Horse & Rider Confidence- Bad Weather Opportunities

 Weather Opportunities 

 Often when weather conditions and circumstances are out of our control or are not ideal, we tend to shy away from spending time with our horses to avoid potential conflict or issues.  I find some of the most successful learning situations are when our surroundings are less than ideal. 

Flashback to a great example... Here in the desert of southwest Arizona where I'm based in the winter, we often have blustery 20-30 mile-an-hour windstorms with sandblasting from all directions. Being close to a Marine base, F-35 Jets fly often overhead, so close that you vibrate from their power. When the wind blows, so do debris and tumbleweeds. 70' palm trees bend like putty. 

Here's a story from one such day.

Two days before the windstorm, a three-year-old horse had arrived for training. On the first day, we had just worked on the concept of softening to pressure on the lead rope. We didn't move farther than 40 feet from his stall. I introduced the idea of him being able to first look, think, and then move. 

Also, the concept that he needed to look where he's going while he moves, rather than looking at everything except where he's going. He learned about personal space and that if he is asked to do something, he needed to try to address what was being asked of him the first time, and not that it took a huge amount of energy to get him to acknowledge me. 

He learned he could stand on the grass and wait quietly without constantly trying to lunge downward to eat. It was a lot for his young brain. And yet there was no running, no fleeing, no chasing, no driving, and no scaring him into complying.

 Simple, specific, segmented Conversation creates boundaries of what behaviors worked and those that did not. Lots of blinking, licking, chewing, and yawning from him as he mentally processed.

The second day is when the wind storm hit us. It was so bad you couldn't see 40 feet out because of the sand and debris in the air. And yet I brought him into the round pen to work with him at liberty for the first time. 

For me, the round pen is not a place to chase/run the horse into submission. It is rather a safe setting that allows the horse to learn how to search to find what is being asked of him, without scaring him or driving him into giving up or complying. There were distractions from other horses running around, farm animals scattered about, and metal roofs flapping, and yet through simple trial and error (communicated through spatial pressure and release with the lead rope hanging by my side), the young horse was able to let go, one by one, of all of the mental distractions until he offered to focus on just me. 

He learned how to mentally be with me, without spatially walking on top of me even, even though he was loose. He learned how to stop and look at the distractions and then bring his attention back to me when I asked him to. And then he learned how to leave me to move around the rail of the pen, without fleeing or chaotic energy, rather by mimicking the varying energy I was offering from the center of the pen. When I decreased my energy and moved away from the center, he learned to come in and be with me respectfully, quietly waiting for whatever I asked of him next. 

If you could have only seen him, you'd never know there was so much distraction and Chaos going on around us. 

The goal was not physical obedience, but mental availability. Once he offered that, he could let go of the distractions and diminish excess movement.

So the next time the weather or situation is less than ideal, remember it might be the perfect opportunity. 

It can reflect the potential "holes in your Horsemanship" and help you realize the importance of addressing "small issues." It can be a time to focus on clarity and the Quality of Communication. A moment to acknowledge "grey areas" or things you've avoided rather than getting to the root cause. 

Prioritizing addressing them is a wonderful preventative (and supportive) measure in helping the horse gain confidence and build trust in otherwise potentially overwhelming moments. You can then help the horse learn how to work through them WITH you, rather than survive them.

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