We don't see horses as they are,
We treat them as we are...
We don't see horses as they are,
We treat them as we are...
Every horse owner has aspirations of becoming an expert with horses. At some deep level, we truly want to understand what makes horses tick and why they do the things they do. We have different reasons for our involvement with horses, but the underlying motivation revolves around helping others with the assistance of horses or helping the horses themselves. We can’t deny that there is something special about horses that can’t be found anywhere else. Just being around them calms emotions and soothes the soul. Being in their presence makes a confusing world seem bright and happy again, if even for just a little while.
Somewhere along the line, we have lost sight of this basic, intuitive understanding. The horse world has become big business with sponsorship, promotions, productions and has come to revolve around financial goals as its bottom line. We’ve become centered around pedigree and performance and lost sight of horses as individuals and companions with their own thoughts and feelings. There are production lines everywhere we look, displaying the newest designer horse models and products available to mask the results of the excessive stress and strain we place on these animals for personal and financial reasons. We don’t have to look far to see what we’ve done to horses. There are adds everywhere for ulcer medications, CBD medications, calming supplements, growth supplements, healing magnets, tapes, wraps and gadgets of every shape and size to force horses to mould their minds, emotions and bodies to how we believe they should be. There is no shortage of training videos available to learn the latest and greatest ways of making horses do what others tell us they should do.
When we decide we’re going to work with our horses, we always have an idea of what we’re aiming for and what actions we want our horses to achieve. When we decide to do “horse training”, our minds automatically enter into a particular mode of concept boxes in which we have a goal and a route by which to get to those goals. We have a series of steps to attain and think we’re making great progress when we see our horse performing these sequences of movements, but this isn’t a partnership. We and our horses are only repeating a forced mechanical formula without any genuine feelings of interest, joy or benefit. Any experience which is sustained by mechanical effort is not enjoyable, like people who work on an assembly line.
People like to believe that intermediate states of learning are staging posts between where they started and where they want to be. They believe that there must be gruelling periods of discomfort around and through the learning curves to reach new successful levels of knowledge and performance. When you believe that certain things have to exist or occur in sequence for other things to function correctly, you are trapped and cannot move forward. You alone are choosing to indulge in thoughts, activities and habits that give you a false sense that these things are needed for other things to work or be ok. We do not need to overcome things that hold no importance or significance for us. Many methods will tell you that you have to climb a certain number of stairs or complete a series of tasks. There is only a gift or reward at the end of some striving and then you've done it. This is appealing to different types of personalities because it seems consistent with the rest of life as we've known it. The conditioned mind/ego likes the evolutionary path and it feels totally natural because in every other aspect of life, we evolve, become better and more skilled.
We don’t see horses as they are, we treat them as we are…
We have developed an intellectual method of thinking that separates our lives into tiny boxes of limited time and narrow, focused action, which has led us to believe that horses are the problem and not us. We adopt a particular mask of personality to suit and reflect the different aspects of our lives as we move through these revolving doors of interaction. We become sullen and unhappy when we walk through the “work door” that we’ve decided we don’t enjoy and happy and carefree when we walk through the “weekend door”, where we can be what we consider to be our true nature. When interacting with our horses, we reflect these same ideas that we have created because it feels normal and comfortable "for us". We create boxes of time for our horses where they have to be serious during training time and can relax during grazing and grooming time. We force our horses to adapt to these boxes where they have to stand patiently in cross ties to be quickly groomed, often without meaningful interaction, because they have to get ready to work hard in the arena. In the arena, there is no discussion or consideration of their feelings, only an adjenda to be dictated and force-fed without question. After leaving the arena, they may not get any time for grazing or meaningful time spent grooming because we’re on a tight schedule and have somewhere else to be. And we wonder why we have behaviour problems? Great leadership isn’t about control, it’s about empowering your horse to feel as though he’s your partner. By giving him choices and opinions in the relationship and discussing problems so healthy resolutions can be found. It’s about not creating boxes of time and tasks but learning how to eliminate those boxes, so all time spent with him, regardless of where it is, involves mutual learning, fun, expression, meaningful interaction and laughter. We need to shift our beliefs to prioritizing happiness instead of grades.
There was a time when Natural Horsemanship was not in the equestrian vocabulary. When it was first introduced, it was met with skepticism and aggression. As it slowly began to take root in the accepted views of how to work with horses, it was a necessary shift in our ways of thinking and a much needed change in the evolution of working with horses. Although a necessary step, Natural Horsemanship is still based on the idea of a series of step-by-step drilling practices to reach physical goals.
Most methods focus on a repetitive system of physical drilling – repeating the same task over & over until it’s performed perfectly. This teaches you to focus only on physical responses to your directions (dictations). This doesn’t allow any space for real listening, choices or opinions. The only choices being offered, are to either respond to our direction or not, which will be met with force, anger &/or violence. This does not involve your horse in a meaningful or mutual conversation. In essence, we are dictating statements for which our horses are only allowed to answer yes or no. Drilling is only a tool of the mind to give the illusion that you are making progress toward an end goal. Yes, after enough practice your horse will respond perfectly, but are they a willing and enthusiastic partner?
How many times have you spent a lengthy amount of time deep in thought, trying to solve a problem & the answer always comes when you’re not thinking about it? Take some time to analyze what happens when you go deep into thought about a subject, especially when there is an elevated emotional component, which will pull you in deeper to the subject? When we focus on the mind, we shut off the rest of our senses. Try it again but try to take an objective point of view this time. Our vision, hearing & other senses diminish dramatically or shut off all together, depending on how deeply we are focused on these thoughts. If you have previous thoughts flowing through your mind about what you already know & think you understand, you are placing a curtain between you and what your horse is showing you that will obscure your vision. Letting go of thoughts allows you to be in the moment & seeing what’s being said by your horse for what it really is. The more you practice emptying your mind of thoughts and time limits, the more you will begin to see & understand what your horse is trying to tell you. Your thoughts have to shift from making “statements” of what you think you know to “questioning” what you’re seeing & what it means.
Even though we may feel we are “asking” our horse to do things for us & not demanding, dictating or using force to accomplish our goals, what might we find if we were to analyze these beliefs at a much deeper level? What defines a healthy relationship? Trust, respect, discussion, compromise, patience, understanding, personal growth & unconditional love. Let’s begin with the word “goals”. Who’s goals are they? Did your horse have a voice in the decision-making process for these goals? As we are growing & maturing, we try our hand at different types of jobs, which help direct us toward what we feel is most conducive to our interests & will make us happy & productive. Many horses are made to perform one particular type of “job” & aren’t given opportunities to try other avenues that they might enjoy more or add interest in all areas. They are forced to repeat only one job until they become so bored, they sour to it. I have always felt that it was important to the mental, emotional & physical wellbeing of my horses that they were all-rounders. No matter what type of horse I had or their pedigree & background, they were always exposed to as many disciplines as possible.
We make the sole decisions about what our horses are going to learn & in what order these “steps” are going to be “asked” to be accomplished. Does this involve discussion or compromise? We all learn at different rates, excel in some areas & take longer in others. Do we extend these considerations to our horses? When our horses are having difficulties learning something new, do we slow down, break the task into smaller steps & take as much patience/time as is needed for our horses to work through their worries & fears, to show them we understand how they’re feeling? Do we show them they can trust & respect us or do we become frustrated & angry because they are being “lazy & defiant”?
Many people perceive unwanted behaviour as a personal attack, deliberately directed at them. If you pay attention to unwanted behaviour, your focus on it will increase it, because any level of recognition is perceived as a reward or increased pressure. The reward itself is a shift of focus from the task to anything else; any release from the uncomfortable pressure. Recognizing this will help you learn to listen to and guide your horse in a constructive manner. When you redirect the thought, you are reducing the pressure of the task but are continuing to keep the mind engaged on you and connected. When you remove the pressure but allow the mind to wander without guidance or direction, it gets lost and reverts back to the only habit it knows of fear, avoidance and escape. When you redirect the thoughts constructively, they forget about what was causing the reaction and don’t disconnect. Initially, in the tolerance of the expression of the opinion/ignoring of the behaviour, it disappears. Save your focus for important things instead of perceiving behaviour as a personal attack. These are only how you choose to perceive the situations and you are responsible for these perceptions. “Don’t provoke itching by scratching”. If you pay attention to it, you have provoked it and have to pamper your creation.
The person who has made the commitment to truly understand horses and move beyond the limits of current methods, has no ideas or concepts about what they want to achieve initially. They make the effort to leave all previous concepts and beliefs at the door when they enter. They choose to enter this new door with an empty and open mind, to listen to what their horse has been trying to tell them all along. Those who come with concepts and baggage can only filter these words through their concepts & baggage. They may have very good experiences, but they will never reach the end result of what FEARLESS has to offer. They just enter these states and sustain them through their efforts. When I’m teaching, I can see people nodding their heads as though they understand – they’ve read the articles, listened to the talks. They have a structure inside their head of what the teachings are about. Every time something is said, they take a particular statement or idea and fit it into a particular program step box – ideas that support the internal structure of what they believe the teachings represent. Words don’t reach them in a place where they can experience what the horses are teaching – they get filed away in various conceptual categories in the mind. You have to get rid of the filters and concepts so your horse’s teachings can reach you in a way that they can move beyond the mind and become experience.
When you’re not working with your horse, you’re not really aware of how cluttered and chaotic your mind actually is. Your attention is on your work and family. All of your desires, feelings, fears, fantasies are bubbling away in the background that you don’t pay much attention to because you’ve got the external things to worry about. When you actually stop looking at all of these external things and put your attention instead on the mechanism of your mind, you are surprised at what an overwhelming mess it is. It’s not that you’ve suddenly become a lot worse, it’s that you’ve stopped looking at the things your mind has been conditioned to focus on. You’ve actually taken the manhole off of your own private sewer and you’ve recoiled in horror. This is a standard reaction of people who have stopped looking at the world and have had a long look at their real selves. There is no magic wand, you just have to persevere and genuinely want to succeed through practice. It’s not something that requires a linear progress of steps and you must be committed to the results. There is no accumulation of silence in the mind that you can access more of every day. Every day as you lift the lid of the sewer, more stinky stuff will come out and you have to deal with what arises.
Thoughts, feelings and emotions are fluid. They're always changing. You don't decide that you're going to feel happy or sad for an hour, look at your watch and then change your emotions to fear or worry. Horse’s thoughts, feelings and emotions are based on the immediate environment, not on what happened previously. Human’s thoughts, feelings and emotions are based on what happened previously or what might happen in the future, not the immediate environment. This is one of the greatest barriers we have to overcome; learning to become fluid with our thoughts and be prepared to respond to what's happening in each moment through listening, patience, respect, asking questions and understanding.
FEARLESS isn’t a method, it’s a process and is the opposite of everything you’ve learned about horses until now. It involves shifting the focus of your current thoughts and beliefs from intellectual, step-by-step boxes, to a quiet place, where you can really see and understand what horses have been trying to teach us all along. The immediate results experienced are undeniable proof of its efficacy, but the results are equivalent to the amount of previous programming you’re prepared to let go of. Are you prepared to make the commitment to continue to walk through these new doors of understanding and face the uncomfortable change of what your horse is going to show you about yourself?