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Tracy Courtney

Teaching Principles

We need to begin to look at the ideas, beliefs, words & their meanings that we commonly use to describe our interactions with our horses. A popular word used is training. What thoughts & meanings does this word immediately bring to your mind? Many of us don't realize the underlying implications of the words we use & how they shape our thought processes, beliefs & actions. The synonyms listed in the Merriam-Webster dictionary are as follows; drill, exercise, practice, routine & workout.


These synonyms bring to my mind ides about a bodybuilding regimen & if we stop to analyze those around us, it's clear that this is how many of us treat our horses. We purchase endless supplements, gadgets, create strict diets & workout routines for our horses. How many of us would be able or even willing to adhere to a strict bodybuilding regimen faithfully? Very few & I know I don't have the desire or resolve to stick to this type of lifestyle. We treat our horses like machines & don't allow choices or opinions for anything they do. Does this sound like a happy or inclusive relationship if you were to step into your horses shoes for a minute?


I prefer to use the word teacher. Merriam-Webster offers synonyms such as; coaching, mentoring, preparing, leading, familiarizing & guiding. Teaching should be viewed as a transaction not a dictation. Where all parties can share in choices, opinions & discussions. Although changing the words we use may sound trivial at the outset, beginning with these tiny shifts will profoundly change our perceptions, habits & beliefs in how we interact with our horses. Beauty is found in simplicity.


What do we want? Many of us have established ideas of the types of behaviour we expect from our horses in certain situations, like during "training" time in designated areas. We have studied the steps of others & have an idea of what we're trying to accomplish, but do we really know what we want outside of this & how to accomplish it? Step methods don't generally show us how to handle the daily obstacles we encounter outside of these designated training areas, so what do we do? How do we handle aggressiveness at feeding time, horses that won't stand to mount or cross tie, horses we can't touch or halter, horses that refuse to do things or become explosive before & after our designated training periods? Have we established a clear plan for these circumstances?


We need to begin with a clear understanding of how we want our horses to behave in all circumstances. Create a detailed list such as, I want my horse to walk with their head at my shoulder every time we go anywhere. When we allow our horses to jig & act up or avoid the halter, who is responsible for the habits we are choosing to reinforce & create? We are responsible because we are not taking the time , in that moment, to help our horses understand what is to be expected.


Time

Horses don't live in time like humans do. If we have a schedule to keep, then spend those days doing things that your horse enjoys like grazing, extra grooming, doing stretches & giving massages or helping you clean the stalls. Trying to squeeze a partial training session into a time limit is asking for trouble & a set back. You will be unable to be fully in this moment with your horse because your mind will be somewhere else & this will lead to less patience & understanding on your part. If we want to reach deeper levels of connection & communication with our horse, we must be fully present & willing to meet our horse in the middle initially. We must forget about time when we're with our horse, as though it doesn't exist.


Patience

Beginning to live out of time with our horses will dramatically improve our patience skills, since lack of patience is a time bound concept. As we're beginning to function out of time, unbalanced habitual thoughts & emotions will rise to the surface in us for understanding & release. It's important not to try to suppress or repress these emotions because they will bury deeper. Try to learn how to observe them as though we are a different person, from a neutral point of view, which will help dissolve them more quickly. Accept them but don't connect to them or they will take over. Learn to look without linking. Take as many breaks as are necessary for you to go back to a neutral, relaxed state. Established behaviour cannot be erased, they must be replaced with new habits through repetition. 


Perception

Instead of viewing the things our horse does or doesn't do with negative judgements, try to remember that our horse genuinely doesn't understand &/or is too worried to be able to think or retain. Analyzing our own thoughts, feelings & actions when we're in an elevated emotional state will shed interesting new light & understanding. Reflect on how elevated emotions have deeply impacted our own ability to think & respond to the world. Could we be misjudging situations? Could we be wrong? Do we think that we already know all that is necessary or is learning an ever-evolving, ever-onging experience?


Introspection

Although we have been trying our best to understand how to be effective with our horses, we must be humble enough to accept that we are ultimately responsible for our horse's behaviour & there are still many things we can learn about our horse & ourselves. When horses truly understand & are connected to us, they will perform correctly without hesitation. If we want to accelerate our own learning curves, we need to shift our focus from our horses to ourselves. Analyzing what & why we do the things we do will reveal tremendous insights that were previously out of reach. It's not necessary to spend time or money for other people's knowledge. Our horses are always patiently waiting to teach us everything we need to know. We have to come out of our heads; thoughts, conditioning & beliefs, in order to be able to hear what our horses have been trying to teach us all along.


Connection

Deeply analyze your thoughts & beliefs. Do your thoughts revolve around you & what you want, your horse or both of you? Many people don't realize that they create a narcissistic relationship with their horses. Thoughts revolve around what they want their horse to do or help them accomplish for their own egotistical pleasures. Reflect on the type of connection you're creating. Is it inclusive or exclusive? Do you do things for your horse that they decide? Do you allow them time to play, roll & explore new or familiar surroundings for as long as they like or do you always impose time limits? Do they have to do something for you first to earn a privilege? What percentage of your time with your horse is spent doing what you want as opposed to doing something they enjoy or doing something new & relaxing together? Is there a balance here?


Focus

We need to shift our focus from our ideas of being the teacher, to becoming the student & then sharing the learning experience. We need to remove our focus from our friends, influences, immediate environment & what we want our horses to do for us, to focusing on what they're trying to teach us in every moment about them & ourselves in order to start over & find balance. Did our parents ever tell us while we were growing up that we had to earn our keep or we had to go? We have to let go of our knowledge in order to step into deeper learning.


Knowledge

We believe we must accumulate & retain knowledge due to our conditioning through family, friends, the education system & society as a whole. We have accepted the belief that knowledge is essential , must be gained in steps over time & strife & we will reach an elusive goal at the end. Knowledge is of the mind, the intellect & of the past. We need memory to recall accumulated knowledge. Knowledge is always out of the present moment, in the past, limited & pulls us back into time. We must be willing to let go of our accumulated knowledge that we hold so dearly, which causes us to adopt conflict, defensive & argumentative beliefs toward our horses & others.


Learning

Learning is progressive & of the present moment. Developing a learning mindset without knowledge, will eliminate many of the obstacles created through knowledge. Learning without baggage causes us to slow down, analyze & reflect without judgement. It naturally invites inclusion, allowance of opinions & discussion. It opens the door to understanding where knowledge is a closed door. A learning mindset, without time limits allows for inclusion, connection, introspection, new perceptions & relaxation; where maximum learning & retention can be achieved & opens up brand new levels of understanding.

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