By relinquishing control, we gain control. First trust yourself, your reactions and your emotions. Then trust the horse as being one with you, for fear comes from lack of trust in yourself and the ability to react as you need to in any given situation.
Some people might think that this means we don’t correct the horse ever and let them do what they want, not at all. That is not what I am getting at here, but how good is any friendship when one does all the giving and the other does all the taking? Most horses feel intimidated much of the time, as they are trying to find the right answer so they can please you, but what question are you asking? If you have a map for Toronto but you are in Vancouver, you will be lost no matter how well you can read the map. This is the issue with most riders – they are lost in a sea of their own thoughts and demands, with no thought for
what the horse is needing or trying to tell them. We all want to become the centaur, where the horse is our legs and we have seamless communication, but how do we get there?
People have wondered for years how I manage to have such a great relationship with any horse I ride, be it mine or someone else’s. Well it’s because the horse is never afraid of what I might do, or how I might react because I am not concerned with what they do, I am only concerned with how I handle it, my reaction is what dictates the outcome. Horses will always be who they are, regardless of how much we try to change them. In any relationship, is it not best to feel comfortable? You need to feel accepted for who you are and know that the person is there for you no matter what and if you need to cry, laugh or be in a temper, it’s still okay just to be you. The horse needs to feel that way too. If they don’t they are in a constant state of stress and worry, and therefore always anticipating something awful is going to happen. You cannot communicate well when you are stressed, in fact it’s impossible, and you cannot learn either, so now we have an animal that is not listening and is also scared. How do we break through that?
As always you have to be willing to look at the man in the mirror. Think about the problem from the horse’s side of the fence. What’s the history, both immediate and past? How are they feeling after their last ride or schooling session? Are they sore or mentally unstable? What can you do to help the horse?
Always begin your ride with the question: “How can I help you today?” This builds trust on the part of the animal, as then you become a trusted support system instead of a control freak with a constant stream of commands and demands that the horse has no idea how to meet. Is this animal out of balance within its own body and mind? Are they still and unresponsive, hard in the mouth, does their back swing or are they like riding a wooden fence? The question we must always ask is why is this so?
Don’t just accept it but question it and then you will find the answers if you are open minded enough to evaluate not only the horse, but yourself as well.
If you feel unsettled in your own life, you will be unsettled when you ride. When I talk about giving up control, it means giving up control of ANYTHING OUTSIDE OF YOURSELF! So turn that energy inward, work on finding and conquering fear, improving your riding skills, building confidence by riding horses who make you feel safe, really figure out what you want to do with your riding, what satisfies you, find your passion. Answering these questions honestly will allow you find the real questions and solutions that are holding you back. You can conquer frustration as it really is only a lack of understanding – when you don’t understand something, you get frustrated because it makes no sense to you. IF you understand something, you can cope better because you can now wrap your brain around it. The horse is exactly the same. It’s all in how you approach a situation; how you cope with the constant challenges the horses throw at us. The most important challenge is that in order to be with them, we have to become better people, they don’t have to become better horses.
In my life I have had to deal with the “horses from Hell”. Drug addicts off the racetrack, high on things like Lasix and even Cocaine and Heroin. Now there is a challenge for you! These mind bending drugs create an animal full of fear and anger, which hates everything and expects the worst. They trust no one. In an instant they can turn on you, as their fear is so great, it overpowers conscious reasoning. These animals became my greatest teachers, for to deal with them on a daily basis and survive; I had to tune in to my own emotion, so I could hear the silent language of the horse. I felt the energy change in time to move out of the way before that hind leg slammed the wall. Can you feel that subtle change? If not then you need to practice that. Be quiet, still your breathing, slow your heart rate and really get inside your own body. We have to be willing to recognize our own emotions before we can deal with the emotions of the horse. This is a key point. Our brain fires like this: The horse does something – anything, and in that split second before we react, we have attached a meaning to what the horse did.
The meaning then creates our emotional response. Let’s look at this from the horse’s point of view. When working with racehorses off the track in Jamaica, I noticed that every time I approached and raised my left leg to mount, the horses would jump away terrified. I wondered why until one day I saw the grooms at the track kick the horse in the gut. Then it made sense! The horses were conditioned to believe that a raised leg meant pain, whereas my raised leg meant I would like to mount please. Instead of getting angry with the horse for his beliefs, I just took my time and got them used to it gradually.
This is what I mean about giving up control to gain control. Don’t take it personally. The horse is being honest about how he is feeling. If a child comes to you crying because they are hurt and scared, do you beat them? No. But we do this to our horses on a regular basis and call it training. Those who use devices like degogues, chambons, tie downs, draw reins and sidereins are training out of fear still. There is no need for devices when you know the only thing you can control is yourself. Rather than reacting with force – and there is a difference between force and discipline – you can now take a breath, evaluate the situation, think about it and then create a better response. Of course I won’t allow a horse to run me over or hurt me in any way, and sometimes you do have to have split second reactions when dealing with a large animal whose responses are 7 times faster than your own, but mostly they are The biggest thing we have to control is our own emotional response, not the horse. Once we can do that, we regain our control of the situation, and the horse is grateful, because now the pressure is off them. They can relax and just be a horse, knowing all is well. Is that not a place we all seek to be? In our own lives as well – we all seek peace, freedom to be who we are and acceptance. Why not start with giving that back to your horse, and then seeking to discover what that means to you? In order to do this we have to ask a lot of questions. The secret is not in the answer, it’s about asking the right question.
Then the answers become clear. If we ourselves are trapped in our past of abuse, violence, lack of safety, fear of injury, fear of what others think, then we are prisoners in our own mind. We keep running down foxholes that lead nowhere and we get frustrated. In order to get clarity, we must clean out the garbage in our own minds, as the horse cannot possibly understand us if we don’t understand ourselves. We are not defined by the car we drive, the salary we make, or the job we do. We came into this world with nothing, and we will leave with nothing,, but what difference can we make while we are here? Asking the age old questions “did I live, did I love and did I matter”, is where those answers lie.
The journey with horses teaches us great life lessons, but we have to be open to seeing them as our mentors, instead of our slaves. We attract the horse that we need, not the horse we want. Every animal I have interacted with has taught me something about myself I did not know, and the journey continues to be fascinating and adventurous.
When you are with your horse, think about what lesson you can learn today, not about what you can MAKE the horse do. See what happens when you ask instead. This changes the energy exchange from a negative experience to a positive one and the difference will soon show up in your horse’s change in attitude. As their fear is reduced, it is replaced with trust. This is what we are all after, is the relationship with our horse, but we are the conductor in this orchestra – we are in charge of the outcome because of our reactions. The horse is always a horse, always the same, never changing and authentic. Humans?? Not always so. This is another great the lesson from the herd.