When I used to work with acting students I spent a lot of time reminding them of how to be a child. In one exercise, which my old students tell me they still look back on with fondness, I used to make them draw their thoughts with crayons, robbing them of any opportunities to create beautiful art, but just encouraging them to rely on expression with abandon. Ironically, what often resulted was beautiful art.
There is in a child an innocence that it’s difficult to remember we ever had in our fraught world of adulthood and responsibility.
I feel I must stress, like I did with the actors, the differences with childish and childlike. Childish behaviour is associated with tantrums and being unreasonable and immature. Childlikeness is keeping that sense of discovery that we used to have and using it in our older lives to reconnect with who we once were, and the ways in which we used to think and feel before contamination by a cynical world.
It’s common knowledge that even the most hard nosed and difficult horse will respond to a child better than the most experienced adult handler, and it’s common knowledge that the horse can sense the innocence, the lack of formal “knowledge”. The child allows itself to just be, and that is what a horse responds to the most. To be childlike is to be genuine and pure in your intention. A mistake is never a mistake if done with the honesty of a child. It’s a mistake when an adult mind tries to force a result. A child, not knowing even what they want that result to be, but just looking for some kind of connection, will often communicate to the horse in a much clearer way. The horse will choose to follow someone who is clear and honest in their intent.
I once watched a rehearsal for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a film/play I’m sure we’re all familiar with. I was struck during the scene with a the game of basketball how fabulous it was that grown men could run around an old rehearsal room, not only pretending to be someone else and possibly insane, but also pretending there was a ball (props hadn’t sorted one out yet!) and not feel stupid!
This is key. It’s very easy to feel a right wally when out there just playing with your horse, especially if you’re surrounded by other horse owners or livery yard staff who think you may have lost the plot, but they will sit up and notice when they see the relationship with your horse change, and it will.
I used to tell actors, to play a drunk, don’t play a drunk. Go and watch an 18 month old baby make its way across the room to grab its cup of juice. If you emulate that pure intention, you’ll get close. The sheer concentration, no forcing, no pretending, no “acting”, just an absolute desire to make it “over there”, with full focus and no other agenda. It’s like that with horses. The minute you try to be something you’re not, that isn’t based on a true way of being, that isn’t backed up by honest intent, the horse will know you’re being phoney. He won’t believe you because you don’t believe yourself.
So how do I do that? You may ask. Firstly, watch children in projected and personal play. Watch how they interact and imagine their game. Watch how they manipulate the character toys they play with. Watch the full state of belief. They are there in the moment. They are engrossed in the world. They are in a state of such zen flow that jaffa cakes is often the only thing that can break the game.
That’s where you need to be. And to do that all you need to do is remember. Let yourself relive your childlike games. Remember the level of absorption and simply allow yourself to feel it again. You may feel silly at first, running around with your arms out like an aeroplane. I’m sure ALL of us here used to gallop around pretending we were on horsies and making horsey noises. Do it again! It feels silly, but it also feels fabulous. And I bet it makes you laugh, which of course is one of the things we can often lose our ability to do! Your horse will look over and think.. who’s that kid? And then you’ll be on your way, back to where it was easy. Promise.