I have helped a lot of people with their horses over the last 30 years and most of my work emphasizes retraining the human. Horses pick up on what’s expected of them once they are spoken to in a language they understand, a language that takes into consideration their side of the conversation. So, when I assist in the retraining of a horse, it means that I am introducing her to a new owner, a new partner, a new LEADER. Unless the leader speaks the language of equus, their time together will undoubtedly be filled with confusion, withdrawing and avoidance resistance and defensiveness, and sometimes even dangerous, physical threats from both parties.
It is important to know and understand three things about a relationship with horses: 1) they are social creatures and therefore survival of the herd depends on each horse taking responsibility for his/her actions and role within the group. Each individual horse counts on consistent behavior of the other members to maintain stable relationships with each other. At all times, the horse herd and its individuals are involved in a cooperative effort towards a common goal-survival! Mutual trust is the underlying foundation of the horse herd. Horses trust and respect their lead stallion and mares to provide for the protection and survival of the herd.
2) there are as many individual personalities of horses as there are people. There are personalities that are more concerned with safety and rely on movement to relieve the pressure of their environment or there are personalities whose behavior relies less on movement and more on pushing from the front end, the so called dominant personality. Both categories have overlap and express themselves with high or low energy. For all personalities, there is a hierarchy of needs that balances their existence both individually and as a member of the herd: Safety, comfort, play and food. No matter what the personality, horses instinctively remain attentive to what is happening around them. They are always focused, living in the present moment and unconcerned about yesterday’s squabbles or tomorrow’s challenges. Horses learn all of the time, all their lives, in order to survive in their ever-changing environments.Horses face each challenge as it comes to them and learns in their own way, based on personality and temperament. A leader in the herd knows that behavior that is rewarded is behavior that gets repeated.
3) Horses communicate non-verbally and are experts at reading body language, posture, subtle movement and intention. Every movement, sound or gesture that a horse makes has a clear meaning…to another horse or living creature that understands his language. Horses never lie. They can’t! Instead,their energy is focused on actions and intentions. Horses don’t do anything for NO REASON, and anticipate a positive outcome from every action.
It seems simple to point out just 3 things to remember in your interactions with the horse, but I’ve found that my actions with them reflect immediately, a complex but consistent approach to every day situations and have led me to my own recent “retraining”.
I have learned that how I treat others builds trust and respect, even during the smallest interactions, including the words I use in a quick text or email or the posture I use when I express myself. I practice speaking about everyone with respect, including myself, my friends and family, and my clients,both in public and in private. I try to refrain from engaging in, encouraging or listening to sarcasm or gossip. It’s tough in the world of social media and constant postings about this person or that group.
Horses have taught me that I am personally accountable for the actions and outcomes that occur every day. I am learning to have an attitude of responsibility for everything in my work and my life and to not shift blame to others. I can’t change how others react or behave, but I can control my attitude and my reaction and take initiative when something needs to get done. I have found that to be the reason that others trust me when I tell them I will do something for them at a particular day and time. I am also practicing being consistent and fair in how I treat others, no matter their personality or temperament. My recent experience teaching autistic children to ride has been an incredible eye opener. There were children who had a hard time controlling their impatience or anxiety and others who couldn’t easily communicate their needs. I began seeing a lot of the same behaviors in my horses. This was an honest expression of WHO THEY WERE. I realize now that under all of the defenses that “normal” people use to cover up their true self, there is a someone who struggles just like me.
I’ll be honest-this retraining stuff is HARD! It means that you have to look for solutions instead of complaining about the problem and it means you have to take a real hard look at yourself and be honest about how you’ve reacted to situations in the past, how you’ve treated others and how you are treating yourself. It means learning new habits, paying attention to what triggers the old and keeping your head about you when you want to go back into the constant negative self talk that got you into trouble in the first place. I love that horses don’t spend time in constant “head chatter”. I know it means that they can’t do a lot of the higher level brain functions that we do, but it’s clear to me now that most of that functioning gets overshadowed by the mindlessness of our moment to moment mental spinning.
When you discover, like I did that there is a lot in life that is not working, then it’s time to make a change-go for a NEW course of action. I am now in retraining full time, meaning I am actively engaged in a program of personal growth-I read, I write, I watch videos, attend workshops. I talk to others who are spending the time and energy to be their best self and I’m listening to the greatest teacher, trainer of them all-the horse!