Communicating what you want to your horse can be challenging--especially if you aren't entirely sure you want what you're asking for. There are cues, of course. Leg cues, voice cues, and any combination thereof that horses can (and are) trained to respond to.
But how can you make it seem, well, seamless? How can you ask for a trot, then a canter, without that awkward jog in the middle? If you don't really want a canter because perhaps you're terrified it might morph into a gallop, well then what? How does that translate to your horse?
The Parelli's talk about using your own energy--bringing it up or down--to share your intentions with your horse.
Mark Rashid talks about visualizing and changing your own movement to signal what you want, instead of springing it on your horse all of a sudden. (At least in their opinion.) In the clinic we audited, he pointed out that the motion at all gaits is the same, just faster, so all you have to do is communicate that change in cadence to your horse.
That is easier said than done for some of us.
I decided to practice with Lena tonight and see how I did before getting on Bar. Why? Well, Lena is a much more sensitive horse. You think of changing directions and she's already there. She tells me I'm hitched up on the left by shifting off in the opposite direction, and stops on a dime when you sit back in the saddle. Usually, anyway.
Plus, I hadn't really ridden her since the broken rib and knew I had to get back on for both our sakes.
At first, she couldn't figure out what I was asking, which was okay because I had to think about how I was asking. The really cool thing was having her ears on me the whole time, which means she was using that big brain of hers--for good instead of evil this time. We worked on upwards and downwards transitions, the former being easier for her since it's what she's usually asked for. We ended with some fairly decent downward transitions from canter to trot to walk. They could have been smoother, I'm sure, but she was so with me in her head I thought it was a good place to stop.
Then I worked with Bar a little bit. Now Bar and I work on transitions in the round pen all the time--with hand and voice cues from me on the ground. Actually, he'll even change cadence if I sing faster or slower.
Lena is much more sensitive to my position, but I think Bar and I are more mentally tuned to one another. I think about a trot, change my motion, and I instantly get a trot. It works the other way, too. I think about a walk. change my motion, and I get a walk, then a halt. He is sensitive to my position, too, but instead of drifting when I get out of balance, he stops.
We had a little hurdle for me to get over last night, too. Romeo and Manna came in right after I got on and while I trust Romeo, he and Bar have a "thing," a competitive thing, and I worry about Bar acting out. But I need to get over it, I need to trust my horse and trust myself. So I visualized a calm horse handling this new parameter. Luckily, I also know Manna can handle her horse and deal with a horse that might get a little nuts, so all I had to worry about was Bar and me. Mostly me.
We walked them next to each other a little, Bar got big and bossy and tried to bite Romeo, then settled down and wanted to be right next to them instead of on the other end of the arena. But he didn't fight me when I moved him away. Success number one! We started to work on our trotting (okay, my trotting), and circled the round pen while Romeo and Manna rode on the outside of the arena. Bar was good and paid attention to me, despite wanting to chase after Romeo. Probably pass Romeo, knowing Bar. Success number two!
I probably could have ridden him longer, challenged both of us a little more, but since he was really with me and behaving, I figured I'd stop our ride on that high note. Actually, I think the real success was me staying calm, staying balanced and centered, so he could focus on what we were doing. Because it's perfectly normal to ride with other horses that aren't Lena. No big deal, right buddy?
With Lena, I changed my body and motion. With Bar, I channeled my energy in a positive direction. Both horses followed and all of us learned a few things. I'd call that a good day.