Here’s last week’s Pretending to be a Horse scenario, from the equine point of view, abbreviated for sense-limited humans.
His thought balloon: (hard pavement. head pull, loose gravel. fast car. smell dog-coyotes. she’s distracted. breeze picking up. horses in the pasture on right. head pull. pavement. no dog-coyotes close. she’s distracted. she kicks. pulls and kicks. need a breath. pulls head, she can’t tell she pulls. ignore it. loose gravel. horses coming to share breath. car too close)
Human: Did that man in that car slow down and stare at me? Eeouww.
His thought balloon: (her tense seat. hard pull. feel confused. she’s distracted. need to balance. good, horses trotting now. kicks. welcome, herd. she’s not breathing. yay, herd. she flinched. jerked. ouch. metal on bone. no escape. ouch. can’t move. must move. no air, can’t please her. jerked harder. dog-coyotes. held hard, pain. wind. can’t breathe. must breathe.)
I’m not proud of my 14-year-old self in this ride, but I’m still responsible for causing him to bolt. I punished him for my fear.
People frequently say that their horse just came apart for no good reason. It isn’t true. Their horse came apart for a long list of good reasons that the rider either didn’t sense or decided to ignore. When we think they’re distracted, the truth is that we’re finally noticing something they have been following. Humans, having senses that are so much less acute than horses, are perpetually behind. It’s like we are forever coming into the movie halfway through yet pretending we know how it ends. Because we’re leaders.
We must remind ourselves a horse’s senses are better than ours every minute. While we’re busy daydreaming, or planning our day, or thinking we’re training them something they probably know already, horses are busy being aware of their environment. They are flight animals every moment. Survival depends on it, even in an arena.
It isn’t convenient for our agenda. We want them to think what we think. We want cotton in their ears, blinders for their eyes, and the loyalty of a Labrador. We want blind trust from horses who know we are blind, comparatively.
Some of us have been taught that if we cue him loud enough, it will drown out everything else. It’s like teaching a horse to trust that we’ll make a bad situation worse. Adversity always makes everything worse.
But you can create a bubble, a safe place for you and your horse where breathing happens with a life-affirming regularity. It’s a place where leadership means safety and peace, where we both abide in the present moment.
Start now. Learn to love your horse’s awareness. Accept this fundamental truth and instead of fighting it, find a way to partner with it. Recognize their intellect; people always tell me that their horse is really smart as if it’s a special gift. All horses are that smart, we need to catch up.
Recipe for a Bubble. Step one: Just notice.
Instead of looking at him, look out from him. Stand out of his space, quiet your mind. Breathe. No corrections, no opinions, notice his breath. Match it. Notice what he looks at. Breathe with him. Hold your tongue. Notice the world through his eyes. Let that be enough.
Do you think you should be training something? Good. Start with yourself.
A huge part of the problem we have around horses is a lack of awareness of our own physical reality.
Notice what’s going on around you. Look at the small things in the big view. Use your peripheral vision. What do you smell; is there a breeze? Close your eyes. Is the ground level? Notice. Do you feel anxiety? Breathe. Open your eyes, you’re fine.
Let your horse take you for a walk. Let the lead rope be slack, stand behind his drive line or girth area, and let him lead. It’s easy to say we put our horses first but let him literally be there. Follow him into the present. This is where the bubble can exist.
Rest in awareness, in the calm recognition that the world is just fine. That your horse will help you stay present. Clear your mind, be true to your intention. Use your senses. Don’t think you know what he always does, notice who he is today. Be fresh. Do you listen to him or an inside dialog of your own? Can you perceive without judgment? Now notice the difference between what he actually thinks and what you’d like him to think.
Does he stop to graze? Is it possible that the grazing is a calming signal, not a disobedience? Does your presence distract him? Just notice.
Learning to connect with horses in the present takes mental focus. Notice that. Your brain might be out of shape. It’s a kind of meditation and for over-thinking humans, it takes a herculean effort to do less; patience is required. Start with two minutes, walk and breathe. Work up to five minutes. Be kind to yourself if you feel like a fidgeting kid in math class. Show yourself tolerance and give your horse a nod. He’s doing his best when you see yourself through his eyes.
Say thank you, it’s been a good start on the bubble. Head back to the barn. Strolling along, maybe someone calls you from the house. Or maybe you board your horse and you run into a friend on the way to his pen. So you stop and talk. And talk some more. You gesture with the hand holding the lead rope. You talk. Blah, blah, blah.
His thought balloon: (she’s gone. she abandoned me. go to the herd. need to eat.)
So, your horse starts fidgeting. Right about now, you notice what you aren’t noticing. That’s good. This is learning how easy it is to lose focus at the first bright-shiny-thing. How can you be a partner in the saddle when it’s this easy to lose focus? And fear isn’t even a factor!
Does talking to others teach horses to not listen to us, as we abandon them in favor of human conversation? How about putting your horse first? Value your shared work by making him the priority. Put him up, releasing him with gratitude. You have the rest of the day to overthink and chatter on.
We’ll build the bubble by pretending to be horses. If you want your horse’s attention, you might have some work to earn it.