A horse will always strive to be comfortable. If we, as trainers/riders remember that, we will have accessed a valuable “teaching” tool! I call it the “comfort connection”.
It’s really quite simple. I’ve already talked about releasing aids (hands, legs, body) when my horse is doing what I ask but if I think one step further and think about tapping in to my horse’s “comfort”, I am limited only by his talent and what I wish to “teach” him because he, in fact, is teaching himself. He wants to be comfortable; therefore he will try to be comfortable. If I take advantage of that, the whole training process is easier.
Example 1: A horse’s spine is aligned best if his neck (not just his head!) is low. He instinctively knows this but, with someone on his back asking him to respond to something he doesn’t know yet, he may resist to pressure on the reins, stiffen, and put his head up. He is not comfortable with his head in that position so, as I walk, jog and lope, I encourage him to lower his neck with leg pressure. When he does (and is rewarded with release of pressure), he becomes comfortable again. My horses understand this very quickly. (I can almost see the “light bulb” go on…). Then they are happy to respond the next time… because they are comfortable. As always, it’s important to reward for even the slightest response at first. It’s amazing how fast a horse will learn when he is finding a comfortable position.
Example 2: A horse is most comfortable spinning if his body is in correct alignment. It will be easy to turn around if his neck is low, his shoulders are “up” and his barrel and hips aligned. In fact, spinning is so much easier that he will float around with the help of centrifugal force. If his head is up, his back is hollowing; then it is difficult for him to place a pivot leg under himself; if he is resisting rein pressure on one side and his shoulder is “stuck out”, it will be difficult for him to cross over in front.
Example 3: A horse will stop best if his body is aligned. Again, he will be more comfortable that way and therefore he will be more willing to stop and will perform the stop much better. This starts in the rundown. If my horse does not feel or act comfortable in the rundown, I will often go back a step or two and correct that – by encouraging him to find the comfortable position again.
A horse will perform any maneuver better if he is correct and he will only stay correct if he is comfortable. A horse will seek out the comfortable position once he is shown where it is. That’s the “comfort connection”.