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Tracy Courtney

Are You Listening?

We don't see horses as they are, we see them as we are. We really need to begin to examine our motivations & belief systems, in how we work with our horses. We have learned directly or indirectly to automatically become angry, judgemental, forceful & in some cases violent. Anger is never appropriate because it will always lead to inappropriate actions. People have been conditioned to believe that horses are always the problem & to always search for external sources for explanations & solutions. We're taught that the fault lies with sounds, movements, tack, other people, objects or the horse itself. Temporary solutions will always create fresh problems. The real root of the problems and lasting solutions are much closer to home than many are willing to consider or admit.


Our horses are trying to communicate & have discussions with us in every moment that we spend with them but are we listening? Any horse that is not standing still & relaxed is giving us a very clear indication that there is a problem. Any form of movement, other than a state of mental & emotional shutdown, is a clear statement of discomfort mentally, emotionally &/or physically. Our horse is telling us that they are feeling worry, fear, stress &/or anxiety. Anxiety is serious. Anxiety comes upon us when we can't decide which way to go or which way things are going to go & so we tremble between alternatives, because we're under the illusion that which of these two things happens, really matters. Our horses are clearly asking for help & understanding in these moments. We need to slow down, set our agendas aside, examine what our horses are saying & our responses to our horse's pleas for help.


Unwanted behaviour & volcanic emotional eruptions are created through not listening, dictation, drilling, lack of choices & opinions & equate to learned helplessness. Every time our horse tries to express an opinion & open a discussion with us and we choose to ignore their feelings by not helping them, we are forcing those emotions to become buried deeper within the body & more of an imbalance is created. As these layers build, they begin to form the lava in the volcano. ANY type of movement is an emotional expression, it is what brings the emotions to the surface & creates an opportunity for release and balancing. Even when we allow the movement, this isn't enough to release unhealthy emotions. The catalyst for release is allowing time for them to think & relax in between focusing on developing decision-making and problem-solving skills. It's the assistance of providing coping tools & relaxation that creates the release.


When the body stops/freezes, it's a result of the mind stopping/freezing & needing to reassess the situation. Then a decision will be made based on how we are dictating or allowing the situation, whether to regroup/refocus the mind or escalate emotionally into a fight or flight response. When the mind is cluttered, overactive or worried, it disconnects from the body through the preservation loop & this is where horses will become physically hypersensitive, trip and stumble, can't focus or retain info, stay on task, retain weight or a mental connection. We have been conditioned to believe that when our horses stop, they are being lazy & defiant & we are not to accept this behaviour. So we use excessive force to push them into obeying our commands for the agenda we've already decided to dictate today or run them in circles until they're tired & sore. Our horses are accustomed to these responses from us & this is why they become frightened & explosive when they feel it's necessary to take a minute to regroup, or before we have even asked them to do anything. They've seen this movie too many times. People have created many acceptable terms to describe this "defiant" behaviour, such as "he's fresh". We have already proven to our horses that they are not allowed to become confused or ask for help in understanding what's being asked & they will be punished for the hesitation & asking the questions. We need to learn to shift our focus from what they're doing, to what they're feeling.


Newton wasn't the first one to see an apple fall from a tree, but he was the first one to ask why? In a society that has been conditioned to adopt slogans like "just do it!", we may not be fully aware on a conscious level, how deeply these phrases impact our daily lives & our interactions with the world. Like an iceberg, the bulk of behaviour's mass is found below the surface & is what gives rise to what's visible. Behaviour is triggered from emotions, which stem from the deeply rooted needs of our horse. These are not needs like treats & grooming. Basic equine needs are like ours & consist of listening, choices & opinions, trust, safety, communication, respect & patience.


Thoughts, feelings & emotions are fluid. They're always changing. We don't decide that we're going to feel happy or sad for an hour, look at our watch & then change our emotions to fear or worry. We base our thoughts, feelings & emotions on the immediate environment, not on what happened previously. We have to learn to become fluid with our thoughts & be prepared to respond to what's happening in each moment through listening, patience, respect, asking questions & contemplating this new language. This is the opposite of how humans have been programmed to interact with horses.


"Leaders don't force people to follow, they invite them on a journey" - Charles S Lauer


How do we respond to our horse's pleas for help & understanding? We force them to lunge, segregate them to being tied alone for hours, use hobbles or begin to dictate the program we've decided they have to learn today. What are we telling our horses? We're saying that we couldn't care less about their thoughts & feelings. If we were to spend some time thinking about the many different methods available to work with horses, what would be the underlying theme? They require that we are always telling our horses to do something, regardless of what it is. They're based on dictatorship, control and micromanagement. They teach us how to have conversations with our horse that are in our best interest only.


If we were to translate this into human terms, it would equate to a one-sided or narcissistic relationship, where we make all of the decisions. Every time we picked up your best friend, we would make all the choices of where to go, where to eat, when & what to eat & when it was time to go. If we picked our friend up one day & they told us they were upset with something a co-worker had done, were thinking of quitting their job & were anxious about the implications of this decision, what would we say? Would we tell them to shut up & put their shoes on? If our friend started to cry & pace the floor as a result of this response, would we drive them to a track field & make them run 30 laps or navigate an obstacle course? Would we tell our friend that exercise will solve all their problems & have them stand up, sit down, do some figure 8's around some chairs & change direction? When finished, our friend would be sore, tired, swallow their emotions & decide to stop trying to discuss the issue. How do we think our friend would feel about us after this? Would they be enthusiastic about spending more time with us? How would they would react the next time we went to pick them up? Would they begin to experience emotional escalations of stress, anxiety, worry & begin to make excuses to avoid spending time with us? Would they become fresh, jiggy & hard to catch?


It's time to change the way we see and interact with our horses. When we understand exactly what they're thinking & feeling in every moment, it eliminates the surprises & leaves no more room for unanswered questions. 

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