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Training with Reality
Most folks do not rely on their horse for their livelihood and therefore lack a perspective of what kind of quality partner they could have and would need if their life literally depended on their horse.
The picture I have included was taken from the time I spent on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Besides the modern-day truck and trailer, much of the day-to-day life was just as it was 100 years ago, including staying in cabins with no water or electricity 40 miles from the closes paved road.
Now, hold on and don't sigh yet... I'm not recommending a "write everything that was said or learned" journal. Instead think of it more as something to highlight 3 focus points from your session.
Don't focus on the big or obvious things and don't write your opinion such as "I like that my horse..." Write your entries from a neutral perspective rather than an emotional one and jot several focus points that you worked on with your horse. The sooner you can make your entry after your ride the more accurate it will be. "Life" can happen and even just a day or two later you'll forget a lot of what you had noticed during your last session with your horse.
What to write about
You may want to include: what, when and how you asked something of your horse. Then observe the level of his participation mentally, emotionally and physically to your communication. You'll find his physical participation will be a reflection of his mental and emotional availability towards you.
Why keep the journal?
Many times we think we "know" our horses, but all too often the little details escape us. Once you start to make it a point to raise your level of awareness when working with your horse, you'll find that you'll also start to "learn" a lot more about both yourself and your four legged partner.
Examples journal entries:
•How long into a session when working your horse either from the ground or when riding does it take for him to sigh, like his lips or blow his nose?
•Is he "patternized" and require a "routine warm up" or is he mentally available to address whatever you offer whenever you might present it?
•Does he "always" respond in the same manner when you ask a specific task of him?
•Evaluate yourself when you present one specific task for your horse. What did you learn about you? How, when, and why did you do what you did? What are other ways you might be able to communicate the same desired result using different aids?
Keep in mind
Health Wise- if you notice odd physical behavior (coughing, runny nose/eyes, soft stool, etc.) make a note of it. A lot of times it can help prevent or diagnose an on-coming health issue. Keep track of worming, vaccinations, shoeing, etc. and notice if there's a correspondence to a change in your horse's health.
Lameness- if you start to notice your horse becoming sore after a certain type of workout you might be able to "break down" what is causing this and prevent any long term damage.
Learning from YOU
Learn from the past- REVIEW past entries in your journal once month. You'll be amazed at how fast your level of awareness and sensitivity increases once you make a point of noticing the small details. You'll also be amazed at how much you "thought you knew" but then had forgotten as you advanced on. It's always a good idea to go back and review the basics no matter what level rider or horse you have.
Most “issues” people focus on are not the problem itself, but rather a symptom of the underlining issue. How many times have you heard or maybe said yourself, “MY horse does (or doesn’t)…” or maybe, “It was all going fine and then suddenly…” or how about “My horse is really great but he has just one little problem with...”
Frequently FOUR missing links contribute to common issues or “problems” with the horse:
• Lack of Awareness in the person
• Lack of Understanding of the horse’s actions
• Lack of Clear Communication between humans and horses
• Lack of Mental Availability from the horse
Lack of Awareness: So many times the person does not recognize, put value to or address their horse’s behavior until it gets dramatic enough that it no longer can be ignored. The horse does not randomly act out. If a person is reacting after a horse is at its peak stress level, the horse is not being supported by them, and is on its own as to how they handle itself.
Lack of Understanding: Have you ever seen the magician move the three cups around with one cup covering a small ball? The object is for you to try and visually follow the cup shielding the ball. The distraction of the movement tends to confuse the person watching and they usually pick the wrong cup at the end.
The same goes for horses. People tend to focus on the “big” and “dramatic” movement instead of watching or noticing the small ways their horse is constantly communicating with them. Focusing on the unwanted horse behavior rather than reviewing what led up to the unwanted moment. A lack of understanding regarding the root cause makes efforts from the rider attempting to “fix the problem” seem futile.
Lack of Clear Communication: If you spoke English and were attempting to communicate with someone who only spoke Italian, it would not matter how many times you repeated yourself, how loudly you spoke, or how much you changed your tone of voice; they still would not understand you.
This often is the case between human and horse communication. First the rider’s manner of communicating, using their energy or aids may have no meaning to the horse. So the horse appears to “ignore” them because of a lack of understanding, causing frustration in the rider. Using “stronger” aids (harsher bit, longer spurs, whips, etc.) is often suggested, and yet frequently this does not clarify the communication. The seemingly random use of aids, with increasing severity, offering critique can cause the horse to become mentally tuned out as a coping mechanism.
Lack of Mental Availability: If you have ever been asked to do something that you did not want to or did not understand, can you remember the feelings of physical resistance in your body because of the mental stress you were experiencing?
The same goes for horses. When a person is lacking awareness of their horse, this affects their understanding of why and when a horse behaves as it does. Unclear in how to communicate with the horse, the horse has no alternative but to mentally “shut down.”
Without the horse mentally participating “surviving the ride” and being “hopeful” for an uneventful ride becomes the norm in the rider. Neither of which will make either horse or rider come away with a positive and motivated feeling for the next ride.
How many times have you witnessed or experienced a “difficult” or resistant horse and stopped to notice where his brain was?
Have you ever watched a horse resistant to load into a horse trailer? Have you seen him looking in the opposite direction from the trailer? How will he load with quality if he is avoiding thinking or literally looking at the trailer?
Have you ever tried to turn left and had your horse “leak out” to the right? Notice where his eyes are looking? Towards the right, which is why his body is leaking out in that direction. Since the horse’s body follows where his brain is at, he’ll never make quality and balanced left turn if he isn’t thinking about turning left.
Have you ever felt your horse “shift gears” and noticed you were passive, or hopeful, that he’d slow down? Until that horse thinks about slowing down, he will not offer a soft and thoughtful physical response.
Have you ever been riding in a group and gone to leave the group and had your horse have a complete emotional meltdown and physical tantrum? Until your horse can keep his thoughts with you, irrelevant of whether you are near the other group of riders or not, his brain will remain with the group of horses that left, and therefore his body will try to follow his brain to get back to that group.
I’ll close by mentioning another key “tool” missing from most horse/people partnerships' quality. Too many times it’s not until “the day you need to get the job done,” that people suddenly and randomly demands quality from their horse.
Don’t wait until the moment you need to get the job done as the first time you ask for quality from your horse. Every day, every moment you interact with your horse. If you’re not offering it, don’t “hope” for it from your horse.
If there is a lack of confidence, understanding or clarity the horse won’t/can't do his job well.
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