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Tracy Courtney

Assess & Address

Those who work with dogs are familiar with the phrase "the 3 second rule". I feel this phrase has been misunderstood & is often taken to mean that we must correct unwanted behaviour within 3 seconds of its onset. This implies the application of fast pressure; force, to make the animal respond to a command: correction.

Something we may not realize is that speed automatically carries with it an elevation of emotional output for our horses & ourselves, until we learn to understand & balance these aspects. When we add speed & emotions to any situation, it results in blurring of awareness, perceptions & the normal boundaries we have developed in regards to thoughts & practices.

When we speed up, we lose awareness of our physical aspects because we move fully into our thoughts & limit our awareness to our heads. We are unaware that our body language & cues become incoherent & sloppy & that we've lost touch with the rest of the environment. By narrowing our awareness to our heads & emotions, this will cause us to push our horses & do things we normally wouldn't have because our emotions can get away from us. When we're emotional, we are incapable of rational thoughts, recalling of pertinent information & retention of material. It's the same for our horses.

There is much deeper meaning to this phrase which is about being in the moment with our horses & addressing unwanted behaviour before moving onto something else or quitting what we're doing. It's not about speed, which cause mental, emotional & physical disconnection, but about slowing down to fix the problem in "this" moment through relaxation, analyzation & cooperation.

We can all recall instances in our lives where an emotional elevation caused us to say & do things out of character & in some cases caused regret for our words & actions. I encourage you to analyze these scenarios in detail, to move past any negative associative feelings & try to understand how our mental & emotional processes become disconnected from our awareness. Then compare how these patterns have been repeated while working with your horse. Awareness & understanding is the key to real change.

Going back to a previous article about scanning vs panning, it was discussed how it has become habitual to focus on particular aspects/points in our environment, which eliminates much of the peripheral scenery. It isn't just our visual awareness, but also our other senses that become narrow & exclusive. Humans scan the environment predominantly while horses pan the environment naturally. This simple habit creates a bridge between us & our horses right from the start, before we even begin to interact with them.

To take this a step further, prior discussions concerning the preservation loop, shows what happens to our & our horse's awareness when we are out of the moment & focused in our heads. Many have wondered why some horses seem to lose all sense of touch/pain awareness in their bodies. Some have told me that no matter what they have tried, it was like the horse couldn't feel anything. The preservation loop shows how awareness can be reduced to a minimal focal point & can literally become turned off.

What does assess & address mean? It means to be in this & every moment with our horses. To recognize what's happening in this moment & to help ourselves & our horses in "this" moment. The statement made that inspired this article was a person who was looking forward to the day when they would be able to touch their equine's face for the first time & all the joys that would further lead to. Humans are accustomed to living in the past & projecting the future. We must learn to be in this moment with our equines, which is an enormous bridge for us to cross if we want to begin to move beyond the current, self-imposed limits of equine understanding.

What we fail to realize is that we've been taught to treat our horses like our cars. When our horses indicate a squeaking or seizing of the brakes, we throw out anchors & perform bodywork instead of looking to the root of the problems under the hood.

We know our horse has an issue with a particular spot in the arena, but we decide we want to practice our circles or half halts today & ignore the issue our horse is clearly telling us about in this particular moment. When our horse avoids or spooks at that spot in the arena, we throw out the anchor by pulling on both reins, doing whatever is necessary to stay in the saddle, avoid/or force them toward that spot. After composing ourselves from a near death experience, we take our horse out of the arena or go back to practicing half halts instead of addressing that spot in this moment.

When our horse is giving us clear indications that there is a problem, like being fresh for example, we ignore what they're trying to tell us in this moment & helping them through the issue in this moment, by working on the body instead of the engine. We often take them somewhere, out of this moment to lunge the fresh off them, which equates to your taking your upset mom to a track & forcing her to run laps. All the while yelling not to worry because the exercise is going to solve all her problems. Or we make our horses drill through the latest 12 step program we've decided to force feed them, that will solve all our problems.

How does any of this help a horse that is food aggressive, won't accept a bit, won't stand still in cross ties or spooks at the cows a mile down the road when you want to trail ride with your friends & bolts back to the barn? The driving mechanisms in our cars are the engines. It's the engine that creates the power to put the car in motion & stop when needed. The brakes don't factor into the equation without the engine as the driving force. When we take our car to a mechanic to fix an issue, is the body work first & foremost on our minds or arguing with our mechanic about how & what needs fixing?

I encourage you to question everything you know & all of the possible underlying personal & social motivations that we may not realize. When we are living in the past & future, we can't be in this moment with our horses & understand what's happening now. We must be prepared to drop our ideas of what we want our horses to do or learn & begin to listen to them in this moment. To be prepared to assess why there is unwanted behaviour & address it in this moment.

Unwanted behaviour is our horses attempt to communicate & ask for help in this moment to show us there is a lack of confidence in this situation. These behaviours aren't rooted in sinister plots as so many have chosen to believe.

When we choose to ignore what's happening in this moment, we can unintentionally reward unwanted behaviour which will naturally escalate & reinforce fear responses, which will also escalate mentally, emotionally & physically. Our choices are responsible for all behaviour elicited by our horses if we decide not to assess & address what's happening in this moment. 

Assess & Address;

- acknowledge there is a problem in this moment

- set aside our personal agenda in this moment

- learn to listen by dropping all personal thoughts & judgements

- allow the expression of feelings & opinions

- help our horses build confidence in us & the situation in this moment