Why some horses and humans can’t “hear” us: armouring and melting

I have been writing a lot about the horse’s confidence recently — how to build communication and trust.

This post is about horses AND humans – and explains why both sometimes find it really hard to “hear”

I was at a clinic recently, and the classical teacher used the word “Armouring”

Armouring is exactly what it sounds like — putting on armour to protect yourself.

Imagine someone next to you suddenly reaching out and poking your arm, probably hurting you and at least annoying you.  What are you going to do the next time they stand near you?

Well first, you will try to avoid being in that situation — move away from them, put someone else between you and them so you can stay safe.  But if you can’t do that and they end up next to you,  you are going to “armour” yourself: brace your muscle so IF they do it again, it won’t hurt.

If instead, someone you liked stood near you, and gave you a welcome hug, rubbing your arm — then instead of armouring, you would probably just melt into that hug, softening your muscles and allowing the connection to go much deeper.

Now think about this — and horses.

Horses that evade the aids, try to move away from them, avoid them.  Horses that brace: that resist our rein? our leg? our requests?

If they are armouring against our touch (some people call this an opposition reflex) then they probably can’t even HEAR our request —

A horse that isn’t armouring, a horse at rest — can feel a fly land on his back  My friend’s horse was irritated the other day by a fluffy feather landing lightly on her back.

So if they can feel this — why don’t they feel our aids?  Why do we see people having to pull on reins? kick? and use so much force to get a response?

When a horse feels the need to protect itself, keep itself safe, and can’t move away — then he will armour: bracing mentally, emotionally or physically.

What does this mean for us as riders and horsepeople?

If I am playing with or riding a horse, and I feel any brace — I know this is armouring — and I know if I increase my force or pressure, then yes, I might break through that armour — but the next time I lift that rope, or tense my muscle that armouring will be there in full force, protecting and making it impossible for us to have the kind of conversation I am looking for.

So what DO I do?

I do less.

I was once at a Mark Rashid clinic — and he kept saying to the riders “next time, do half as much….”

So when I feel the horse armouring — whether I think it’s mental, emotional or physical — I do LESS.  I go SLOWER, I go LIGHTER, I go SOFTER — and I WAIT: giving the horse time to realise that I am NOT going to force, that I there is no NEED to armour.

I might go so far as to stop asking completely and just rub softly until I feel the horse relax, and breathe out.  Then I will start again, even more slowly and softly with my request — rubbing every now and then to reassure of my friendly intent.

If I do this right, then I will end up with a horse without armour, a horse who hears the softest request — and never feels the need to brace against anything I ask of him.

If you think of armouring as being like a child putting their hands over their ears and going “I can’t hear you!” — then it’s clear there is no point shouting, or forcing – only creating relaxation will create the place where conversation can begin.

There is a lot more to say about armouring, and I am sure I will receive many questions about it and post more on the topic — but this is a good way to start the conversation

Now — how does it apply to humans?

Think about when you play with your horse — or ride.  Or think about riding: how do you feel?

Soft and relaxed?  Or tense and tight?

If it’s the first one — great!  If it’s the second — well, you are actually armouring.

And, just like with a horse, if you are armouring, then you can’t feel, hear or think as you normally do — let alone REACT as you would normally do.

Armouring comes from fear — fear of falling, fear of failing, fear of feeling — many sources of fear.

The main thing though, is that when you are armouring — you are INCAPABLE of accessing the skills and resources you normally have. You are also usually incapable of hearing advice or support — which often leads ordinary instructors to shout or yell at you to do what they are saying — when in fact, they need to do the opposite and quieten down!

I see people who are fine riding at walk — then at a trot, their position suddenly goes all over the place: they are tense, anxious — and so bounce all over and lose their balance.  Their armouring shows in muscle tension which makes it impossible to ride a trot properly!

You might be a brilliant rider — under normal conditions — but if you are armouring at all, your skill level will be greatly reduced.

Knowing this means you can stay safe — if you recognise that you are armouring, you can make sure you stay WITHIN your current skill set and don’t get too far ahead of yourself and put yourself at risk.

Being aware of your unconfidence score is one tool that will help:  every time you go above a 5 you are armouring somewhere in your mind or body.

Every time you armour — you increase the chances of armouring in the future — so the more you can stay below that armouring trigger, the better — and instead of pushing yourself THROUGH the armouring, instead think about how you can change the situation and learn new skills so you don’t NEED to armour.

If going slower and softer works for a horse – think how it will work for you….

Now let’s think about the horse and human together for a moment:  if a horse is armoured, how do you think that feels to the human?  Compare that with a horse that is open, soft — and connected to us….

If a human is armoured – how do you think that feels to the horse?

Most of us know that the first “rule” of classical riding is “Calm, Forward, Straight”

To be truly calm — there needs to be NO armouring – just the horse and human, confident in themselves and each other melting into that connection that feels so safe and harmonious.

As I said there is a lot more I could write on this topic — and I am sure there will be lots of questions — but for now, think about this post and ask yourself

— where is MY horse armouring?

— what can *I* do to change the situation so he doesn’t feel the need to armour?

— where am *I* armouring?

— what can *I* do to change the situation so *I* don’t feel the need to armour?

How can I build a relationship so my horse and I can move forwards without fear………

yours in confidence,

Cathy

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