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Maintaining Perspective

Horses can carry mentally and emotionally turmoil because of their ability to tolerate a situation or people imposed “pressure.” All too often these horses are taken advantage of for their seeming willingness to “stuff their emotions.” But at what point does a horse owner’s thinking transition from “this is my goal…” to “this is an appropriate goal for my horse and I…” – if it ever does? In my experience is seems to take a traumatic situation for the owner to realize they’ve pushed their horse “too far.”
I find myself responding cautiously when I have an overly enthusiastic student that “can’t wait to show me” something that they’ve been working on with their horse. It seems all too often that the “end goal” or “result” has become the sole focus point for the person, causing them to overlook the deterioration of the quality in their horse’s performance.
The problem with “over focusing” is that the person stops offering their horse an open line of two way communication. The less clear the communication, the less attentive the person is to “zoom out” and be able to assess the ENTIRE scenario, rather than just a specific movement or action of the horse. With the “intensity” factor at hand, the person becomes increasingly demanding that their horse perform a specific task, and the more the horse doesn’t “get it right” the more unclear pressure is applied by the person.
Usually as the pressure is increased the quality of the communication between person and horse starts to deteriorate. As the horse starts asking for help, he winds up being ignored by the person and so he has to resort to “helping himself” which usually causes undesired results by the person.
So where is the “line” or balance to where the person can feel “forward” progress in working with their horse, and yet can do so without blowing their horse’s minds? The concept for this blog came to me over the past week as I watched a multitude of horses all in different places in their training, development and maturity. And yet I found myself basically “teaching” the same lesson. I don’t feel there is a “right” or “wrong” way to do things. But I do believe in prioritizing communication with a horse in a way that the individual horse needs rather than trying to get the horse to follow a set “program.”
The opposite extreme from the “intense person” are those people that have become overly sensitive, usually owners of “reactive” horses, this causing them to never want to “push” the boundaries of quality with their horse for fear of a “blow up.” Well there is a fine line. But keep in mind the horse is never going to wake up one day and say “Gee, this is what I need to focus on today…”
I think the problem stems from people many times viewing the actual accomplishment of an act or task as a relief. Instead I prefer to look at the interaction and communication that helped get the horse to achieve the task at hand as the accomplishment because those are the same tools the person will use with their horse to take things step further.
Somehow it seems to be human nature to work one “one thing or another” but not to maintain a perspective that everything we ask of our horses is connected. It may not look the same, but really it’s all about both our and our horse’s mental availability. Our intention whether we’re working on something “old” or “new” should be no different. I can’t recall how many times I’ve heard people say, “Oh we worked on that a long time ago, but now when I ask my horse to do the same task he acts as if we’ve never done it before.” For these people, their horse is trying to TELL them that obviously “way back” he wasn’t clear on what they working on, and today, he STILL isn’t clear.
So the scale seems to be extreme with people and horses- it’s “all or nothing” when it comes to lacking sensitivity or being overly sensitive. It’s our responsibility to find that “middle” ground. Don’t be “afraid” to experiment with your horse. So many people say “well the trainer finally got him to this point and I don’t want to ride him because I might ruin what the trainer did.” If the trainer was clear in how and what they presented to the horse, and the horse really understood, then the owner isn’t going to “wreck” the horse.
Horses have an amazing way to decipher and adapt from one rider to the next. Have you ever had that “crazy” or “high strung” horse and then put a small child or disabled person near that same horse? So many times that horse will completely adapt their behavior and energy to who is around them.
So the next time you head out to work with your horse experiment and assess where your energy, mind and focus is- then see how it is affecting your horse. Try and make some changes within yourself, and you’ll be amazed how fast your horse will change too!
Keeping it in perspective- Sam

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