Mastering the Art of Focus, Feel, Timing and Balance
By Cindy Hartzell, Edited By Bruce Hartzell
I would like to share with you my understanding of what focus, feel, timing and balance means regarding horses and horsemanship. Some of our greatest horsemen have spent their entire lives attempting to master these techniques. Each of these essential items remind me a lot of martial arts. Neither of these disciplines can be mastered quickly. Rather they become a way of life. The more that you understand it, the more you experience it, the greater the depth of it’s true meaning will be revealed. The thing about focus, feel, timing, and balance is that they are difficult to teach. They are things that you must first gain awareness of, and then with time and practice you will begin to understand. It’s through experience and allowing the horse to show you the way that you will expand your knowledge and obtain expertise.
As I explore this on a deeper level, it has several meanings. First, you must always be focused on the present moment when you engage with horses. Often, many things can happen in the blink of an eye, like when you become distracted by thoughts or other things going on around you. When we are working with horses either on the ground, or in the saddle, our attention should be focused on them and we should not be trying to monitor everything else happening in the world. We should be focused on what we are doing, how we are doing it, where we are going, and what we will be doing next.
Your horsemanship will advance significantly once you learn to see the world as horses do. They are continuously aware of their surroundings. So, part of being focused is learning to allow your other senses to assist you. The leader in a herd of wild horses learns how to focus on his herd and the many other things going on around them. As a horseman, we are the leader of our herd. It serves us well to expand our power of focus. Learning to see things around us through our peripheral vision, helps us to see our horses and the other things in our environment, while we remain focused on the task at hand. The difference in trying to monitor everything happening in your world and having peripheral awareness is in how you manage your focus. The trick is to not become distracted, but to remain focus, yet aware.
Be like the horse: attentive but aware.
We should be focused on the following four aspects for both our horses and ourselves, they are: our minds, our bodies, our emotions, and our heart and soul connections. Are we communicating
clearly with our horses?
Are they connected and understanding us?
This is a big one. It begins with those sensations that keep us coming back for more. It is the special feeling we get in our hearts and souls when we see, smell, hear and touch these amazing beings.
Plus, there is the amazing feeling of freedom when we climb upon our horse’s backs and set out on a trail ride. It might be our feeling of flying when we canter them around the arena or
through a grassy meadow.
These feelings we experience are what makes time stand still for us horse people, and is what keeps us devoted on each of our journeys with horses.
The best way that I can describe this emotional sensation is; it is an energetic experience. It is one that goes beyond our customary senses and ignites our heart and soul connection.I have had horses all my life. Even with over twenty years of pursuing my horsemanship education, I am still devoted to my journey of growing my knowledge and expertise in the knowing of the horse. These skills, if that is what we want to label it,takes on a deeper meaning with every horse I work with, and with every pair of humans and horses I coach.
Pat Parelli has a saying, “Feel for the horse, feel of the horse and feel together”. For years, his saying baffled me. Intuitively, I knew that it was profound and held hidden treasures. I felt that if I could grasp its meaning and under-stand and experience its truth, I would begin to grasp the authenticity of both myself and the horses I encountered.
Sometimes when we try to define something, words do not or cannot convey what it is we are trying to communicate. Often, we will see things explained or written in numerous ways using different terms,when the only means by which true comprehension can succeed is through learning by experiencing that which needs to be understood. This was my experience in comprehending feel. Imagine, two ballroom dancers.There is a leader and there is a partner. They are standing at opposite ends of the ballroom.Their eyes meet. Then they feel for one another.
Simultaneously,they begin to move towards each other. The leader extends his hand. It is accepted by their partner’s outstretched hand. In that initial moment of contact they feel of each other, then as they take hold of each other’s hands,each knows the feeling of togetherness, and the dance partnership begins. Now visualize a person entering a pasture where a horse is grazing. As the person approach-es the horse, it raises its head. They feel for each other.If the person is present and confident as a leader, the energy will be felt between them and they begin to move closer. The feeling of each other begins as the person extends their hand towards the horse and it responds by greeting the outstretched hand with their muzzle.
When the heart and soul connection is made, and our horses possess a feeling of togetherness,the dance begins, regardless, if it is with a halter and lead.My hope is this will ignite some curiosity for those of you reading this article. You too can begin exploring the depth to which you can feel your horse.Once you have gained an understanding about focus and feel,and have experienced both, you will be ready to explore timing.
It too has different meanings. It can mean when you decide to go out and work with your horse,or when you decided to move from doing groundwork and progress to getting in the saddle,or it can even mean, when you decide to put the first ride on a young horse.
When you begin exploring the world of horsemanship, and what lies at the foundation of it,timing will take on a whole new meaning. For example, when working with a horse, those who have truly devoted themselves to the art of horsemanship, know that pressure motivates, but it is the release of pressure that results in teaching the horse. But the timing becomes crucial. This is not something that humans have taught horses. Rather it is something that true horsemen have learned from horses through their observation of herd dynamics. When you watch horses communicating with each other, such as: when a horse exerts pressure and the other horse responds,and then the pressure is released, and the other horse responds,and then the pressure is released, you are learning from the horse on how they give and receive information.
As in any social group, there can be bullies in every herd. With horses, you may see a bully who is constantly applying pressure. The result is no one wants to be around them. If you watch close, you will often see the alpha horses in a herd run the bully off, until they can behave themselves.For horses, when pressure is applied and NOT released, horses will default to their sympathetic nervous system. This triggers their Fight or Flight Response. Nothing good ever comes from this situation, if you continuously apply pressure without ever offering a release. The consequence of NO release is creating a horse who becomes defensive and resistant to those who do NOT understand where true learning takes place, along with those who have yet to master the timing of their release. Timing is important in every-thing you do with horses. This is true and even valuable in your day-to-day routines.
Horses that are respectful,and responsive, become that way because their human leaders understand the importance of pressure, release, focus, feel and have gained an appreciation of the importance of timing.This can be demonstrated when you do groundwork with horses. Your timing becomes central with everything you do on the ground, because it is preparing both you and your horse for what happens when you are up in the saddle.When we incorporate focus,feel and timing while doing groundwork with our horses, we are establishing the heart and soul connection we all strive to have with our partners. This connection is what helps us to find the rhythm in the partnership dance I previously mentioned.As you grow in your horsemanship and begin to understand and experience the essence of timing, you are ready to ascend to the next level in your appreciation of timing.With this aspect of timing, it has to do with the rise and fall of each of the horse’s hooves. It is when you begin to sense or begin to feel when their hoof leaves the ground, and when it hits the ground.
This feature of timing is in the “about to”moment.Once the horse’s hoof leaves the ground or when it contacts the ground, it is committed to that movement. However, when the hoof is at that “about to”moment, this is when you can influence it to move in the direction you desire it to go.That is an immensely powerful sentence. I believe it is worthy of repeating. When a horse’s hoof is “about to” is when you can influence it to move in the direction you desire it to go. or most of us, this takes a lifetime to master. With the more horses you ride and the more horses you play with, the better you will be able to hone you rsense of timing, and that is where true mastery can be achieved.Balance: The last component of this 4-part discussion is balance. So,what is it? Well, like the previous three elements focus, feel, and timing, this one also depends on where you are in your horsemanship journey.When we first start learning about horses and how towork with them, balance has to do more with learning how to balance all of our tools in our hands.
Then it’s learning how to stand balanced on our feet while moving around them, or getting on and off then and even just staying in the saddle.When we become more proficient, the meaning of balance begins to evolve. We start to recognize when we are out of balance; whether it is mental, physical, or emotional. These imbalances create a disconnect with inour heart and soul.Similarly, as we gain a greater expertise we can begin to recognize when our horses appear to be either balanced or out-of-balance within the seareas. And when we, and our horses, are both balanced, and in rhythm with each other, this is when things just seem to flow.
As your partnership dance begins, you will gain an increased level of awareness in your need to balance the following: first it’s the pressure and then it’s the release. It is balancing your knowing when, and how much pressure to apply, and then knowing when to release it. In the beginning, it’s much like a pendulum; things seem to swing too far in one direction, then the other. As you practice, you balance will improve. Your focus, while riding, will shift from trying to keep your balance while in the saddle, to your focus shifting to learning how to be balanced in the saddle. With increasing awareness and understanding of what we feel from the horse beneath us,we can get in rhythm with our horse’s movements and gain a greater precision in our timing.This will help the rider and horse move together in a more balanced harmonious fashion.
This is because: we have achieved a true heart and soul connection with our partner. Focus, Feel, Timing, and Balance are four essential elements that I believe, when they are studied, understood, and then applied,can really help you towards becoming a true horseman.As a lifelong student of the horse, I am thankful for the numerous great horsemen who have devoted their lives to the Way of the Horse. These pioneers dared to be bold, and yet,they were also willing to be vulnerable. I am forever grateful they were willing to share their experiences, and their wisdom,with others who also want to learn, such as: you and me.
Cindy Hartzell © 2020 Heart Soul Confidence-Based Horsemanship™ (530) 386-3639