gracefully around the dance floor. So I tried an experiment: I took out an old “boom box”– I know how 80’s of me—and set it up near the round pen and I put in a CD of Johann Strauss and I started working with my horse. I was pleasantly surprised how the music helped my body steer the horse with an almost unconscious pulsatile energy that emanated from the triple meter of the music.
And I tried it the next time with my student. Worked like a charm. I started her waltzing around the round pen and then I handed her the lead rope and off she went with her horse like two pros on “Dancing with the Stars.” The music helped her body capture the energy between herself and her horse and, suddenly, it was no longer a matter of putting energy here or applying pressure there, but an intuitive movement of guiding the horse wherever she chose to lead it. Voila! Instant mastery.
I realized that there was a larger spiritual metaphor here: we need to walk less and waltz more. We should be dancing not marching through life. Our horses get it and we can pick up that valuable lesson from working with them.
So in the words of Irving Berlin (and sung by Fred Astaire):
I’m puttin’ on my top hat,
Tyin’ up my white tie,
Brushin’ off my tails.