If you have ever watched horses in the pasture together you have an understanding of what shared energy is all about. Without signs that are obvious to the human eye the horses clearly communicate with each other when it's time to move to better grass or when there might be a predator lurking in the field. Most riders have also experienced shared energy with their horse. It is in those moments where it seems like you only need to think what the next movement will be and suddenly you and your horse are doing it. The best riders in the world, the ones who ride effortlessly with their horses and seemingly use very few aids are accomplished at establishing and using shared energy.
It is my experience that shared energy also happens during riding lessons. There is a three way sharing of energy: between horse, rider and instructor. Good riding instructors make an assessment of the state of shared energy between horse and rider early in the riding lesson. Sometimes there are very clear disconnections in the sharing of energy. An example is when a rider does not take time to calm their mind and body after a stressful day at work. The rider will often not be able to move harmoniously with the horse and the horse will move less fluidly than normal. Their shared energy is blocked by the riders’ stress and tension.
There is also a shared energy between the student and the instructor. Astute instructors who are tuned into the energy of their students can often tell even before the student mounts their horse what the student’s emotional state is. There are cues through what they say, how they move and how they interact with their horse that can tell an instructor whether or not the rider’s energy is mainly positive or negative.. I have had situations where a rider has come into my stable and before they even talk to me or visit their horse I can tell that there's something wrong simply by the feeling of energy that they bring with them into the barn.
I have done numerous experiments with shared energy in riding lessons. I have had situations where I'm working with a very nervous rider who may have had an escalation in anxiety due to some event such as a spook from the horse. I have consciously centered and grounded myself, slowed my breathing and thought about projecting calm towards horse and rider. In all of the occasions that I have tried this, the riders have without exception indicated that something changed for them and it became easier to breathe, release tension and refocus on the ride.
I have also observed on many occasions how much the instructor’s energy can impact the horse. There is the long-standing joke that the instructor who stands in the center of the arena is often a horse magnet, especially for school horses that have learned coming to the center means a chance to stop while the instructor talks to the rider. I do not tend to teach lessons in riding schools with school horses, but rather in private barns with privately owned horses. I also do not stand in the center of the ring - I move around a lot so the traditional experience of the instructor magnet doesn't really hold true for me. I have experienced on numerous occasions lessons where riders are perhaps having difficulty learning a new skill or communicating with their horses. The riders and I have noticed that their horse keeps gravitating to me throughout the lesson no matter where I happen to be standing. I believe the horses are seeking quiet supportive energy as a break from the negative energy their rider is projecting at the time. I have watched this phenomenon with other coaches whose work I admire as well.
So when you walk into the riding arena with your horse ready for your lesson, keep in mind that your energy impacts your horse and it impacts your instructor. It is important to be aware of what energy you're bringing into the arena. Is your energy positive or negative? Is it at a low or high level? I encourage you to experiment with understanding shared energy. Please share your thoughts and your comments about shared energy – it is a subject that fascinates me and I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of understanding.
Take away message for equestrian educators
As an equestrian educator you have a dual responsibility when it comes to managing the energy in the learning environment of a horse and rider. The first responsibility is understanding the current state of shared energy between horse and rider. Do they seem to be working well together? If not, and you can't find the cause in the rider’s physical body position, it could be that there's a disconnect in the way that horse and rider are sharing energy. I have found if I can identify there's an issue in the way that horse and rider are sharing energy, I can bring it to the rider's attention we can almost always correct it often the issue is one of lack of awareness on the riders purse of the fact that there is a disconnect.
The second responsibility as a riding instructor is monitoring your own energy that you bring to the lesson. In the same way that you as a riding instructor can read the energy of horse and rider, so too will your energy affect the rider and horse and the way they are able to perform in a lesson. It is our responsibility as educators to make sure that we bring a positive energy that supports learning to a lesson. I have a habit of stopping at the doorway to the riding arena and before I enter, taking a moment to ground and center myself in order to respect the fact that I may have just come from a bustling busy environment but now my attention and my energy need to be focused on the learning experience of the two learners in the arena. I would love to hear more about other riding instructors’ experience of shared energy.