(This blog was originally posted on August 12, 2016)
Me and Linda Kohanov, best-selling author and
founder of Eponaquest Worldwide
Photo Courtesy of Sara Fogan
Most riders know and even expect that their horse will spook at something at some point. It’s bad enough having to deal with it (and, more importantly, our own nerves after the fact, while training or on a trail ride. It certainly can and does happen during competitions, too. For some reason, you just don’t expect to see an Olympic gold medalist experiencing this most natural balking response when the horse is startled or scared. We just believe and expect that these riders are so good and the horse must be so well-trained that this mundane phenomenon simply doesn’t even happen. At this level of competitive prowess, both horse and rider are surely beyond that kind of silly drama. Right?
But that is what happened when British Olympic dressage rider Carl Hester had to deal with his mount Nip Tuck’s spook during a transition to the extended walk during their Olympic Grand Prix competition. Some observers reported that the horse was nervous at the beginning of their ride, but a camera flash reportedly sent him over the edge. Fortunately, Hester was right there to take control of the situation and be the confident, dominant leader the gelding needed at that moment.
As I explained in my blog titled The Time Carl Hester Demonstrated He Has Mastered the 5 Roles of a Master Herder, Part 1, a true “master herder” is adept at fluidly utilizing any and all five functions whenever necessary to keep the herd or group safe and succeed in various environments and situations. Here is a brief summary of the ideal function/goals of each role, as explained by Linda Kohanovin The Five Roles of a Master Herder: A Revolutionary Model for Socially Intelligent Leadership.:
- Leader: inspires group members to follow his or her example to achieve goals.
- Dominant: uses “force”—language, techniques, emotion—to get group members to go/do what he or she is asking and stop unproductive behavior
- Nurturer/Companion: promotes/monitors well-being of other group members
- Sentinel: Scans the environment so other group members can do their job; also looks for new opportunities for the herd to succeed.
- Predator: Uses dominant energy to stop/cut/cull unproductive/redundant individuals from the group. Also, offers additional protection to group members and can make tough decisions so the group can continue to survive/thrive.
When Nip Tuck balked near the “P” marker on the dressage court, Hester immediately took a more dominant position on the horse by adjusting his weight and posture in the saddle. Though this was invisible to most observers, the rider was certainly applying leg aids (pressure in the calf and thighs) to keep the horse moving forward in the direction he wanted them to continue traveling. During the extended walk, the reins are typically released (long) so the horse can have freedom in his head, neck and shoulders. If Hester shortened the reins during the spook (I didn’t notice; as I mentioned previously, this incident was over very quickly) he certainly would have let them out again right away to comply with regulations about this element of the competition. This release would immediately communicate the rider’s relaxation, comfort and control of the situation and environment to his equine partner (nurturer/companion and Leader). However, Hester probably also adopted a more enhanced sentinel role after that, looking out for any other stimuli that could similarly upset his horse that could further jeopardize their competitive score. In this context, he may have also adopted the more predatory, mien of a dominant leader, ready to re-direct his horse’s attention and correct any misbehavior before anyone noticed that Nip Tuck was even thinking about going off-script. Ultimately, the duo earned 75.529 percent for this ride; this is a very good score in a dressage competition even when your horse doesn’t spook or otherwise put a hoof wrong.
Carl Hester is my new hero. Yes, he is a fabulous dressage rider and equestrian, but the way he handled his equine partner's spook during the Grand Prix test today should be an example to us all. Today, the thing we mortal riders dread during competition (or any ride, actually) happened to an Olympic gold medalist DURING an Olympic ride. As I have commented before, if you looked away at the moment Nip Tuck balked you would have missed it altogether, that is how quickly Mr. Hester regained control of the ride and his equine partner's focus/attention. They started brilliantly and, I believe, finished the test the same way. I will definitely employ the image of how beautifully he handled this incident in future imagery for myself and equestrian clients. Well done, Mr. Hester. You are an Olympian and, more importantly, a true and good horseman!
Kohanov, Linda. The Five Roles of a Master Herder: A Revolutionary Model for Socially Intelligent Leadership. 2016. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Sara R. Fogan, C.Ht. is a certified hypnotherapist based in Southern California. She graduated with honors from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in 2005. For more information about Calminsense Hypnotherapy® and to set up an appointment, please visit http://www.calminsensehypnotherapy.com/.