Stick 2 Me is where a horse and human connect through thought, energy and body cues in a synchronise ‘dance’. I use this ‘dance’ more than any other as it brings together ‘Mirroring’ and ‘Awareness & Focus’ (see previous articles on these).
I start S2M with halt/walk transitions online, then I add backup, then I add trot and often then go to a neck rope and then liberty. I then add canter but only when there is a real connection to the transitions. I take slow steps and never progress onwards until the lower gaits are in place well. S2M is also how I like to lead a horse.
Here are the steps I use to do this:
1) I hold the lead rope in my outer hand, standing by my horses head/neck with my inner hand on the horses shoulder.
2) I breathe in and think ‘walk on’ in an ‘up and forward’ body cue.
3) I count two (or more if a slower thinking horse) before moving off, then breathe normally.
4) If the horse does not follow then I try the steps above again and then tap on the horses shoulder with my inside hand as a cue to move forward. If tapping the horse doesn’t work then I put the lead rope in my inside hand and create some impulsion by swinging the end of the lead rope towards the horses rump. Soon the horse will be listening to my breathing cues to walk on and the tap is not necessary.
5) I try to make sure our footfalls are the same, left with left, right with right so that we are more harmonious.
6) When going up a gait I again breathe in with the thought in my mind of ‘up and forwards’ into that gait, then I wait two seconds before doing that gait in my body. My aim is to be able to simulate the gait I want in my focus and core without having to physically trot/canter myself.
7) When going down a gait I breathe out loudly so that my horse can hear me, this lowers my inner energy for a halt or backup.
8) When going down a gait but not stopping I make sure my breath out is only to the level of gait I want, this takes a while to get right and testing your breath out and breath in and seeing the results your horse gives you is the guide to how much you need to do. Remember that a BIG noisy breath out should be halt and by refining your core breathing you will find those subtle gait changes as you go along.
Once I have a good connection with a horse the techniques of stick 2 me can become quickly refined and will start to look like you are using invisible cues. But to do it well you need a lot of practice to really get into our horses hooves through our thoughts, energy levels and body language.
When starting to play with stick 2 me I often follow the horse in a mirroring style, this helps the horse relax and start to notice me more. Then whilst I’m following him I will put in some of my own moves to see if he will follow me. The horse, being a curious animal by nature when confident and safe, will start to notice that and I continue this exchange of ideas between us until after a while we are following each other and often you can’t tell who is following who, we’re just together.
I start Stick 2 me by standing next to the horses head or neck, then I work from the shoulders, later on I work near the hip and then I see if I can lead from behind the horse with him out in front of me. I also make sure I work on both the left and right sides equally to help with my relaxation and flexibility principles.
- Shelley – HorseSavvy