Month: November 2019

The Importance of the Picture in Your Mind

The Importance of the Picture in Your Mind

I was watching the video Horsemanship with Ray Hunt recently.

Cover of Ray Hunt's video

In that video Ray says,

You have to have a picture in your mind and the seat of your pants.

I understand having the picture in your mind, but I had to think about the picture in the seat of your pants. Bill Dorrance helped me understand what Ray was talking about.

Near the bottom of page 320 of True Horsemanship Through Feel by Bill Dorrance and Leslie Desmond, in his discussion of FEEL (of the horse), Bill says,

It’s up to the person to have a clear picture in his mind of how he wants that horse to operate before he presents a feel for that horse to respond to, or the horse is liable to not maneuver in the way the person wants him to. Having this in mind whenever you’re around a horse, or holding onto him, is what shapes the future for him in the best way possible.

I believe what Ray was saying is you have to have a clear picture of what you want the horse to do, and a clear picture of the feel you need to offer the horse for the action you want the horse to take.

The importance of that picture, and the connection between the picture in your mind and the picture in the seat of your pants, was reinforced for me recently when I was working with a young filly and her owner. We were working on an exercise to develop the horse’s ability to understand the person’s intention.

The exercise involves bringing the horse’s head around—sometimes with the intention of her not moving her feet, and sometimes with the intention of her moving her feet.

The feel I was using to ask the horse to bring her head to the side was lifting the lead rope out and up just enough to move the knot on the bottom of the halter to the side, but not enough to take the slack out of the rope.

The picture in my mind, and what I released for, would change depending on the action I wanted the horse to take. If I wanted the horse to bring her head around without moving her feet, I had that picture in my mind. If the horse moved her feet, I didn’t release until her feet stopped with her head to the side. If I wanted the horse to move her feet as she brought her head around, I had that picture in my mind. If her feet didn’t move, I didn’t release until she moved her feet.

With just a few repetitions, I could consistently say whether I wanted her feet to move or not, and then get that result.

When I handed the horse over to her owner, her actions were not the same as they were for me. After a few tries things were improving, and the horse’s owner said, “Man, I have to have a really clear picture.”

I agreed, and took the horse back to illustrate the point. I said, “Let’s say your husband really upset you at breakfast this morning, and you pick up this lead rope but you’re thinking how much you would like to stomp your husband because you haven’t gotten over it yet.”

The little filly laid her ears back.

Unbendable Arm Energy

Unbendable Arm Energy

On page 25 of her book Centered Riding Sally Swift says,

It is important to realize from the beginning that imagery can influence muscles. Muscles can be brought into action or released by images without discernible motion. In this way the quality of control of the arm, leg, or whatever, can be improved and eventually, through practice, become automatic

The Unbendable Arm exercise Sally Swift discusses in her book Centered Riding 2 Further Exploration is not about the arm not bending, but about the quality of energy in the arm. Here are some of the things Sally Swift says about the Unbendable Arm:

  • “The Unbendable Arm exercise will help you understand the availability of the kind of strength and energy that comes through clear intent.”
  • “It can be used in countless ways, on or with a horse.”
  • “Horses clearly understand this effortless language and instinctively, even profoundly respect it.”
The Unbendable Arm Exercise
Demonstration of the Unbendable Arm exercise.
Demonstration of the Unbendable Arm exercise.
From page 41 of Sally Swift’s book Centered Riding 2 Further Exploration

To experience the feel of the unbendable arm energy, you need to compare two different ways of resisting the efforts of someone trying to bend your arm.

  • First, make a fist, hold your breath, and resist the effort to bend your arm with all your strength.
  • Next, relax your hand. Use your soft eyes and deep breathing. Stack up your building blocks. Center yourself. Draw energy up from the earth and stream it out your arm with the clear intent of not letting your arm bend.
The Four Basics

If you are unfamiliar with the terms: soft eyes, deep breathing, building blocks, and centering, these are the four basics Sally Swift discusses in chapter 3 of her book Centered Riding.


  • Soft eyes are where you focus on an object, but also open up your peripheral vision so you see the sky above you, the ground below you, and everything on both sides of you.
  • Deep breathing is where you breath with your diaphragm, drawing your breath down into your center, and filling your body. You can imagine having one of those chemistry flasks inside you with the long neck and big bulb on the bottom. Breath all the way down the neck of that flask and fill the bulb on the bottom.
  • Building blocks is a balanced stance, where your bones are stacked up so they can support you while your muscles remain relaxed.
  • Centering is just drawing your attention to your center—the area in the bowl of your pelvis.

Doing the unbendable arm exercise allows you to feel the distinct difference in the quality of the energy in your arm, and the amount of effort you expend between using your strength, and using the unbendable arm energy.

Once you have felt the quality of energy with the unbendable arm exercise, you can use that quality of energy when you ride.

Railroad Tracks

Think of taking energy up from the ground, through your center and streaming it out your arms in the direction you want to go with the quality of the unbendable arm. You can think of the streams of energy as railroad tracks, and you are riding your horse along those tracks. When you want to make a gradual turn, bend those railroad tracks in the direction of the turn.

Driving and Drawing

When you want to make tighter turns, you can use the unbendable arm energy differently in each arm. Think in terms of streaming energy out the outside arm, and drawing energy in the inside arm. Outside and inside refer to the bend in the horse. If you are turning to the right, you stream the energy out the left arm and draw it in with the right arm. If you are turning to the left, you steam the energy out the right arm and draw it in the left arm.

Real World Example

I recently shared this concept with a very new rider. Although she had very little riding experience, her horse was very experienced, and responded to images of energy very well. In the time frame of one riding lesson, this student had the driving and drawing working so well, she was riding circles and serpentines without taking the slack totally out of her reins.

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