Clarity of Direction

Do you know where you’re headed? Do you know where you want to go? Do you know what you want to do when you get there? Do you know how you want to get there? Do you know how fast you want to move?

All of these things are what the horse looks for in a leader. They want the comfort of knowing that there is someone looking after them, who knows where they’re going. If you observe the behaviour of a herd of horses you will see only one or two horses moving the rest of the herd. Typically the top mare will be leading out in front (she knows where they’re going, how fast they need to move and when they need to move) and the top stallion will be at the back, herding the stragglers and the ones stepping out of line.

We are actually quite similar to horses in that way. We like having someone to tell us what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how fast to do it. We find comfort in feeling that we are not entirely responsible for our actions, because we are being told what to do by our chosen leaders. You might try to deny it, but if you are an average human then chances are that you are much more comfortable following the crowd or a leader than stepping out of the crowd and being a leader.

This places us in a bit of a conundrum when it comes to now having to be our horses’ leader. We know intellectually that that is the role we must take, but often our insecurity and discomfort within the role of leadership shines through our attempts to actually be the leader. Our body language, especially when we are learning, is self-conscious, unsure and often withdrawn. What often happens when we are in this inferior and withdrawn state is that our aids to the horse are unclear.

Our body language will sometimes contradict what we are asking the horse to do, such as looking in a direction different to the one you are actually wanting the horse to move in. The horse is naturally going to read your body language, so your body is saying to move in one direction, but the aids are saying something different. The confusion of the horse can very easily be misinterpreted as bad behaviour. So to make matters worse, we punish the horse for “not listening” – when in fact we are the ones being unclear and even contradictory in our communication to the horse.

When I first started learning about horsemanship my teacher emphasized over-emphasizing my aids (especially in ground work. She reminded me to not only lead the horse with a contact in the lead rope in the direction that I wanted him to move in, but to also look in that direction, turn my body to face that direction (even my feet). She even suggested to point in that direction. I felt like an idiot at the time, but you can be sure that I was in no way being ambiguous to the horse. When I had myself set up right, the rest was focused on different ways to ask the horse to move, and learning how to follow through.

What’s important to note is that there is a difference between making sure that our body language is clear and being rude. If we walk up to a horse we don’t know and immediately try to make it clear to them that we own them, they might not appreciate us very much. There is a certain degree of politeness that will serve us well. However, don’t confuse politeness with taking a submissive or weak stance – we can have manners while at the same time maintaining safe boundaries with our horse.

Next time your horse is not doing what you want, make sure that you check yourself first. Are you feeling uncertain, insecure, anxious? Those feelings will shine through your behaviour if you’re not careful (and yes, if you are feeling these things then you can fake it till you make it! Be sure to be aware of your body language!). Something as simple as not knowing where you want to go, or which exercise you want to do, can be seen by your horse. They are incredibly perceptive – make sure to have a plan. I don’t mean that you need to plan every step of your session with your horse, flexibility is just as important as having a clear vision. Read your horse’s body language, interpret their behaviour, their level of competence in completing the exercise, physical flexibility and their mental/emotional response to your aids to determine which exercise would be beneficial for you to take them through next.

Always, always, always check yourself before blaming the horse. Most of the time we can make huge changes in our horses by making little changes in ourselves.

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Caught up in Extremes

We all know (and maybe some of us are) at least one person who follows a riding philosophy or training method religiously. There is no room for any other kind of horsemanship to be even considered. We could call it horsemanship-extremism. DSC00036

This extremism can actually show itself in a number of ways – it’s not always about big things like “natural horsemanship is the BEST way and all other forms of working with horses is ABUSE” or “my horse is the instrument through which I will succeed and become rich and famous, it better do what I tell it”. Sometimes we get stuck in believing things like only this type of bit should be used, or only bitless should be practiced, or only this type of feeding program should be followed, or only this teacher/instructor knows what they’re talking about.

If we really look at this pattern, we’ll start to see how it pops up in a lot of different areas of our lives – sometimes in big ways, sometimes little ways, sometimes more extreme and other times less extreme. For me, I characterise the experience of being stuck in an extreme by how I feel when my belief system is challenged. I get tense, I automatically want to disagree or walk away, I want to fight for my point of view and MAKE the other person agree with me. Sometimes it’s really subtle too, I might politely disagree with someone after hearing them out, but the truth is that i didn’t really LISTEN to them. I closed myself off to anything outside of what I feel is best, or right.

What is being nurtured in that space of extremism that we sometimes allow ourselves to go to? Not much. It’s restrictive. It’s repressive. It’s filled with self justification and self validation. We tend to only speak with those people who validate our views. So no, there is not much space for growth.

WHY do we do this? And don’t try to tell me that you’ve never done this in one way or another – I’ll know you’re lying. Well for me, I’ve done it in moments in my life where I invested a lot of me into something. A lot of the time it was where I invested my self definition into a particular belief system (like “I’ll only ever do natural horsemanship!”) . I saw myself as a cool natural horsemanship person, and judged other forms of horsemanship as being cruel or ignorant or dismissive of the horse. My judgements of the various forms of horsemanship were intense enough that I was simply not willing to investigate anything other than what I believed was the right way. There has even been a point of me believing that my horse only goes well in a certain piece of equipment, contrary to the signs he was showing telling me that he was not happy with it. It took someone pointing it out to me for me to even think about it in an objective way, without my opinions clouding my judgement.

A lot has changed since then. But also I find myself getting stuck now and then. It’s not like I can make the choice to be open minded, and now suddenly I see everything in this clear and unbiased light. I have to force myself to consider alternatives at times, force myself to properly investigate a different approach. It can be challenging, especially with those subtle points where someone has to very obviously point it out to me, but I endeavor to keep practicing flexibility and openness to every approach, philosophy, suggestion, etc that I encounter.

Helping Our Horses (and Ourselves!) Learn

IMG_2260smLearning can be difficult. Just think of a subject or skill that you had a particularly hard time getting the hang of – and that’s assuming you didn’t give up when it got tough. ‘Cos let’s face it – giving up is way easier that pushing through that initial learning curve.

Now take a moment to imagine what it is like for a horse. You’re just minding your own business, grazing or having a nap in the sun, when here comes this human who unceremoniously  puts all this stuff on your face and takes you away from whatever you were doing. Not only that, they are poking and prodding and pushing and shoving and GETTING ON YOUR BACK omg what’s happening.

Horses cannot speak the way we can. We cannot say to them “this is what we’ll be doing, this is how I’d like you to do it please.” We have to use other forms of communication to send instructions. Something that we often completely miss, is that learning is a process, especially for the horse who doesn’t know what is going on until you find an effective way to show them.

Something invaluable that my teacher (Patsy Devine, of Triple H Horsemanship) taught me, and Philip Nye taught to her (he also developed this, so thank you Philip for this nugget of gold), is what is called the Learning Zone Model – and this has helped me enormously to put into context the process of learning that the horse (and us too) goes through. Or at least, what they should go through when they are not being pushed too hard, too fast.

Learning is a process, it cannot be rushed. When we are not learning, you could say that we are comfortable, we’re in our comfort zone. Nothing is being asked of us, nothing is happening that is forcing us to do something unfamiliar. Now, when we start learning something new, we get a little uncomfortable, this is pretty much inevitable. We are doing something we’ve never done before. We are awkward, clumsy, we get it wrong, we make mistakes, we struggle to understand – this is all part of the learning process. Our horses go through exactly the same! Too often will we rush them through this important first step to learning something new, and they end up not understanding, being uncertain, being anxious, and often doing the task incorrectly.

One of the principles within the Learning Zone Model is to gently move the horse through that period of uncertainty (learning), so that BEFORE they get anxious confused, stressed – you are already removing the pressure and allowing them to go back to their comfort zone. In practice this would look like: start to take the horse through a new exercise, allow them to fumble and make mistakes, let them get just one or two steps right, and then reward them by stopping. This also is done at a “low energy”, such as in halt or in walk. Then once the horse has had a moment to process, or in the following session, you again teach the exercise and ask for a little bit more (maybe one more “correct” step).

In so doing, you are slowly moving the horse in and out of their comfort zone (into the learning zone), and each venture into the learning zone is a tiny bit longer than before (do not expect or push for more than a 2% improvement from last time!). As you do this, you will see your horse slowly becoming more comfortable within the exercise. You could even say that their comfort zone is expanding to include or envelop that exercise. Once they have mastered it in halt or walk (whichever is applicable), teach it again in a higher energy (eg walk or trot). We often assume that because the horse has mastered the exercise in walk, they will immediately be able to master it in trot or canter – but this is very seldom the case, and it is unfair to expect that from them. The same exercise at a different gait can be a completely different process and experience for the horse, so we must be patient in taking them through the learning process once more in order to solidify their confidence and performance of an exercise.

learning zone model
Example of Philip Nye’s Learning Zone Model

In the Learning Zone Model above you will see the red line, which represents the initially very brief visits into the learning zone, and then as the horse’s understanding and confidence grows you ask for more and more. Eventually, the comfort zone expands, and your horse becomes more confident and less anxious in similar situations (most of the time!). You’ll see that beyond the Learning Zone is the Wild Zone – and that is a place you (almost) never want to go. There is nothing constructive that takes place there, as the horse is acting purely from it’s instinct to survive. In some rare cases (such as an abused horse), you may find that their comfort zone and learning zone is very small – in other words, it doesn’t take much to send them into the wild zone. These cases require patient, confident and practiced support.

Please do let me know if anything didn’t come through clearly, I will gladly expand on it.

Thank you for reading.

Control, Dominance & Partnership

Pretty much everyone I know who has wanted to do some form of horsemanship has come up against the question of how to get the horse to do what they want. I know I spent a looooong time in this partial uncertainty of how to develop a partnership with my horse, without dominating or controlling him. When I first started learning about horsemanship it was very much within the category of “natural horsemanship” – which was all about becoming the leader through being willing to follow through in your ‘asks’. I learned how to stand my ground and push past the point of only ever wanting to be nice to my horse. However, part of the nature in which I was working with my horse at that time sacrificed partnership and friendship for obedience, and that was part of why I changed my approach to working with horses.IMG_4578

I’m not saying that all natural horsemanship is the same – what I have learned is that any kind of approach or philosophy can be abused or twisted – it’s always about who we are within what we are doing that will determine the nature and outcomes of our approach. Every philosophy and discipline has those rare Master Horsepeople – this alone indicates that the discipline/philosophy is not the only determining factor of how good someone is with horses or how well they do.

When I first started learning about horsemanship, all I wanted to do was to be my horse’s friend. I didn’t want to “make” him do anything. I just wanted to stand in the shade with him and bask in his presence. However, I also wanted to be able to ride off into the sunset – on purpose. My purpose, not his. It took time for me to recognise that while we are both independent individuals, I stand within the position of visionary / goal setter / leader in our partnership. If I left that up to him, we’d just be out grazing in the field all day.

What I also came to realise is that in developing a partnership, we may both need to face some resistance within ourselves. Neither of us might always feel like working on something, so there is that element of sometimes having to almost force myself or the horse into doing something together. What also made a difference for me was that within everything I do with my horse, my main objective must include the betterment of the horse in one way or another – either physical strengthening or emotional and mental strengthening and stimulation.

What I saw developing over time was that within our partnership, we were both enjoying our time together more and more. I was helping my horse to feel proud, strong and confident in himself, and he was allowing me to enjoy that journey with him.

I do not dominate him, yet I am firm within what I ask. If I see he is struggling to understand, I will not force him to complete the task – I will find a different way to show him the exercise. If he is refusing my requests, I will not blame him for being naughty – I will first check myself to see if my communication is clear, and then I will check if there is anything going on with him that might be causing his behaviour. I do not control his actions, I guide him with the goal of creating a dance of harmony together.

All of this took me years to develop within myself. I made many mistakes in order to find this path, and I am sure I will make many more on our journey together. I know that no matter what, I will always embrace learning and growth.

The Simplicity of Who I am

I recently moved my horse to our new home. I had no idea if he would box well (or at all) – so I was a bit nervous on the day that I was going to move him. Interestingly enough, my uncertainty was strong enough to show in my behaviour and in how I was working with Chubb. 20170828_114131

Naturally he picked up on this, and by the time we got to the box he had already decided that he’s not going in there. He didn’t fight me, he simply planted his feet and would not move forward into the box. In that moment I thought “Oh no, it’s happening, the worst possible thing that could have happened in this moment. What if I never get him into the stupid box?”

Now I don’t have a lot of experience in boxing horses, because I hardly ever transport them. Chubb came from our neighbours, so no box was required (therefore I didn’t know how he would load). I was doubting myself big time, and it was like I forgot in that moment everything I had learned about horsemanship. I almost went to a place of not knowing what to do, of losing hope and just giving up – but I didn’t. After some puttering around and some ineffective attempts to get him in the box I took a moment to pause and re-evaluate the situation.

I knew that Chubb is not a naughty character, he is confident and tries hard to listen when we are learning or doing something new. I knew that, while I may not have done a lot of trailer loading, I have done plenty exercises that involve moving the horse into or through a small area confidently and calmly. I recognised that I had messed us around a bit with my lack of confidence earlier, but that it was reparable. I took a deep breath, calmed myself down, and started the slow (but much faster than my previous approaches!) process of getting him up the ramp, one step at a time (literally).

20 minutes later Chubb was in the box.

What changed? Not the horse. Not the circumstances. Just me. I changed who I was. I changed the thoughts I had been entertaining previously. I changed how I was feeling. I changed how I was approaching and perceiving the situation. Maybe it sounds complicated, but it was really very simple. There is no magic combination of things to do, it’s all about what we are participating in and creating within ourselves. That is what our horses see, it is what shows in our behaviour, body language, voice and presence.

What are you Living with your Horse?

Sometimes when I’m feeling frustrated and like I’m just not getting anywhere I’ll go and spend some time with animals. I do this because I know I can’t take my anger with me, I do this because I am absolutely not willing to take my frustrations out on them. The only way I got to this point of not being willing to take it out on them, is from having made that mistake before. More than once.20170703_110913

Have you ever had one of those days where everything is going wrong, nothing is working, internet is slow, computer is behaving like a halfwit, people are being the opposite of helpful, you ate too much of the thing you told yourself you’d never eat again..? I know I have. I’m having one of those days right now. I have already eaten so much chocolate that I’m surprised I’m not turning brown.

Well I eventually reached a point where I told myself to get all my shit together and deal with it, because I am tired of feeling this way. So, I went outside and played with dogs, then I spent a few minutes doing some groundwork with Chubb, my horse. Chubb is a chestnut thoroughbred that I have just moved to our new home. He’s naturally stressed and trying to fit in with his new herd mates, so I thought that doing a little bit of something he knows well might make him feel a little bit more confident and maybe even relaxed.

I knew that I could not do any of these things if I was going to be angry, most certainly I could not take my frustrations out on Chubb given his current stressed out state (not that taking frustrations out on an animal is ever acceptable!) But this was even more incentive for me to calm myself and put aside all the petty things I’d been indulging in in my thoughts. And they really are petty things – instead of taking the little events of the day and focusing on solutions, I had been focusing on everything that was wrong and bad – which is exactly what I would have done with Chubb if I had allowed myself to bring my frustration into the paddock with me.

Every time my focus has shifted to what the horse is doing wrong, or how they’re behaving ‘badly’, my session with them would be frustrating, unproductive and sometimes downright unpleasant. Naturally, the horse would meet my frustration with an equal force of disagreement, and the combination of those two negative forces made for a pretty crap time. I had sessions where I’d see what I was doing and change who I was in that moment from “I am frustrated, nothing is working” to “how can I help the horse to understand?” – and the difference was almost tangible. Just that seemingly small shift could be enough to turn an unpleasant dynamic into a productive and positive one.

Don’t underestimate the power of who you are with your horse – you may not be aware of it in the moment, but your horse can see clearly what you are living. If you are living frustration, it will show in your actions, your voice, your approach, your reactions. If you, on the other hand, are living words like support, consideration, patience, calm, stability – then that is what will come through in your presence, and that is what will help determine how your horse will respond to you.

Does Fear have a Place in Learning?

For anyone who has lived or worked with any kind of animals, you will know that fear is an experience that (generally speaking) you will see in an animal now and then. Some animals are braver, while others are more fearful. Because horses are prey animals, their instincts preclude them to access fear quite easily. Because of this, it can be challenging to progress with a horse without them accessing fear on some level.

IMG_5869Can that fear ever be useful to the learning process of a horse? Maybe, especially for those cases where you are helping a previously abused equine to overcome their fears (sometimes in order to help them you have to go to that bad place with them,, and lead them back to calmness and gentleness). However, in order to assess this, we must understand the nature of the learning process – not just for a horse, but for anyone or anything.

When learning something new, there is the inevitable period of uncertainty in the beginning. You don’t know how this works, what to do, or how to do it. But that’s natural – that’s part of the learning process: The beginning is uncomfortable. Now the difference for a humans compared to horses is that we understand (most of the time) what is happening and why it’s happening, whereas the horse doesn’t know why, they have no context for what is going on. The must rely solely on their interpretation of the behaviour of the human, and try to figure out the “right” way to respond.

So, understandably, horses also experience uncertainty when learning something new. A person who focuses on helping the horse to understand in as calm a way as possible will end up with a soft, willing and confident horse (obviously this is assuming that all the other necessary factors are in place). Compare that image to an individual who is pushing their horse into a fearful space, trying to get the horse to comply while they are in that state of mind. As can be expected, the horse seldom understands the exercise and has now also associated the exercise with fear, anxiety and stress. I am sure you can imagine how that horse will be working through the exercise after a fearful introduction to it.

The only thing that a horse will learn when they are fearful is what they must do in order to avoid that which causes the fear. So if we use a whip in such a way that it inflicts fear, the horse will learn to avoid the whip, rather than to listen to the whip. Another side effect of allowing a horse to remain in a state of fear while teaching them is the high level of tension that the fear will create in their bodies – this creates the opposite of a soft horse.

It is our tendency to believe that kicking up a lot of dirt and dust is required to “put the horse in its place” – again, I am not saying that it is absolutely never ever necessary, or that it will never happen, but it is most certainly not a good first approach to try. It is our responsibility to not fall into that all-too familiar human tendency of wanting to dominate and control everything around us.

Creating a relationship with your horse that is based on communication, patience, understanding and mutual respect requires that these be the principles that you focus on creating during those crucial learning phases where things can so easily go wrong. Now I’m not saying that it may be possible to avoid a fearful horse completely – sometimes their backgrounds, breeds or simply the environment can trigger their fear response. Sometimes we must help our horse move from that place of fear towards confidence, trust and softness.

This brings us to the real question: how do we help the horse to learn something new without that uncertainty, or discomfort, of learning something new turning into full blown fear?

As to the specific techniques – there are many that can be tried and tested on any individual horse – it’s about finding what works for you and your individual horse.  There is no “one size fits all” method. Flexibility is just about the only thing that remains consistent in a good horseperson – our ability to assess a situation and adapt ourselves with the goal of helping the horse.

Are we Oblivious to our own Ignorance?

A friend of mine is visiting with her 2 daughters from the Netherlands. These 2 girls are your typical horse crazy 10 and 12 year olds. They go for one riding lesson a week and spend all their spare time watching horse videos on YouTube.320252_10150999297831160_1971471090_n

Now with me being the person I am, I want to teach these girls everything I know about horses, and in the process of doing this I am learning exactly how little they have been taught when it comes to the basic stuff that one really should know when one owns or looks after a horse – and I’m not saying that this is unusual, it is sadly very common for “Horse people” to be woefully ignorant of the creatures they have spent so much time obsessing over.

Looking back to when I was a child, I also was not taught very much in the way of practical information. I didn’t learn much about horse behaviour and body language. I didn’t learn much about the anatomy of the horse. I didn’t learn much about what a balanced hoof looks like. I basically learned how to tack a horse up, get up on the horse and then make it do things.

In my opinion these things that are so commonly ignored in the average riding school are among the most important things that a horse person should know – so why is it not being taught to the next generation of horse obsessed kids? Why is ignorance so common in the horse-people community? On the one hand it really doesn’t make sense, because the more we know about our horses and the better we are able to understand and care for them, the better our working relationships with them will be and the healthier they will be. But then on the other hand, if you have a look at how we as humanity live in every other part of our lives, it’s really not all that surprising.

Now I’m not saying that there isn’t a shift of awareness (or whatever you want to call it) happening – because people do seem to be developing more consideration, open-mindedness and compassion. However, this is not something that will happen overnight, and even for those who do decide to develop their awareness of and consideration for other living beings, mistakes will be made. It’s certainly not a smooth ride.

In my personal experience, I met my teacher having basically zero practical knowledge about horses. I could ride and tack up, but that was it (I couldn’t even ride well – I knew only what I was taught as a child – kick to go and pull to stop!). After having met her, my eyes were opened – but not all the way opened (and still not, maybe I will never reach that point). I started looking at horses differently, seeking out different methods and philosophies. My perspective started to shift, and I make it a point to continue shifting it every day even now. I went through phases where I thought I knew everything, I thought I knew the right way, the best way. It was over a period of years that I developed the humbleness to recognise how little I actually know.

Being humble is not easy for most of us – it wasn’t for me. I liked feeling like I knew everything. I liked feeling in control. I liked feeling powerful. I liked all these feelings – but the feelings didn’t make my horsemanship any better, or improve my ability to keep my horse healthy. I was blind for a moment to the truth of how I was with horses, and when I started being willing to really reflect on who I was, I really didn’t like what I saw.

We may not be able to change every person’s perspective and approach to working with horses, but we can make a difference in our lives, with the people who see and learn from us, whether directly or indirectly. We can be part of the growing change to bring awareness and self-directed learning to all areas of our lives, so that as we grow and learn, we stand as examples to those around us.

Honouring the Forgiving Nature of the Horse

Do we deserve the forgiveness that our horses (and other animals) offer to us so freely? Probably not. We receive it nonetheless – what we do with it is not always nice or pretty.418392_10150569681746160_1082415578_n

In a way, I see that it is far better for our horses to be so willing to forgive – at least they aren’t carrying the burdens of what we’ve done around with them. It’s like being willing to stat each day fresh (to a degree, of course), weightless, and free. I envy the horse’s ability to live so simply and let go so easily – I can only imagine how the ability to do that would change the way we all live.

So who are we in relation to our horses’ willingness to forgive us? Do we honour them in their unconditional willingness, or do we take advantage of them? Let’s face it – horses are big animals with a huge amount of strength. If they really don’t want to do something they have a great capacity to prevent us from forcing them to do it – but this is exceptionally rare to see. Most refusals are somewhat half-hearted – our attempts to force an unwilling horse are usually successful. And not just once, often it is day in and day out.

Imagine lacking the ability to choose what your actions will be on any given day. Our horses live within an incredibly disempowered position in relation to us – we determine every aspect of their lives – where they go, what they do, what they eat, what they drink, what is on their bodies. Despite these conditions, they take it all in stride.

Now I’m not saying that we should necessarily change how we look after our horses – often the practical aspects can’t really be changed – but what we can do is be better at honouring their willingness to live by our choices, and their willingness to forgive our sometimes inconsiderate treatment. What does this practically mean? Listen to your horse. When your horse is refusing to do an exercise for example, it doesn’t mean that they are just being naughty. There is usually a good reason for their refusal, whether it is a lack of understanding, a physical issue (like pain), or even an emotional block like fear. A horse that is fearful will not be able to develop understanding in learning new things as easily as they would if they were calm, relaxed, and confident.

When we open ourselves to listen to our horses we can start truly honouring them as unique, conscious and self-autonomous individuals. Our horses do always have a choice to submit, fight, or participate with enjoyment. We are the ones who are responsible for setting the best possible platform for them to be able to participate with confidence, enjoyment and understanding. Furthermore we open up to opportunity to develop our relationships with our horses to a much deeper and more intimate level. Respecting the voice of a horse shows them that we are real leaders, willing to listen to them and treat them in a way that shows that we value them more than just as pets or toys, or worse yet – as financial investments.

I’ll Never Know Everything

We’ll never know everything there is to know about any one thing in life – it’s simply not going to happen. When I realised this, I decided that I will never stop learning. 12088365_10153048755116160_1991619987588050890_n

We have this tendency to think we know everything about something, especially when we think we’re pretty good at it. We get a kind of tunnel vision, thinking that all there is in the whole of the world, life and existence is what we know, and that there cannot possibly be anything else outside of that.

I found that when I spent a lot of time with people who didn’t know much about horses, I’d feel pretty knowledgeable. I’d feel smart, informed and downright cool. But then, if I ever did spend time around “horsey people” who shared knowledge that contradicted what I believed, I’d tell myself that they were wrong, and I was right. It didn’t matter how much sense they were making.

Thankfully I realised that I couldn’t possibly always be right, and that there had to be more than what I thought I knew. So, I started listening to other people more, I started playing around with different methods, I started actually looking for new and different information. Within all of this I realised an interesting thing: I will never stop learning, and I don’t want to.

I started truly enjoying looking outside my restrictive box of beliefs, knowledge and tools. I found that there were certain tools, methods, philosophies and starting points that worked differently for individual horses. I found also that a lot of the time, it wasn’t so much about the specific method or exercise I was using – the best results always came when my starting point within myself was one of calm and wanting to help the horse. If I was frustrated then it wouldn’t matter what exercise I was doing – my frustration would be what dominated the session.

One of the most important aspects in what I learned, was that learning isn’t always about studying, or reading up about different techniques – I realised more and more how much I learn about myself and about my horse in every moment that we are together, no matter what we are doing. When I closed myself off to being aware of myself or my horse, our time spent together would often be awkward, uncomfortable and sometimes even contentious. I found that whenever I was being stubborn about something within me or the horse (like how the horse should respond, apparently), I’d lock down in our session and that would create an unpleasant experience for both of us. So now I make it a point to be flexible, not have any expectations and to check in with my horse to see what he needs in that particular moment. Just as important is that I stay aware of how I am responding within myself to the horse, so that I can change any response patterns that I don’t actually want (like getting frustrated when the horse does not understand what I am asking).

It can be difficult to learn new things, especially things that challenge our “preset” self definitions. We owe it to ourselves and to our horses to neverstop learning, and to never think that we already know everything, because that’s when we start forcing things – which is seldom an enjoyable experience.