Dancing with someone in close embrace is a leap of faith.
We must trust each other implicitly. If I send my horse an impulse to move I trust her to receive the impulse and respond. She must be able to trust that I will not rush her, or do anything that might disrupt her balance, as she interprets, and then acts on my lead. It is a delicate balance when we are in physical contact with one another. Whether through tack or touch, physical proximity amplifies everything. Feelings, emotions, movement, all intensify when we come together in shared motion.
The invitation to move is a tiny impulse, almost imperceptible to the eye of an observer. Never a demand, we explore, seeking a common understanding that forms the basis of our conversation. When my tone and movement have enough clarity she naturally recognizes and responds instinctively to the suggestion.
Always begin as unobtrusively as possible. I want to discover how responsive my dance partner might be by whispering my suggestion. Whispering encourages her to listen more closely, be more attentive to what I might have to say. This first whispered request for movement may seemingly go unnoticed. It doesn’t matter. I release and ask again without changing anything – the same impulse, the same whisper soft suggestion.
Most likely she noticed I asked for something that she missed. She is preparing internally, making sure she notices the next time I offer something up. The second time I generate an impulse she responds instantly! Lifting her head and neck, engaging her core, but I feel no movement to follow and so I release the request. She just said – ‘I think you are asking me to do something? Am I right?’ – I answer in the affirmative by creating that impulse a third time, the exact same whisper soft impulse with no increase in pressure or volume. ‘Yes, I am asking you to move with me, you heard me correctly, let me clarify for you.’
This time when I invite her to move she lifts her head and neck, elevates her core, shifting to un-weight the foot nearest me. And then I wait. Softly holding the intention, creating the space for my equine partner to move into. I must always remember that she has four legs to coordinate to my two. She needs more time than I do to organize herself to gracefully embody my suggestions. While I wait I feel for a sense of impending movement. Is she balanced enough to take the step? Does she have enough clarity to know what I want or is she still working it out?
If I do not feel a sense of her movement expanding to fill the space I created I step back, letting her know she is on the right track, giving her a moment to reorganize herself. These incremental steps toward movement are key to establishing her trust in me. She knows I will never rush her to respond, disregarding her desire to understand what I want and figure out how to coordinate her body to carry out the request. This kind of trust allows her to relax, surrendering to my whispered suggestions so that we might dance.
Yes, I recreate my impulse a fourth time. And yes, it is exactly the same as it was the previous three times. No increase in pressure or intensity. She has already shown me she can hear my whisper. She has offered up an answering response every time and I have let her know she did hear me correctly, she is on the right track in her responses. The fourth time she lifts her head and neck, elevates her core, shifts her weight and I feel her entire body filling the space I created for her to move into. As I feel her take her step I take mine, our feet landing together, following her into a space that is now shared as we move together.
It might only be one step!
I never stop feeling for the sense of her filling the space I open for us to move into. The instant she doubts or loses her balance or hesitates I pause. I pause for as long as it takes for her to calm herself and re-center. It might be for the barest moment or it might be a full stop. And then for the fifth time I repeat that impulse. The same intensity as that first whisper, maybe even a little less, and this time she flows seamlessly into the space I created and we are dancing.
Together we create a shared dialogue. This is not about training my horse to respond to my cues. This is an honest exchange. My horse and I are having a conversation about moving together. She might tell me my whisper was too soft for her to hear. She might tell me my request or intention is too complicated for her to successfully execute. She might tell me I am making no sense at all and confusing her or throwing her off balance! As the initiator of the conversation it is my responsibility to adapt to her responses. Encouraging her that I am listening, responsive to her needs. She can do nothing wrong in my eyes. It is imperative for her confidence that she never feels she has made a mistake. This is what allows her to blossom into a creative, expressive dance partner.
Physical contact amplifies everything. Dancing in close embrace requires a leap of faith. I must believe that my horse is responsive, intuitive, intelligent and willing. It is my leap of faith in her that allows her to have faith in me.