We can't know what we don't know... A child who is raised in an abusive environment (characterized by dominance, power and control), through no fault of their own, will treat others in the same way or choose to shut down. Cohesive behaviour patterns or coping/balancing mechanisms were never offered as a choice, therefore the child has no concept of any other way of being. Alternatively, those responsible for creating the abusive environment are often repeating conditioned behaviour and are unaware that they are doing anything wrong or that there is any another way of being.
- "Traditionally accepted forms of behaviour that we have been conditioned to believe are normal, such as a high head, weaving, cribbing & fear"
Characteristic patterns of change... Just as our horses have been conditioned through repetition to adopt particular habits and patterns mentally, emotionally and physically, we have also been conditioned through many sources to behave in common and predictable patterns as well. Acknowledging and accepting this truth is where real and lasting change begins. It's not that these sources taught us unhealthy habits intentionally, they were doing the best they could with how they had been conditioned to believe, think, feel and act.
- "Traditionally accepted forms of horse training that we have been conditioned to believe are normal & correct, such as using tie-downs, draw-reins, whips, spurs, lunging, round pens & drilling"
The roots of change... Habits and patterns have power over us because of our belief that they create comfort and security. In order to affect lasting change, we must understand that we aren't only changing muscle memory, but the underlying and sometimes deeply rooted mental and emotional belief systems as well. Although children in abusive environments may be unhappy, there is a sense of comfort and security that comes from the repetition of consistent habits and knowing what to expect. Once there is a change or removal from the environment, an escalation of stress, anxiety and volcanic emotional eruptions are normal because the child no longer has a sense of where they belong or how to act, think or feel in the new environment.
- "This is part of the reason we bring home a perfectly well-mannered horse who quickly becomes a tornado"
Becoming the change...For centuries, humans have relied on stallions as the roll model to explain the complex structures of the equine family unit and have developed many techniques based on these representative observations of dictatorship, power, control and dominance. We are taught to view our interactions with horses as though we're going to war, complete with battle strategies and counter measures because we have been conditioned through example, to believe that "horses are naturally obstinate, lazy, defiant and they can't think for themselves".
- "Learned helplessness comes in many forms & often in ways we wouldn't consider"
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 of how deeply these phrases impact our daily lives. If we begin to examine the relationship between horses and humans, it won't take long to realize that we approach our training sessions with horses using this unspoken slogan. It's time to return to the fact that the Bell Mare is the true "guide" of the herd and begin to implement the balanced qualities she brings to the family unit as a teacher, through balance in guidance, presence, trust and patience.
All babies are born as dry sponges looking to soak up all of the exciting new experiences that life has to offer. All behaviours are learned habits that are created and escalate in consistent, predictable patterns and rates. All habits can be changed. Horses and people believe they are subject to their environment because alternatives have never been given to offer a better path of mental, emotional and physical balance. The choice is now available to remain in an outdated system, always looking to external sources for solutions that don't work, or having the courage to face the uncomfortable change of looking inward and becoming the Holistic Master Horseman you've always wanted to be.
"The more you know, the less you understand"
Knowledge is the intellectual pursuit of structure, rules & boundaries - something is acquired every day
Understanding is the experiential pursuit of questioning, listening & feeling - something is let go every day
Humans predominantly exist through a contracted, singular awareness (spotlight scanning) & are only cognizant primarily from the visual aspect of the immediate surroundings & oblivious to everything outside of this focus. We often have an expanded preservation loop & focus on objects or situations singularly. We shut down all senses to switch focus from one object to another. Humans further obscure and limit their awareness by placing the bulk of their focus on internal thought processes, which further contracts their awareness & blocks out more of their environment.
Horses exist through an expanded, multi-focal (simultaneous) awareness. They are connected to everything in their environment through all senses. They are always fully aware of every inch of their body & where all things are in relation to their body. They don't detach any of their senses when switching focal points, but instead, adjust focal intensity to particular objects as needed.
When we let go of our mental processing, we can be much more present, we can be much more spontaneous, & we can be less attached to results. The mind likes victories. The mind likes goals. The mind likes accomplishments, beginnings & ends. But what if the story is meant to go on & on and on with many twists and turns, with no end in sight? What if our heart could show us a way to get even more than our mind could imagine? Everything slows down. Nothing seems as significant as it once did. We can relax. We can let go of all of those goals & all of those attachments to our accomplishments, we can be present & feel more alive in our willingness to engage in the present moment with the whole of who we & our horse are. The mind has its place. The mind helps us to focus, but it is best utilized when it is helping us to focus on something in the present, rather than something in the past or something in the projected future.
Our choices are governed by our emotions to a larger degree than we realize. Emotions strongly effect learning, they are intertwined with perception & attention & they interact with learning & memory. Emotional stimulation has a great bearing on the association & retention of memories. Emotional elevation over-rides our ability to think, be observant & rational. An elevation in emotion creates stress & anxiety which will lead to consistently tense muscles that can cause aches & sprains because the body can't move properly.
When we're faced with an overwhelming sense of worry, stress & anxiety, we release those emotions through friends, family & counselling services to help us re-balance. Our horses feel the same range of emotions that we do & young horses experience an emotional rollercoaster of emotions as they’re learning to navigate a brand-new culture & language in our human herds, which is vastly different from normal equine life.
We need to begin to consider how our daily life is governed by our emotions. We can all relate to instances in our lives when an elevation in emotion caused us to become clumsy, injure ourselves, drive right past our house or forget an important event. Objects, people & circumstances in our environment have no meaning in themselves, they just are. We attach meaning to these things through our personal perception of the events & how they make us feel. That’s why two people can have completely different insights after having shared the exact same experience
Our daily lives are governed by habits & patterns & the same holds true for our horses. Habits are energy savers, which allow us to go into autopilot, so we can free our minds for other things. Habits have power over us because of our belief that they provide comfort & security. In order to affect lasting change, we must understand that we aren't only changing muscle memory. To change a physical habit, we must change the underlying mental & emotional belief system as well. When beginning to replace an established unwanted behaviour with a new acceptable behaviour, it’s normal to have resistance to the changes.
It’s important to understand the programming behind the behaviours of our horses & ourselves. Our horses can be viewed like little robots who are easily programmed to do as we ask or allow. What we don’t realize is that we create all of the programming & are responsible for every single behaviour elicited. This is true of both wanted & unwanted behaviours. The more repetition, the more established the behaviours will become & the harder to change. We have also been programmed throughout our lives to believe that we must look to external sources for causes of unwanted behaviour but the real root cause is our own programming of beliefs & habits, which result in unbalanced emotions.
How do we earn a horse's trust - by showing them we can remain calm, slow & decisive under pressure. We earn their respect by listening – giving choices, opinions, patience, slowing down for time to think & work through problems. This is the opposite of how we have been programmed to work with horses
"Self-improvement doesn't just revolve around learning what to do. Our greatest lessons come from understanding what not to do"
- Tracy Courtney
Where does changing our dog’s behaviour begin? With us! We must be willing to change our beliefs & the habits we’ve developed because these concepts are responsible for our dog’s behaviour, not our dogs. Many will disagree with this in the beginning & cite behaviours that their dogs regularly perform that couldn’t possibly have been taught by them, this is normal. We are taught to believe that our dogs have their own personalities, which is true in a sense, therefore they will develop their own desires & habitual tendencies, but what if I were to say that dogs are like little biological robots that function predominantly through their programming & not through individual desires? What if I said that we are responsible for steering those desires? Sure, they do express individual likes, dislikes, fear & avoidance behaviours just like we do, but what if those personal expressions could be rewritten immediately & permanently if we had a little more understanding when it came to the deeper roots of this programming?
I’m not pointing to micromanagement, force & control in these situations, but having the ability to alter the programming, in order to create mental, emotional & physical balance in our dogs? To move beyond the sit, stay & heel in order to replace worry, fear, avoidance & aggression with confidence, clarity, self-control & relaxation for the dog? To be able to teach the dog how to think for themselves & make the personal choice to seek balance in these situations instead of us trying to control the outcome & take on the responsibility of our dog’s behaviour? Is it possible to shift the responsibility of how our dog acts onto our dogs instead of assuming it ourselves? To make it our dog's responsibility to act correctly in any given situation? This isn’t about pointing fingers, right or wrong, good or bad. This is about opening up new possibilities, new perceptions and new understandings. If these things are possible, is it something worth taking the time to look into?
If we were to visualize ourselves walking down a straight path with our dog & we decided that we wanted to get some help to change some of our dog’s unwanted habitual behaviour, that single path would suddenly split into many different paths, leading in several directions. Looking at all of these different paths, it wouldn’t take long to feel a little overwhelmed at all of the possibilities & begin to feel stressed about how to choose the right path to move forward on. This is a common impasse, that many of us face when we decide that we do need some help.
If we begin to analyze the paths, which we do when we’re trying to research through books, videos & other people, we would notice that one of the paths is much wider than the others & the paths range from one extreme to the another. The widest path would consist of many teachers who follow a common theme of ideologies that involve some type of force & control. These revolve around looking at the physical attributes of behaviour & using different types of gadgets such as choke, shock & pinch collars, harnesses & halties to correct unwanted behaviour. The other paths would vary in their use of force, dictation, drilling & control until they reached the other extreme of allowing personal expression without interference or taking extremely long periods of time to accomplish the simplest shifts in behaviour. If we can establish now that our dog is not in mental, emotional or physical balance, where is the balance going to be found in these extreme, corrective or non-corrective measures?
What I would like to point to here is the one thing all of these paths have in common & has been become a common belief in most who own dogs, through the influence of all of these paths, over centuries. The underlying belief is that there is a problem that needs to be corrected or changed in the dog. Just like people who decide that they need to go for therapy sessions, there is an underlying belief that something is wrong with them & that they need help to fix a problem. What if there wasn’t really a problem & instead of trying to fix the physical & external behaviour, we consider are the cause of the problems, all we really had to do was to change or outlook or perception of what’s happening instead? What if we really don’t need someone else to tell us what the problem is & how to fix it, what if we could fix the perceived problems by only changing the beliefs we have established & so desperately cling to instead?
What if, instead of believing we have no choice but to walk forward down one of these forked paths in order to find the help we need, I asked you to turn around & walk backwards down your original path that has led you to these multiple, confusing paths? Is this a possibility you have ever considered? Could this be the new direction you were looking for all along? What if you could reverse the beliefs that unwanted behaviour has to be addressed individually & directly? What if you could reverse the beliefs that you have to create blocks of time for training sessions & constant cookie-cutter repetition is necessary for your dog to learn something new? What if you could reverse the beliefs that sounds, sights, movements & other people are responsible for how your dog behaves? What if you could take preventative measures to stop unwanted behaviour before it ever starts, so there would no longer be beliefs about correcting behaviour that has already occurred, past-tense? What if you could reverse these & many more common beliefs? Would that be worth taking the time to research?