Entrainment is the tendency of two beings to become synchronized. This might apply to movement, heart rate, breathing, and even brainwave frequencies. When we listen to good music we tend to move our bodies in synch with the rhythm. This is entrainment. When we watch a flock of birds move we notice they seem to flow together, even the rhythmic movement of their beating wings synchronized.
Entrainment is a natural phenomenon that conserves energy through creation of harmonious relationships. When we are in synch with the world around us we expend less energy. Yet even non living things are subject to entrainment. A room full of pendulum clocks set at different intervals will eventually begin to tick together.
In dressage we learn that the first steps on the training scale are rhythm and relaxation. But why are they so important? Through rhythm we can facilitate relaxation, enabling the horse to move in freedom and comfort, and we can also strengthen connection and focus. Regardless of whether you are a dressage rider or not, these are important qualities of any good training program.
Entrainment describes a relationship in which the rhythm of one individual influences that of another. In the relationship with the horse, we can become the leader in establishing rhythm, bringing the horse into synch through gentle reminders. Establishing rhythm becomes a focus for horse and rider/handler. Other distractions seem to fall away as the rhythm is maintained for an extended time.
Rhythm is a powerful tool that can focus the mind, relax the body, and bring horse and rider/handler into a synchronized and harmonious flow of movement. Using rhythm and entrainment depends on the ability of the rider/handler to notice and respond to small changes and to give gentle cues to speed up or slow down to maintain a steady tempo. Moving in synchronized rhythm is a wonderful way to strengthen connection with the horse both from the ground and the saddle.