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Media Critique: The Alchemy of Lightness

Dominique Barbier and Dr. Maria Katsamanis give us the impetus we need to seek joy in our lives and in our horses.

By Karen Havis

November 21, 2014

This article from the November 2014 issue of Horse Journal.

Dominique Barbier is best known for his doctrine of “lightness” in a dressage horse, and he makes good use of it here.  His co-author, Dr. Maria Katsamanis, brings a doctorate in clinical psychology into the mix, which meshes well with her own riding and training experience. Together, the authors present a philosophy of life and riding that is both inspiring and captivating.

Their theories revolve around "energy."  The authors believe all living beings are connected through a field of energy, one that can cause measurable molecular changes as well as observable behavioral changes. (Think about how humans influence each other using energy from thought, love, or intent.) Frankly, training approaches based on energy are far from new -  consider Tai Chi, Reiki, Masterson Technique, and TTEAM, all popular methods.  

You will find some of the hypotheses presented here familiar, such as how our mood directly impacts how we interact with our horses. Which one of us hasn't experienced the change in our horse when we ride in an angry, tense state? The horse usually mirrors those emotions, becoming restless and edgy. And if we ride in a Zen state . . . the horse often reflects that as well. 

Proper breathing is discussed here, too, with a reminder of its powerful impact on ourselves and our horses.  Short, shallow breaths cause anxiety and fear in our horse. Deeper, slower breaths can relax both us and our horse.  “If we are calm and centered, the horse will likely pass through resistance or disturbance much more easily.  He will happily partner with us,” the authors state.

Barbier stresses the power of visualization, a technique used by many sports psychologists. “What we imagine, we can create," he states. "What we believe is happening shapes our reality.  What we visualize for our riding, for our horse, is well within reach.”  If you're a dressage rider, you might have a vision of Edward Gal in your mind when you ride.

You'll recognize other widely accepted terms, too, such as "clear intent" and "centering," which are core concepts in many martial arts and in Centered Riding. And, of course, every rider learns one day how powerful the concept of "less is more" can be when trying to elicit a behavior from your horse.

But other points challenge conventional wisdom. While you may have experienced some of the concepts discussed in the book, the theories presented by the authors may surprise you. That said, they readily  acknowledge how little research is available to truly explain the connection between horse and rider.

The photography by Keron Psillas is stunning, and the pictures of Barbier riding portray true harmony between horse and rider. Indeed, he can create what he discusses.  

Bottom Line: I truly appreciated Barbier’s emphasis on the importance of energy gained from  joy and happiness in our lives.  He insists we should constantly remind ourselves to look for that childlike innocence so long gone. “Horses are not intellectual beings," he explains. "We need to be in this simpler, more innocent, childlike space with them.” Since some of the happiest moments of my life involved horses, this made perfect sense to me. And reading this book helped me think of ways to improve my state of mind and thus my relationship with my horses. 

Best suited for: Those who have studied an approach such as TTEAM, Masterson Technique, Tai Chi, Alexander Technique, or Centered Riding or are open-minded enough to consider the theories presented. 

You might be disappointed if: You are looking for a traditional “how to” riding manual.  

You can purchase this book here.

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