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.

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