The mirror... Thoughts on the reflections we might be seeing in our horses.
As the year is coming to an end, I find myself looking back towards my equine related experiences. This year in particular I’ve enjoyed a balanced blend between new and past students, their horses and participating in their ongoing journey. As I mentally started to review different teaching and training highlights, the most common theme throughout the year has been the “mirror” one. I know have stated many times that often our horse is a mirror of ourselves, and we don’t always like what we see.
The statement above sounds a bit basic, and everybody says, “Yeah, yeah,” when they hear it, but rarely do folks put what I feel is the necessary effort in addressing “the mirror” by asking themselves, “Well, what is my horse “seeing” in what I’m offering him?”
So rather than writing my typical “on going thoughts” on one topic, this time around I’m just going to offer basic thoughts I’ve had, things that have come up in lessons or clinics, or just overall assessments I’ve made in this past year all related to the “mirror” concept. These are written in no particular order.
Each person will have a different interpretation of my thoughts written below, based on their own experiences, but I encourage you to perhaps explore some of them with a bit more energy rather than just accepting your initial reaction as you read them. As with most things, the light bulb moments often happen days, weeks or months down the road. Something you’ve heard many times, somehow suddenly makes sense, perhaps some of my thoughts can help you too!
Your ride begins when you THINK about going for a ride and it does not end until you have turned your horse loose in his stall or paddock. All the time in between you are communicating with him, whether or not you realize it.
Carrying anticipation from “what happened last time” prevents you from remaining mentally present while with your horse.
I ask my students to ride in “real time,” this means there is no pause button when things don’t go as expected with the horse.
A majority of riders do not maintain a “standard” in their life outside of horses, but when it comes to their horse, they are expecting/hoping for the best possible outcome in the worst possible scenarios.
Reactive riding versus proactive communication with the horse; always having to fix/correct after the unwanted behavior occurs rather than clearly telling the horse what the plan is ahead of time.
Fear. Horses have it. People have it. The horse cannot rationalize his way through a fearful scenario without the help and active support of the human. Most humans hope that by being “nice” and doing nothing, the horse will figure out how to get over his fear, and then the human will start interacting with him again once he is more reasonable.
90% mental, 10% physical. There is a reason why a daunting, scary scenario presented often by the “child who doesn’t know better” turns out with horse and rider fine, unscathed and feeling confident, whereas the “experienced” rider often has premeditated everything that could possibly go wrong and ends up having a very dramatic experience with their horse in the same exact scenario.
The more people “know” the less they actually see what is happening with their horse.
A majority of pleasure riders initially get involved with horses thinking it will be their “outlet” and time to let down from the rest of their life (stress, drama, work, kids, etc.) Few realize how much the “modern day horse” often needs them to be at their BEST to help the horse feel better about life.
Working with horses requires a continual adaptability within us. For humans, this is often a struggle because complacency, routines and patterns require both less mental presence and less physical effort.
More than half of the horse owners I encounter are not partnered with the correct horse, but continue to maintain a relationship with their horse based primarily on guilt and a sense of “I owe it to the horse.” What few realize is how dangerous this sort of partnership can be.
People do not realize how “light switch” a horse’s emotions can be; even if a person is not getting the changes they want in their horse, it all can change for better or worse as fast as the flip of a light switch.
Rarely do people believe they can A.) Get a change in their horse, or B.) Realize how little physically effort and more clear communication it takes to get a big emotional, mental and physical change.
The “That’s good enough,” mentality that occurs when people try to be “nice” to their horse often leaves the horse in the gray area, with the horse lacking understanding, rather than when the person follows through until the horse really understands the emotional, mental and physical change that is being asked of him.
Most folks are hopeful. “I hope he slows down.” “I hope he doesn’t spook.” “I hope we have a good ride today.” “I hope he goes over that jump.” You can decrease the “hopefulness” and increase both you and your horse’s confidence based on how you help prepare your horse for the upcoming scenario.
If you are carrying a “Let’s see what he does…” mentality, please stop and ask yourself would you challenge your horse to getting “it” right, rather than helping him be successful.
Often people have an initial specific interest in what “type” of riding they will do, rarely do they realize that if they are going to prioritize helping their horse, it will be the horse that is going to “direct” what their “interest” will be.
Just because you may not agree with your horse’s resistance, does not mean you cannot believe it.
The moment of the dramatic behavior is often the symptom and not the issue.
Attempting to finally address and “fix things” at the peak of stress, worry or fear in your horse should not be the first time you start participating in the relationship.
You can be actively supportive without the partnership feeling like a dictatorship.
The more gear, equipment, and tack a person has to communicate with their horse, the less they actually convey.
Talk to the horse, rather than shout at him.
Making a decision to do something is better than doing nothing.
Breathing and smiling while working with the horse are two of the most undervalued behaviors a human can offer. It affects the person mentally, physically and emotionally. It affects the horse mentally, physically and emotionally. Breathe, smile, breathe, smile. Seriously.
Often people are aware of their own behaviors/personality (amped up, high strung, talkative, introvert, etc.) but just accept that that is how they are, rather than attempting to learn how to be adaptable in the way in which they communicate with their horse.
Often when the horse needs us the most, we humans attempt to avoid the situation entirely.
There are only so many ways a horse can ask for help, and more often than not he is ignored, not addressed, or forced into scenarios where his behavior has to increase dramatically until the person can no longer ignore that the horse is having a problem.
Don’t leave your horse in the tantrum, don’t avoid the tantrum. Embrace the tantrum, but help your horse get to a better spot on the other side.
And the most major theme, for all riders, for all disciplines, for all experience levels, is:
Slow down. Mentally, physically, emotionally. Slow down. What is the rush? What MUST you accomplish? The slower you go the more time you have to influence what is about to happen, to help both you and your horse think through a scenario, to be present to feel what is happening, to be able to learn to have a real time, ongoing conversation with your horse rather than a shouting match. You will accomplish so much more by slowing down and achieving quality, than rushing with brainlessness behaviors in you and your horse.
My hope would be that you take a while let this all sink in. It is a lot. Then come back and review it, a week from now, a month from now, a year from now…
Looking forward to more fun with the horses in the upcoming year!