Humans can be such dullish boors to horses. Not that we would ever actually admit that.
Some of us need to pad our confidence by controlling horses, we take the loud and obnoxious path. We act like training aids give us a moral advantage and love to recite theories about herd dominance that were junk science in the first place. We’re aggressive and loud, mimicking other cultures through history, more interested in techniques than personality. Stoic horses might tolerate our noise and rattle by shutting down, which we confuse for training. The horses aren’t stoic, might get tossed like trash.
Some of us love horses so much that we clutch and cling, holding onto them as if they’re childhood teddy bears. We don’t ask for much under saddle, because we want to be kind but end up being boring. Then we press ourselves into them, stare into their eyes from an inch away, coo and mash, our hands gripping their faces. Many times, the horses have their eyes closed and we imagine that it’s a sign of peaceful commitment, that they love us back. We conveniently forget that narrowing or closing eyes is a calming signal.
These are generalizations, no offense intended. Sometimes an extreme example gives some space to not feel defensive, knowing we aren’t pink-faced monsters, and allows a different view of a way to find the middle path on the training continuum.
There’s a problem with training too hard or too soft. We’re still boring to horses. Too often it’s all about us. We have a plan and it doesn’t matter if our horse understands it. We only see what we want to see, and anthropomorphize their answers. We chant either mantra: Horses want strong leadership. Horses want love.
These are opinions of course. We’re talking about theories and feelings that keep our self-aware minds as busy as rats on wheels, instead of actually being engaged in the moment, having a spontaneous conversation. We’re talking about our horses behind their backs, instead of including them. We use training to shut horses down, filling in their half of the dialog instead of listening to their calming signals, as clear and blunt as nouns and verbs. We humans like control, so we answer for them in the soul-killing way that we might do with children. We don’t trust horses to be intelligent enough to hold their own as partners. And then the other problem with a partner is they get a say in what happens.
Beyond our noise and chatter, the horse’s opinion should matter more than what we want to think they think. How to find the middle path of communication with a horse, without too much pressure or cajoling? Without forcing them with harsh training aids or watching them prefer grazing to you? (Ouch!)
Can we train in such a way that our horses become engaged and willing partners?
Consider your approach to training in terms of teaching kids; Is every work session like that walk of dread to the principal’s office? Are you the boring study-hall teacher who phones it in, thinking students waste his precious time? Or the history teacher who was so boring you couldn’t even try to listen, a real loss because history is fascinating. Or are you the science teacher who blows things up unexpectedly from time to time?
Maybe there was a special teacher who you thought understood you. Maybe they stood up for you and you wanted to be worthy of their opinion of you. I can’t think of horse training without remembering Mrs. LaBelle and Miss Bean. In our lexicon, they worked with rescue, kids like me who needed someone to notice them, or maybe they managed to make everyone feel that special. I want to be that kind of trainer.
Learning is as much an art as a technical endeavor. As a trainer, working a horse or in lessons, I have a lesson plan, a goal I’m headed toward. Then I let the session unfold. Work becomes play when we inspire curiosity, so I make myself mysterious and interesting to the horse. I trust his intelligence and don’t dumb down the conversation with aids, positive or negative.
Most of all, I never forget that horses live in the moment. Prey animals all do, at every instant, their senses are more acute than mine. Better vision, smell, feel- all around better situational awareness. I can make a choice to not correct them, not scare them into a flight (sympathetic nervous system) response or “calm” them into a dull stupor (sympathetic nervous system, flip side.) I want to engage his intellect and inquisitiveness.
How to be interesting and mysterious to a horse:
- Wait and breathe. It’s nearly inconceivable to a horse that we wouldn’t start by ordering them around. Take a moment to let them know you are different. Build trust with your peace and silence.
- Draw his mind to you by being present and positive. It takes energy but smile, breathe happy air. Let your body say more than your lips. Become a horse oasis.
- Be the clever creative the sort of person who is interesting to hang with. Clever enough to direct positive response rather than destroy his confidence with correction.
- Stay consistently engaged; do the unexpected. Tack up and don’t ride. Do dressage out on the trail. Give him all the control in an arena; lead from behind and let him take you for a walk. Ride in a neck-ring and don’t care where you go.
- Stay engaged continually, you’ll need to re-energize. Breath works.
- Inspire a horse’s curiosity because curiosity is courage.
- Inspire a horse by giving him time to reason things out, let him find the confidence in his own capabilities.
- Inspire a horse by being so positive that they want to work with you by choice.
- Trust your breath is the largest cue possible. Really. Don’t let your eyes glaze over when you read the word… cue yourself to be enthusiastic about breathing. In other words, do something challenging to yourself.
Affirmative training means you are the affirmative one. You say yes. Be constantly aware that it isn’t so much the type of technique that you train, but the attitude you hold. Math is spellbinding if approached with enthusiasm and love. Literature can feel like a ridiculous waste of time if taught by a teacher who can’t relate it to our experiences. And a mounting block can be a place of wonder and trust.
It should be our goal to be the kind of teacher/leader that horses are drawn to. It takes consistent energy and commitment on our side. Less correction, more direction. With breath and a positive energy, use self-discipline to be fun and stay interesting. We can encourage confidence and inspire our horses. We can be the treat.
35 thoughts on “How to be Interesting and Mysterious”
One of my favourite posts ever!
I just LOVE reading your stuff Anna. Reminders of how I want / need to be around my horses. Still waiting on the rest of your Blog in Pyjamas 🙂
Thanks, Sally… the travelblog is simmering.
Let me know, thanks!
Well, breathing of course.
Yesterday in writing! Brilliant, thanks again, Anna!
Thanks, Prue… Exactly.
Another one to savor and I know I’ll need to refer back to again. Those last two paragraphs make a wonderful summary of the concepts I’m learning here and trying to incorporate on a daily basis. Thank you!
“Be a horse oasis”…boy, that’s a fabulous line!!! I had an “AHA” moment today. I am learning how to be “in the moment” and I love it. No rushing to get tacked up, into the ring, working…just learning how to “chill”. My horse is with me in ways I never dreamed possible. We stand and breathe and it’s just perfect…today I rode my mare for the first time since July after having read this post. It’s wonderful advice…and it works!! Thanks so much for your wisdom.
Sounds wonderful, Barb. Good for you, so glad you had good results.
I want this in every interaction I have (my fantasy). Horses deserve this.
On Fri, Oct 19, 2018, 9:16 AM Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog wrote:
> Anna Blake posted: ” Humans can be such dullish boors to horses. Not that > we would ever actually admit that. Some of us need to pad our confidence by > controlling horses, we take the loud and obnoxious path. We act like > training aids give us a moral advantage ” >
Indeed, easier with horses, though. Thanks, Wendy.
As an older woman who came to horses late, I eat up all your words, Anna. You are awe-inspiring! I am so excited to be coming to your December clinic in Benson, AZ. Can’t wait!???
THanks, Barb. Looking forward to Benson!
This is a great concept. As always you opened the door to a new way of looking at the horse human relationship.
Thanks, Anne. I do like this analogy… 🙂
Fabulous post! Wish more people understood that it’s about developing a relationship, not just following training formulas. Have done all the things you list, but particularly like giving them the chance to determine what they want to do. Have had horses indicate they’d like to jump, on a day I planned flat work … or indicated they’d like to go up the road on a day I planned arena work. Nothing to lose in letting them have a voice, and everything to gain!
I agree, Lia. It’s a confidence builder for them, in ways we don’t understand… Thanks.
Wow. Thank you for this article. “We should be the kind of leader our horses are drawn to”. This is how I think about when I interact with my horse. I try to be unpredictable in a kind way to keep him curious so that he wants to be with me as much as I want to be with him. Thank you.
Exactly. We should be brilliant conversationalists… Thanks, Mary.
I read your blogs and go out into the fields, just to be in the same space and breathing the same air as my horse.
My hands have devolved to the point that I no longer have enough finger length to wrap around or hold many tools, so holding a pitchfork or rake is no longer possible. Then there’s my balance. ::sigh:: But I go out with my walker several times a week, and sit and visit my herd of 4. I think about your writings, once even taking a printout of one to read to them. And kleenex. We breathe in each other’s noses, they rub their lips on my head, or just stand with head next to me, hind leg cocked and commune.
Communing still counts, maybe more than most things. Thank you for sharing, it’s bittersweet, but the sweet is the best part. Best wishes.
and returned, Janneke.
This post! This one post has just shifted my entire thinking. Oh my gosh, thank you a thousand times Anna!
Yes, would so love my horses to want to work with me and be inspired , not yet sure how to get there. But doing best to share space and go on Apple finding expeditions . Today my young filly lay down at my feet, it was so special – until her sister threatened to kick her and she got up ?
I think playing hard to get is an interesting approach, too. Thanks, Julie.
Good Morning, Anna-
I just spent 3 days at a clinic with Sharon Wilsie. You two should talk 🙂