I plan to do more than one blog one my interpretation of understanding Ray Hunt, and I hope you enjoy the perspective. It took me a lot of reading, riding, and horsemanship to come to where I feel that I understand more closely what I believe Ray was telling us.
For this foray, I want to deal with a few paragraphs from his book “Think Harmony with Horses” Chapter I and pages 12 & 13. I want to propose that what Ray is talking about is simply good horsemanship, it is reflected through many other great texts on the subject, both old and new.
Ray starts talking about how we don’t teach horses walk, trot, lope, stand still or back up – these are all things the young ones, practice on their own as they run around their mothers. Rather, what we are trying to do is to ask them to do our bidding, on our time. We ultimate want our horse to follow our cues in the same way we might expect our own legs to do, as we were centaurs.
Now, we can surely stab a horse with our spurs to make it go, or in some case to stop, we can also pull on its mouth for a stop or a turn, but that is very base, crude, and beneath the dignity of the horse. The horseman strives to communicate at a different level, at a level of “feel”, a level that is soft and intuitive for both horse and human. If you see a Vaquero with a well-developed bridle horse you find it hard to spot the difference between when the feel was a well-timed, smoothly, and softly delivered cue or little more than a thought, an idea.
Ray says “The easy way for me to show him is to be a part of him…” – to be connected both mentally and physically, not to be forcing or imposing. “You get right down to horse’s feet; you’re in time with his body…” – the beginner rider has surely experienced the smoothness of the lope as the bumpy trot breaks into a slower, wave-like, feeling and suddenly you feel yourself going with the movement of the horse. There for that brief moment you are in time with his body – then he breaks to a trot, and you find yourself bouncing unexpectedly.
Imagine being able to find that feeling at all gaits and through all transitions, without whipping, spurring, pulling or be harsh. Ray suggests the best place “to begin to work for this understanding and communication, to build this foundation, is at the walk.”. This also leans back into the famous Tom Dorrance quote “First you go with the horse. Then the horse goes with you. Then you go together”. The hardest part of that deal, and the part that most riders never get to understand or appreciate is the first part – going with the horse.
In one of his videos, I believe “Turning Loose” Ray talked about how he liked to dance, but was never any good at it, but he was good at following a feel – so if his partner was two stepping, he was two stepping, if she was waltzing, he was waltzing. To me, as one who took ballroom dancing classes for several years, I totally understand that connection to a partner, and completely understand the analogy. If you have consistent, contact with your partner through a proper, balanced frame with well-timed steps, your partner can develop a “feel” with you, and follow more easily your every movement.
“The horse knows. He knows the human twenty to one. It’s amazing how much he’ll get out of things, how he’ll fill in for as little as the human knows about him. How that horse can handle it has always been a mystery to me. Put yourself in his shoes to live your whole life where no one knows who you really are. Well, I haven’t met a human yet who compares to a horse…”. – Ray Hunt
Here’s an exercise to try, it may help you and your horse:
Standing on level ground, set up four cones, forming an oblong that is about six feet wide and twenty feet long. Standing, looking lengthwise, start with your right foot touching the inside of the right-hand cone – then walk on a diagonal towards the left cone at the far end of the oblong. While walking, keep your face, and eyes, straight ahead. You may even try this with your eyes closed or blindfold. Feel how your feet fall, and how your hips are inclined to turn as you walk.
Next repeat the exercise, but this time turn your face as far as possible to look sideways over your right shoulder. Make the same observations or how your feet fall and your pelvis (hips) turn. Then repeat the same process looking over your left shoulder and mark the same observations. Finally, repeat on the other side, walking the opposite diagonal and note any differences – all the while maintaining an erect posture.
You should feel how turning your head changes the position of your hips, which in turn changes what the horse will feel from uneven pressure from your legs, that will wittingly or otherwise guide him. Try the exercise several times to develop a feel and awareness of how the position of your head transmits through your body to your feet. Then try the same exercise astride your horse, and note how these subtle changes affect his body, through his legs and down to his feet. It’s a fun drill and will help you to develop a feel.
Here’s a link to great article about Ray.