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 and belief systems, in how we work with our horses. We have learned directly o indirectly to automatically become angry, judgemental, forceful and 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 and to always search for external sources for explanations and 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 and have discussions with us in every moment that we spend with them but are we listening? Any horse that is not standing still and relaxed is giving you a very clear indication that there is a problem. Any form of movement, other than a state of mental and emotional shutdown, is a clear statement of discomfort mentally, emotionally and/or physically. Your horse is telling you that they are feeling worry, fear, stress and/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 and 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 and understanding in these moments. We need to slow down, set our agendas aside and examine what our horses are saying and our responses to our horse's pleas for help.

Unwanted behaviour and volcanic emotional eruptions are created through not listening, dictation, drilling, lack of choices and opinions and equal learning helplessness. Every time your horse tries to express an opinion and open a discussion with you and you choose to ignore their feelings by not helping them, you are forcing those emotions to become buried deeper within the body and 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 and creates an opportunity for release and balancing. Even when you allow the movement, this isn't enough to release unhealthy emotions. The catalyst for release is allowing time for them to think and relax in between focusing on developing decision-making and problem-solving skills. It's the assistance of providing coping tools and relaxation that creates the release.


When the body stops/freezes, it's a result of the mind stopping/freezing and needing to reassess the situation. Then a decision will be made based on how you 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 and 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 and defiant and 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 and sore. Our horses are accustomed to these responses from us and this is why they become frightened and 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 and they will be punished for the hesitation and 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 and interactions with the world. Like an iceberg, the bulk of behaviour's "mass" is found below the surface and is what gives rise to what's visible. Behaviour is triggered from emotions, which stem from the deeply rooted needs of your horse. These are not needs like treats and grooming. Basic equine needs are like ours and consist of listening, choices and opinions, trust, safety, communication, respect and patience.


Thoughts, feelings and emotions are fluid. They're always changing. You don't decide that you're going to feel happy or sad for an hour, look at your watch and then change your emotions to fear or worry. We base our thoughts, feelings and emotions on the immediate environment, not on what happened previously. We have to learn to become fluid with our thoughts and be prepared to respond to what's happening in each moment through listening, patience, respect, asking questions and understanding. 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 and 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 and 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 often micromanagement. They teach you how to have conversations with your horse that are in your best interest only.


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


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