The unfocused gaze
Eye contact in free work
In my opinion, using the technique of unfocused gaze is an important tool to establish more harmony and connection with the horse when doing free groundwork. We are able to direct our gaze in different ways at the horse and our environment: It can either be direct and focused, or it can be unfocused and wandering. The two methods can complement but also adversely affect each other; this depends on our specific goals in training. Personally, I prefer to use the unfocused gaze most of the time, and deliberately employ the focused gaze only if I want to give a new signal, or if I want to direct my attention towards a specific body part of the horse. Above all, using the focused gaze transfers more energy and information with higher intensity; this can be both, a blessing and a curse.
The horse under the burning lens
A piece of paper simply reflects the sunlight if we put in the sun; it, gets a bit warm and shines in brilliant white. However, we can concentrate the radiating sunlight and focus the light with this converging lens. Now, it converges at a tiny point, and the high amount of energy begins to heat up paper until it catches fire. This comparison can help to build a better idea of our own intensity of gaze:
The power of the gaze
We direct our entire attention at one point if we focus on a particular spot of the horse’s body. So, on one hand, our gaze can be used to act like a burning glass, and clearly communicate the core of our intention to the horse. On the other hand, we can space out our attention’s energy more evenly over the entire body of the horse if we let our eyes wander around.
You can learn to consciously use the technique of unfocused gaze in training; basically, you employ your eyes’ relaxed initial state. We usually gaze around like this if we walk in the woods, or go on a relaxed bike ride in the countryside. So, it is frequently beneficial to imagine how one perceives nature as a whole to remain in the state of unfocused gaze. In comparison, we tend to narrow our attention which might ultimately lead to tunnel vision if we concentrate too much. This particularly happens if we want to overcome barriers in learning; we unconsciously focus on the “potential source of error”, the foreleg or neck position for example, and in fact, immediately transfer our sense of stress, and our pressure to succeed to the horse the means of this intensified focus.