You Have Gaits, Use Them! On Power, Energy, & Forward

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There’s a quote from Philippe Karl recounted to me a few years back that periodically spins through my head whenever I’m working with my horses:

You’ve got gaits! Use them!

He is, of course, referring to the need and necessity of the horse to be moving freely forward. And that in many instances, as riders, we block or inhibit the power and flow of the horse in an effort to keep things controlled, contained and safe, however misguided that may be.

I’ve written of this before: To humans, the energy of horses is glitter in the blood. Our relationship with them and the shared stories we’ve experienced over history informs our collective unconscious. We see a horse and we respond, their presence inspiring a feeling and a knowing, even if we are unsure from what or where it came.

What our modern mind forgets, the clay of our body remembers. Legs and hooves and fur against skin. Movement of a shared togetherness. Partnerships that words feel inadequate, or not enough or clunky to describe.

It’s my belief that horses, and what they represent to us, are a cellular remembering. Of vitality. Of connection. Of something beyond what present day living would have us reduced to. Of Aliveness.

If we were to reduce the experience of the horse to a collection of words, one of them would be power, in the best sense of the word. We love the big energy, its physical, emotional and spiritual manifestations. To us, it is freedom, however transient or momentary. And all in the same breath, this power is the thing we’re most afraid of.

I want to have this conversation from the perspective of the physical. If we want to harmonise with our horses in the experience of big energy, big movement, big power, our body needs to be able to receive that energy and allow it to flow through. In the ideal situation, we are energetic conductors, conduits of vibration and movement that travel through us and our horse in fluid, circular conversation.

For this to occur, my body needs to be able to have a degree of structural openness that matches the movement expression of my horse. Movement in the body is dictated by your nervous system state. In other words, if we use canter as an example, your “dominant canter pattern” (the movement pattern for canter your body dominantly chooses) will either express as a parasympathetic pattern or a fight flight pattern. Your nervous system expresses in movement; this is where the origin of every movement begins.

Very basically speaking, fight flight patterns have limited movement range. They are reflex patterns designed to maximise force and speed output. If the movement of your horse exceeds the ability of your structure to maintain the same degree of openness, then the reflexive experience of the rider will be to either shut the power down, or increase their lumbar leverage in an attempt to keep up- a movement pattern that causes pain, wear and tear for the rider and increased force output through the horse.

Being able to harmonise with big movement, power and energy, to the point where you are really flowing with it requires that (and there are many more things to note than are listed here):


  • The pelvic floor is released. In fight flight, it contracts along with the other fascial trains, pulling the two sides of the pelvis together. This then limits the movement range of the pelvis and our ability to synchronise with our horse.
  • That we are able to hold the experience of vitality and energetic sensation in the body without coupling it together with the thought that we’re unsafe. As adults, we have such limited movement experiences in our day to day that we rarely challenge the status quo; as such, anything that exceeds our “everyday energetic expression” can register as concern, which has flow on effects to our experiences with our horses.
  • The ability of my body to move in arcs. Sympathetic movement expresses in linear patterns. Parasympathetic movement travels in arcs. We can simplify this by saying: parasympathetic movement allows for a bigger movement range, liberated from the forward back patterns that are a hallmark of the sympathetic system.

All that said, we can summarise it as this:

Your ability- or inability- to harmonise with big movement and big energy is as much about your physical movement capacities as it is a mental and emotional conversation. If the structure of your body is unable to match the movement expression of your horse, it will naturally create a negative feedback loop that causes concern and further exacerbates the desire to control and rein things in.

Greater degrees of physical openness allows for greater levels of energetic experience.


❤️ Jane

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