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Tracy Courtney

Softening Focus & Expanding Awareness

Horses live naturally in a state of expanded awareness, where they are in conscious touch with everything around them. By conscious touch, I'm referring to being fully engaged through all senses. Many are aware of just how connected they are in circumstances such as when horses kick or strike something. We know how precisely they can land these blows. They are always fully aware of where everything is in relation to their body at all times with mathematical precision. We have learned to become so focused on particular objects & subjects, that we narrow our senses to a particular point of reference, oblivious to much of the rest of our environment. We think we are in touch & aware, but we can't know what we don't know.

In a recent video, The Thought Curtain, it was demonstrated how being in our head & focused on our thoughts not only reduces our conscious awareness, but can actually shut it off completely. We think we are aware & in touch with our environment, but many of us have learned to multitask by switching our senses from focal point to focal point. This leads to a very narrow view of the world.

Horses on the other hand, don't reduce to a narrow focal point unless they think there's something to worry about that needs instant attention. They make decisions quickly regarding these still points & then return quickly to their expanded state. Some may want to interject here about how many horses are consistently in this state of narrow, focal awareness & they would be correct. But these are the effects of training through the use of dominance & control. Horses can be forced to adopt our comparatively narrow views of the world.

In reviewing the Thought Curtain video, she clearly explains what happens when we are caught up in the thoughts in our head. Our senses contract, causing us to disconnect to varying degrees, dependant on the depth of the thoughts. If we also add an emotional component to the stew, we withdraw even deeper from the environment. You can easily repeat the exercise given in the video & experiment for yourself.

When coming out of these thoughts, it's easy to believe that we have regained connection with our surroundings but in fact, we have only regained limited connection. If you analyze, you will see that her focus has only expanded to me & our conversation. If I had asked her to analyze her senses more deeply in that moment, she would have realized that she was still lost in different thoughts about our discussion & still wouldn't have been aware of the things mentioned like, the urine smell, where her horses were or what they were doing.

In the more recent video, Equine Perceptions of Body Language, this is taken further to show what our horses see in our body language, how it affects our horses & the dramatic changes when we come out of our heads. When we quiet her thoughts, dropping the curtain, she begins to open. her body language which is indicative of opening her mind & awareness & she naturally begins to expand her less focused awareness with her horse. This was not a conscious decision that involved more thought, it happens naturally when we let go of our plans & agendas. It's obvious that dropping the curtain not only prompted her horse to come to her willingly, but she had both eyes & ears without asking or changing anything else. Lowering the thought curtain naturally created the connection to open with her horse. Her body language reading skills suddenly improved dramatically, & she was able for the first time, to check in with her horse to try to understand what he was thinking & feeling of her own choice.

Comparatively, the person lunging her horse clearly shows how many use an intense focus when working with their horses. People in this intense focus are rigid with their body, thoughts & emotions. You will not see this type of person smiling or having fun with their horse until after "the work" is done. It is not consciously intentional, it's conditioning, programming adopted from others. This intense & limited focus also shows how disconnected we become from our body & the environment around us. This type of spotlight focus places a lot of pressure on horses even before we ask for something & can cause quite a bit of stress. Some types of horses can view this intense focus as a challenge & others can become explosive out of fear.

When you enter into a conversation with another person & aren't looking directly at your horse, are you really aware of where your horse is or what they're doing? The beginning of the video clearly shows how many lose all connection with their horse & body & how unconscious habits take over. No matter what I'm doing, my awareness is always in touch with my complete environment & if I temporarily reduce my awareness, the horses are very quick in reminding me. If we choose not to make the effort to explore this open door, it makes for a very mechanical relationship.

Because of habitual tendencies, trying to soften our focus & expand our awareness with our horses can be unnecessarily challenging. A simplified technique is to practice at home first. Here we tend to be more relaxed & we have fewer time limits. Many who have pets at home tend not to pay close attention to them unless they enter our personal space or are unusually noisy. For those who don't have house pets, sitting outside with local wildlife will also help. 

To learn how to expand our awareness of our environment, begin to softly pay more attention to our pets or wildlife without looking at them directly. Begin to focus more on hearing them, where they are & what they're doing. Also try to begin to expand our peripheral vision by watching them from the corner of our eye. If we choose to analyze this process, we will notice in the beginning, we will be shifting all focus from one point to another. This is habitual & normal. As we begin to get a feel for this, try expanding our awareness further by practicing how to blend staying aware of our pets while doing other things. With practice, we will be able to expand our awareness to our entire environment like horses do simultaneously, without having to shift focal points.

Once you're feeling confident at home, then begin to practice with your horse. Try to do everything you normally do with your horse & look at them directly only when necessary. If you need to look, it's not a failure & you can use it as a validation for your other senses. Your horse is fully aware of your level of awareness & you will see changes in them when you make an effort to connect on their level of comfort. Try to be aware of your habits & soften your focus when speaking with other people & doing other things, even the simplest things like walking to & from the pasture. Be patient with yourself & your horse & try to view this as a fun new joint exploration, not a chore.