Happy New Year everyone! I am so excited to bring you our first guest post by a new friend of mine, Lindsey Rains. We instantly clicked via blogging networks on social media (which is a wonderfully fascinating platform nowadays) & here is an incredible article that I feel is very fitting to start out 2018 with. Enjoy! Love, Cat!
Written by Lindsey Rains
One of my favorite parts of blogging is meeting new friends on the internet. In today’s world, you can meet people with stunningly similar interests across the globe. I met Catriona through Facebook Blogging Networks, and it just so happened we both blogged about Horses and Equestrian Life. Thank you, Catriona, for this neat opportunity!
The Value of Being Present in our Training
There are so many training methods out there today, aren’t there? We could spend days upon months upon years talking about methodology, but when we boil right down to the basics, the horse’s nature is consistent. How they communicate and respond to circumstances falls in a common set of patterns that don’t change based on discipline. Horses are driven by a few key things: fear, pain, survival, belonging, and connection. Push any of these buttons, and you’ll get a predictable response.
How we handle these basic equine responses depends on the camps we come from. Are we performance-based trainers and riders or are we natural horsemen/women? Are we competitors, trail riders, equitation specialists, or cattle-drivers? All of these things play a part in how we approach training, yet I have a feeling we all face the same challenges, curiosities, and successes. So what do we have in common?
Somehow, we have to tell our horse’s what we want.
And because we are dealing with intelligent, emotional beings, our horses will say something back. We can establish our dominance over them (hopefully with the intent of being their leader), and we have our agendas that fall somewhere between what we want for us and what is in our horse’s best interest. Yet there is so much in between the brackets of what we need and want to happen and what actually happens.
Between those brackets is either effective or ineffective communication.
So how do we make the time with our horses count? How do we communicate with them in a way that speaks to their nature, yet doesn’t cause us to forsake our own natures as human being, nor forfeit our role as their leader? Let us take a look first at what not to do when working with your horse.
Ineffective Communication: My Way or the Highway
Oh gosh, this sounds so cliche, doesn’t it? Surely I don’t do this. Surely I don’t have such a rigid mentality when I go into sessions with my horse that I forget that he has a set of circumstances, both internally and externally, that he’s dealing with before I get to the barn? Surely I don’t push past any indication of his needs in order to further my agenda?
Oh wait, I do that – all the time.
Help me out here, I know I’m not the only one! I think that it is just part of humanity to simplify our horses to what we want them to be. Perhaps we want them to compete and win a particular class or event. Or maybe we need them to be behaved for the three lessons we’re giving this week. Or even still, we want them to be our therapist. Ouch.
While the essence of some of these things are understandable and even commendable, if they are the only thing we focus on when we go to catch our horse from their pasture, we’re missing the mark. Not only do we prevent training and riding them properly, but we also miss out on all the subtle ways they try to move us.
Effective Communication: What is Actually Going On?
So don’t throw your personal agenda entirely out the window. This is the context where we meet our horse. But here’s the important thing: don’t let your interaction be a one-way conversation.
First, ask questions. What kind of mood is your horse in? Whether good or bad, why could that be? How are they minding your personal space? Is it because they’re calm, anxious, in pain, or fearful? Are they more lively or subdued than usual? These are just a few ways anyone can start learning more about their horse and what they are trying to say.
Secondly, make a request. It can be as simple as picking up their feet, walking more than two laps around the arena, or collecting at the canter. But whatever the request is, see how they respond. Is the response better or worse than last time you asked them to do this? If so, why? What situational factors are different or the same? Could their response have anything to do with your initial observations of their behavior? Could it be that they enjoy learning through one style or another?
Finally, release. I know that this word could mean many things depending on the discipline and training method, but the fundamental philosophy remains the same. When your horse has been challenged and rises to the occasion–even in a limited capacity–give him a break. Let him see that his positive behavior yielded a reward. Praise him, let him walk, even put him away in his stall for the day with extra grain.
Do you know what this does to a horse’s psyche? It demonstrates that working with you is a rewarding experience. It shows them that being challenged will yield reassurance, relief, and gratitude. Not only that, they will learn quickly how their attitude can expedite their acceptance under your leadership.
Being present with your horse is literally that simple. It takes a bit of observation and attention outside of our agenda as riders and handlers, but it makes a world of difference. And I have found that the more I focus on developing this habit, the more naturally it comes. Exercise this muscle of being present in your communication with your horse, and I assure you that your horses will be more resilient, and your intuition as a rider will grow without bounds.
Author Bio: Lindsey Rains is an equestrian blogger and creator of Alta Mira Horsemanship. She focuses on communication between horses and handlers, with an emphasis in kind training tactics. She resides in Auburn, WA, USA, with her husband, and daylights as a non-profit administrator. Visit my blog. You can also follow me on Pinterest, Facebook or Twitter.
Photo Credit: Courtney Lewis