Small changes daily are the way to go in life and in training horses. Take it slow, there is no hurry, all will happen in time, the right time. This will eliminate stress both in your own life, and in the life of your horse. Allow time for the information to be assimilated and put to good use Don’t rush! In this modern life we are all in such a hurry – going to work, getting home from work, getting the kids to school, taking them to swimming lessons etc., We put a lot of pressure on ourselves every day forgetting that life is a journey and there is no button to fast forward experience. Breathe. Take one day at a time. Enjoy the process. Realize that everything is unfolding as it should and that our path is not always clear or determined by us. Learn to live with what life throws you and seize opportunities when they arise. The same goes for the training of your horse. Accept and glorify small changes, for they are a big deal to the horse. A full circle in balance under the weight of a rider is a huge deal. So is learning not to spook at traffic. Praise and edify your horse’s efforts to cope with a man made world that is a very far cry from their own natural life and way of living. We have created a false life for them, living in solitude, something they were never born to do. Why do we give them a hard time when they rebel against our confinements? It’s not their fault. We need to learn tolerance and acceptance, as they tolerate and accept us. Give the horse validation for their emotion without punishing them for having feelings. They are after all, a sentient being. Be easier on yourself in your own life too; realize that things take time to evolve. When training a horse, every other day is better than every day. As a good friend of mine and Olympic 3 Day event rider once said to me years ago: “20 minutes of good work is better than an hour and a half of poor work”. I have lived by that premise for a very long time, and it has shown itself to be true more than once. I have learned to back off when other trainers push, sometimes with disastrous results. Horses don’t respond well to pressure, neither do humans. Remember – a challenge is different to pressure. A challenge is a question: “why don’t you try this?” Pressure is: “You must do this now because I say so”. How would we feel if our boss was like that? I’m sure you wouldn’t last long at that job, as the pressure would make you dread going to work every day fearing what is coming, or what can go wrong that day. The horse feels the same way as you. Many of them dread being ridden, and fear the consequences if they don’t please the rider – but they have no idea really what the rider wants. Much of it makes no sense to a horse at all. We have to change our approach and seek a better way of communication, something that makes sense to the horse. If you can achieve that, then you build trust very quickly, without it – the trust disappears just as quickly. A horse under pressure is never relaxed, therefore the movement is choppy and restrained. Strides are shorter, tails are ringing, ears are pinned and they are often hard to stop. Horses that are challenged are eager to work, softer to ride and more accepting of change, as it does not come with punishment, but with praise instead for an honest effort. How would your world change if you got praise for your effort instead of criticism? Imagine that. How would it change the way you feel about your job, your boss and your co-workers? I bet it would make a huge difference. It would rock your world. The same is true for the horse. If you can set them up for success instead of failure – wow!! If they felt that their efforts were recognized instead of criticized – how would that change your experience of riding? Your frustration would disappear for sure because the pressure is off. Achievement does not have to come from a high pressure situation. If the horse is happy to work for you, you don’t have to push so hard. The reason is that anything that comes from stress is never good. A top Olympic runner cannot win a race if they are tense, only if they are relaxed and feeling every stride with perfect ease, flow, breath and rhythm. And so it is with the horse. A beautiful mover can be totally ruined by stress, and we see it all the time. The evidence is there in all the lame horses that now have to be given high doses of pain killers and anti-inflammatories to be able to compete, and suddenly they disappear to be seen no more. Their soundness has been sacrificed for the sake of competition. Is this fair? The way to succeed in life and the training of horses is to lay a solid foundation, one stone at a time and build it carefully so your walls don’t cave is as the building gets bigger. Good solid basics in the horse’s training and an attention to fitness and happiness are the keys to success. Soundness means a sound mind as well as a sound body. You can’t have one without the other. So plan carefully and think things through both with life and with the training of your horse. Be a person who asks the question: “am I asking too much too soon?” Above all enjoy the process, for learning should be your destination, not just getting to the goal. After all at the end of our lives we all want to know the answers to the same 3 questions: “Did I love? Did I live? Did I matter?” What will your answer be? What will your horse think? Namaste.
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