One of my students, Cindi, asked me if I would explore the reasons for flexing our horses and why I think it is so important. I know I talk a lot about it but I don’t think I have ever, at least here anyway, explained why I think it is so important. So here we go.
I teach three principles of horsemanship that have been around for thousands of years. They are Intuition, Control, Trust. All three of these principles are inter related and build on each other. Flexing, teaches a horse control and trust. I start by teaching this skill on the ground.
When a horse flexes laterally he is learning mentally to give to the pressure or request. Early on he will give but it will not be because he wants to or likes to. He will do it so that I will leave him alone. Why? Cause if he will flex I will let his head rest in a straight position. So the horse is giving mentally when I ask him to flex, and he does it. You may find, as I have, that when he does give in the early part of his training, he is still very stiff and tight. Why? Another good question. He is stiff and tight because he does not trust me. The only value he sees is, if he will flex I will leave him alone. In time he will start to flex more and more on his own. When I pick up the lead rope or reins and ask for the flex, he will start to try and get there before I can direct him in the flex. When this happens you will start to see him get softer in his body. His neck, jaw, his entire body will start to get softer and softer as we ask him to flex. But what really starts to get softer is his mind. He starts to become more willing to give to that pressure. I have horses that when I pick up on the rein on either side, quickly and willingly, flex. He is learning to trust me. He is learning that if he will give to the pressure, things will be better for him, that it’s easier to flex then to fight. With his head flexed, to either side, he cannot see what is going on, on the off side of his body, so he learns to trust that I’m not going to let anything happen to him on the side that he cannot defend. He is learning that I can Control his head by flexing. In that process he is also learning to Trust. He is learning to Trust me. Trust that I won't let anything bad happen to him when he flexes and when he learns to flex willingly, I learn to Trust him. These two principles, Control and Trust are so important in our relationship with our horses.
I teach this skill, early on, after the horse has done a little work and is thinking about stopping. We work on the skill at this point so that the flexing skill lets him stand and rest. He soon associates flexing with resting. This is a big deal to the horse cause it’s one of the things he love to do most, rest. As the horse begins to relax while flexing and resting, it’s here when he starts to look hard to flex so he can rest and relax. This will take a little time but once he connects these dots we can use this skill to help our horse to settle down when things are not going as we would like. When the horse gets nervous about something he sees or feels. It also give us a chance to relax if there is something we think is going south. However we would be in the saddle when this would happen and there is a process to flexing in the saddle that we will explore later.
Flexing teaches a horse so much. And it teaches the owner/rider so much at the same time and I promise we will get to that soon.
But time for coffee now.
Will try and keep you updated with info on what the heck I'm doing with horses and music.