I was talking about my recent ponderings around the effects of chronic circular motion on the horse’s body, specifically how those effects can show in the hooves. These thoughts were sparked by a great article I read on Facebook by Danvers Child of Foxtail Forge & Farriery, called “Going in Circles”.
So here’s Danvers again, in the last part of his post, which focuses on collection:
“First and foremost, the horse is designed to be heavy on the forehand. We fight against that concept, asking them to engage their hindquarters, to “collect,” and to give us impulsion. And they’re capable of doing so… but they’re not designed or “programmed” to sustain such activity for any length of time. When they do this in “natural” settings and situations, they’re playing, they’re being startled or frightened, or they’re showing off. None of these are sustained activities.
Likewise, when they do engage, they’re generally bolting forward, jumping sideways, or leaping upwards. And they’re typically doing that with a burst of speed and energy, not in slow motion.”
Aha! So we’re into another can of worms – even collection, that holy grail of virtually every form of horsemanship, is not meant to be sustained by the horse’s anatomy! Well that’s a mind-boggler, if you’ve been, like any well-educated horseperson, convinced of its constant necessity.
I never felt good poking and prodding my horse into a collected shape. Even when training from the ground, I couldn’t ignore the pained look in my (ridiculously expressive) Arab/Andalusian’s face as I tried to convince him I knew better than he did how his body should move. No, the best collection I’ve ever felt is riding bareback on a loose rein past a field full of rowdy youngsters – Spero pulled himself up into his “WHO DA MAN” stance and did his best fancy-pants-dance, and the jolt that punched through my abdomen and out my head was beyond exhilarating. I’d already promised I’d stay off his face, negotiating that my primal human/monkey cling response when nervous could be relegated to his mane if I lost my composure, instead of the invasive claustrophobia of gathering up the reins (he hates his face being effed with – fine, so do I!). The fear I felt when he collected naturally, for a real purpose, was what was so exhilarating – I knew he was ready to scoot, jump, lunge, or fly in any direction, and woe would be my slow human form, left paddling in mid air like Wile E Coyote off the edge of a cliff. He didn’t, thankfully – maybe because I didn’t give him reason to by pulling on his face!
Which got me to thinking…how could he possibly call up that energy of possibility, that true collection, back when I was kicking him around and around an arena, especially when I lacked the subtlety, skill, and force of will to communicate the unnatural concept to his body? And especially when he, like most domestic horses, was punished or at least discouraged from flighty, spontaneous behaviour – which is actually at the heart of true collection? And what, really, is the point of circles? All I can think of is: human convenience. Making the most out of smaller spaces and compensating for human limitations. And maybe something about humans liking things contained and tidy. Huh.
I’m not sure where all this leaves me, except with even more curiosity and openness to learning, whether that’s about hooves, anatomy, psychology, relationship, or purpose – because the more I find out, the less I feel justified to do to my horses. But I can say that every time I’ve listened, every time I’ve taken their word over everyone else’s, I have been rewarded, though never how, or even when, I hope or expect to be. Like now – two years ago, I took the halters, ropes, whips, and confinement away all on a whim. All on a deep, persistent feeling that I was missing something. I was left with almost nothing – just a huge ego-smack (surprise, they didn’t want to do anything I wanted to do!) and a new opportunity to build relationship another way. And years later, I find myself wildly grateful and still learning from them every single day.
So if you do work with your horse on a circle on a regular basis, and you’re reading this and struggling to take it in, or feeling some uncomfortable feelings, try not to despair, react, or defend. Just consider. Just see if you can open, a tiny bit, to the possibility of something more, or something different. Is there something that’s been bothering you, something you feel your horse might be trying to tell you? What if you listened – really listened with an open heart? What if you changed one thing and…everything changed?