Keep Calm... and Don't Always Carry On!
I was so happy when Anna Marciniak agreed to come and do a clinic in the UK as she doesn't really teach away from home. Anna usually prefers to direct people through change with their horses via her internet based courses. This made the event even more special, knowing that there are limited opportunities to be guided by Anna in person.
Over the weekend, twenty eager people assembled, all looking forward to delving deeper into Anna's unique calmness infused approach to developing horses and humans. Some had already studied with Anna so they knew what a treat we had in store.
Anna was accompanied by her husband Pavel who assisted in talking about Anna's approach. Anna's friend Dominika Truszczyńska, a gifted photographer also accompanied them and took some beautiful pictures.
So, I shall share a personal account of the clinic and try to do justice to the enourmous changes and expanded awareness that resulted. I worry less about capturing it accurately and completely as Dominika's fabulous photos express the spirit of the clinic perfectly.
Everything Begins In and Returns to Calmness
This deceptively simple yet profound teaching and living perspective of Anna's is the bedrock of everything. All interactions are started off with a conscious focus on utter calm and relaxation. It was fascinating to watch the horses give us 'calming signals' to guide us into deeper awareness of where we were holding tension. Joining your horse in a head to toe/hoof shake is a great place to start! Tension in the jaw was highlighted by horses yawning. Sighing and snorting horses invited us to fill our lungs and blow out the tension.
When we are calm and relaxed, it is obvious that horses LOVE it. I really appreciate the calm eyes and the attentive cocked ears in the photo's above. Horses are totally available for learning in this state. This mental facility is most definitely rendered inaccessible if training takes place in the presence of stress or fear. The other wonderful side effect is that horses begin to move so beautifully when in a calm and balanced state of mind. This is totally reflected in their bodies. They all moved more athletically with even paces, reaching forward over their topline and activating their hindquarters powerfully. Look at the photo below and observe the beautiful square halt in each. All of this was achieved without even having to think about it. No 'producing' of the movement was needed. It just turned up as an outer expression of an inner state of calm and equilibrium. As within, so without it would most definitely seem!
Expectation Blocks Access to Calmness
This one is such a hard one for those of us who are more direct line thinkers! Over and over Anna repeated that being in the now, with absolute commitment to all actions you take, then accepting fully whatever materialises with the grace and joy of a child is only possible through calmness. The second an expectation creeps in 'My horse should have yielded/backed up...' you pick the action... calmness has slipped away and a seed of tension is germinating and is always ready to grow into frustration or anger.
Only without expectation, is it possible for us to delight in a fully and freely offered movement from our horse, executed in lightness and balance with a calm and willing mind. Here Temple engages with all of himself into true action. He was not forced, tricked or encouraged. He was merely invited by my backward seat cue and nothing more.
Do Less or Even Stop Completely
I love this simple mind set. How often do we keep on going with something that we have started with our horses and escalate the pressure. This doesnt have to be pressure with sticks or our bodies. Mental pressure is more then enough. How much more friendly and inviting to the horse to simply stop with no corrections, just as if it never happened, settle yourself into calmness and then start again. Simple and effective.
Being Calm Does not Mean 'Anything Goes'
Sometimes there is a misconception that any approach that seeks to be as gentle as possible for the horse is somehow 'wimpy' or 'fluffy'. Just for the record can I say that these are two words I would certainly not use to describe Anna. There is a solid core there for sure! If a boundary needs to be expressed to a horse as a matter of safety then Anna expresses it lightning quick and in no uncertain terms. Likewise with a student. If she feels that you are not giving it 100% and that you are capable of what she is asking you, she will communicate this very directly. I think its important to highlight this. Calmess and centredness are hallmarks of strength, not weakness.
Give the Horse TIME to Think and Respond
How often do we truly engage the horse as an equal, intelligent, autonomous partner? How long is it before we intervene in the decision making process of the horses and tap, tug, pull, imperceptibly lift a rope, a rein, a stick or press mentally. Alternatively we could just wait, a few more seconds or even 30 seconds, a minute and really TRUST that our horses are there, ready, willing and able to join us in our endeavours.
In a similar vein, dont ask for something when the horse is distracted. Calm yourself right down... wait.... redirect the energy back to you and let the magic happen.
I hope that this gives a flavour of the weekend. It has been a tremendous help to me and with the support of Anna's books, I have been fully able to continue and expand on what she imparted over the course of the clinic. I highly recommend 'Finding and Extending Natural Balance' for anyone wanting to explore Anna's approach in more detail. This is available through her website www.onehorselife.com Anna will be returning to us in 2016 and I am so happy at the prospect of refining my understanding even further. For now I shall close with some lovely heartfelt moments from a fantastically memorable two days.