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Tracy Courtney

Beyond Basics & Into Simplicity

We are accustomed; conditioned to thinking horses are unintelligent, ignorant, stubborn & they must be taught many things in order to fit into our ideals of what we think they should do. We have this underlying belief that horses must always be doing something that we deem acceptable. What if horses wanted to be able to do the things we commonly only reserve for our dogs? To accompany us on long walks & other normal daily activities? To be involved with what we consider to be the more mundane aspects of life? We have created these boxes of separation, where our horses are left untouched in the pasture but must "work" in other particular areas. What if we erased these invisible, self-imposed boxes?


While it isn't a bad thing to want our horses to be able to do things for us, we must analyze the ways in which these ideas are implemented & achieved. What if it isn't horses who are unintelligent, ignorant, stubborn & need to become the students, what if it's really us? If we were to use the word "listen" to refer to how we interact with our horses, is it possible to move into listening on a level that we currently can't even imagine?


In the previous article, "Being Present", I spoke of a particularly troubled horse. When I repeat some of the descriptions I used like, "I arrived at feeding time to witness this horse lunge aggressively & slam into the stall door every time the teenager tried to approach", "he became focused on attacking & injuring me", "this horse was dangerous" & "someone would be seriously hurt". 


What are your immediate thoughts & emotions in relation to these words? Many would have negative thoughts, emotions & begin to project what they would do in this situation. But what if we could move past these basic conditioned perceptions & judgements & listen at a deeper & more simplistic level of this situation? What if we could move beyond our habitual subconscious reactions & listen on a more conscious level?


When this horse became focused on injuring me, I didn't view the situation as personal or directed at me, as so many would. Instead of pointing fingers & trying to place blame, all I saw in front of me was a horse who was extremely frustrated, who had been trying to communicate for 2 years & wasn't being listened to. This frustration had reached a level of explosiveness that this horse simply couldn't bare any longer & he didn't know how to make the humans understand that he needed help. He had also been rewarded repeatedly for his inappropriate behaviour. A child who throws a tantrum for not getting something they want & then has it given to them as a result of the tantrum, will escalate behaviour in the same manner. Horses who won't stand quietly in cross ties, bolt back to the barn, are buddy & arena sour, won't allow us to handle particular body parts, are all pleading for help with these situations, but are we really listening?


I have indicated through many articles how we have become so focused on our thoughts of the past & future, that we no longer know how to be in the present moment as horses exist naturally, & this separation results in a huge bridge to cross. I have given many examples of how we spend our time in our heads & how this limits our many forms of awareness to a single, narrow & limited focal space. If we want to understand horses at a much deeper level, we must become aware of our habits & make a genuine effort to change them.


When we feel stuck in unhealthy relationships or work environments, many of us will remain in these situations long term. We are full of fear & worry about leaving these situations on many levels, so we decide to endure & make the best we can of it & put up with the abuse in some cases. Do we ever ask ourselves why?


Rather than perceiving the situation as it is, in this moment & dealing with what's presented immediately, we avoid the present moment & revert to habitual tendencies of focusing on the past & future. We play scenarios over & over in our minds, reducing all of our senses to our limited head space, of things that have happened in the past or the potential future, which rarely happens as projected. This leads to stress, anxiety & a fear of moving forward, for a fear of what the future "might" hold. If we can begin to recognize these habits in ourselves, we can begin to understand how we project these unrecognized habits onto our horses.


With the countless horses I have helped over the years, I have yet to meet a single one who is unintelligent or stubborn. I have met countless horses who have been taught by humans how to avoid interactions of varying degrees & horses who have been taught how not to think, especially the ones who have a long history of lunging. All horses are naturally interactive & inquisitive animals but it isn't difficult & is easy for humans to knock this inquisitiveness & willingness out of them with our personal agendas & dogmatic dictatorship methods of robotic training techniques. I often tell people how much easier & quicker it is to work with unhandled babies & wild horses. The reason is because I can simply go in & begin teaching because these animals learn very quickly & easily. With human handled horses, I have so many problems to fix before I can begin teaching, that it becomes a much longer process.


I encourage you to question everything you know. Are you simply seeing the horse that's in front of you at this moment, or are you projecting your past & future biases, judgements & agendas onto the horse in front of you? Are you expecting or are you listening? Learning is always in the moment & of unlimited potential. Knowledge is of the past & will always be limited. Are we ready & willing to move beyond the basics & back to simplicity? It's not our horses who need to change, it's our perceptions, concepts & ideas about them.