“I think Frédéric Pignon and [his wife] Magali Delgado have done a tremendous amount for equestrian sport in a way everyone can appreciate. The liberty work Frédéric does is just incredible. It really does take the beauty of the horse to everyone,” said Hilda Gurney, American dressage pioneer, Olympian, trainer, and judge after seeing the hit equestrian “spectacular” Cavalia when it took North America by storm.
The beauty of Frederic and Magali’s work on stage has moved and inspired many souls around the world, in stage shows, liberty exhibitions, and through Magali’s success in the dressage arena. Their philosophy has establishing a joyful and respectful union with the horse at its heart–something we all aspire to, no matter our favored discipline or breed, no matter our riding goals or competitive ambitions.
Frederic and Magali shared much of what makes their work with horses so special in their book GALLOP TO FREEDOM, the international bestseller full of gorgeous color photos of these two masterful trainers and their stunning horses. Check out this excerpt from the book, which is available to order from the TSB online bookstore:
Learning to Read Your Horse
The horse makes signals with every part of his body. I have to learn to read his thoughts by watching his nostrils, his ears, his eyes, and his general attitude. His eyes are particularly important to learn to read because they are like an opening through which I can see what is going on inside his head. He is telling me with subtle signals how he feels. Is he happy? Once we start working or playing, I ask myself, is he satisfied with what we have done together? I try to remember at what moment I was aware of progress and how I achieved it.
Misunderstanding produces an even greater barrier between us than ill treatment. Understanding will, on the other hand, begin to forge a link between the two of us. I will begin to feel that I am on the same wavelength as my horse and that he is accepting me. Even at rest, you can learn much from observing your horse. Take the ears for example: what might his ear movements mean? If a horse moves his weight from foot to foot, does this indicate something? And what about when he shakes his withers? How do you interpret the look of his eye? Is it a “soft” or a “hard” eye, and what does this mean about him? How does your horse stand in his stall when he is contented? If he is unhappy, does he stand differently? If he has an uncomfortable feeling in his stomach does he not show this by the way he stands?
It would be so simple if I could give you hard and fast answers to all these questions, but life is not so simple. You could not do such a thing in the analysis of human behavior.
What I can say to you is watch out for all these indications; allow your instincts to tell you what your senses observe. Very soon you will automatically take in the things you have learned to look for and you will have the ability to look for other more subtle signs. You will also see that the same signal does not have the same root cause for every horse or even for the same horse every day.
At this point, you may throw up your hands and say that this is all too ambiguous and too much to learn. But you have already learned to do all these things with other people. When you meet with someone you know well after you have been apart for a time, can’t you see in an instant when something is wrong? Why should “reading” a horse not be similar?
The Importance of Concentration
I always watch the horse with every fiber of my being: I not only try to read him with my senses of sight, hearing, and smell, I concentrate my mind on communicating my own thoughts and listening to his. I concentrate so hard that other thoughts are excluded.
People understand that there are situations in everyday life demanding total concentration; mysteriously, it may not occur to the same people that, in dealing with a horse, there is the same requirement. Perhaps someone will allow himself and the horse to be interrupted by a phone call, which not only breaks the person’s own concentration, but that of the horse. When you work with a horse you ask him to leave whatever he is doing and pay attention to you. You are trying to reach the same wavelength as that of the horse and, if you allow an interruption on your end, you are being disrespectful to him. We humans may be able to switch on and off, or from one subject to another, at the drop of a hat but a horse is not so flexible. If he has decided to give you the benefit of his full concentration, and you lightly drop it because something more important to you crops up, he might not want to risk giving you the same degree of attention again.
I often use breathing to relax both the horse and myself, and to help develop concentration. I breathe out in a way the horse can understand and copy. All my horses learn to do this even if, like Guizo, it takes a long time. With him it took me a whole year but as soon as he understood and began to breathe with me he became much more relaxed. When I am doing this work, I like to be alone and not have other people present or watching me.
“Frédéric and Magali exemplify the art of humane training and illustrate the magical results of what is meant by the human-animal bond.” —Karen Rosa, Vice President, Film & Television Unit, American Humane