You have a plan for your horse and an expectation of how it will go, but it’s taking way too long. It’s a simple task. Maybe you’ve seen someone else do the same thing easily, so you lose confidence. You’re probably doing something wrong. If you were doing it right, your horse would do the task. You know being in a hurry is a mistake, so you go still. You aren’t the sort to get loud and angry, so instead, you get quiet and willful. Check your watch, it’s taking forever. Your horse knows how to do this thing. It could be taking the bit or loading in the trailer or getting over a near-pathological fear of something foolish to be afraid of.
You are determined to take the time it takes and as you stare at him resisting, you barely notice that your jaw is set. Because you can’t pretend you don’t have responsibilities away from horses. Because for as much as you love your horse, you are at a loss. You don’t want to force things but you’re not sure how to improve the situation. You don’t have all day. It’s just the truth and that’s the good news, because more hours in this stalemate isn’t going to help either of you.
Something has to give. Have you considered changing your concept of time? How often is time your enemy? We measure time precisely but that might be an effort to make up for the fact that time is also nebulous. Time is how we label the past, present, and future. Does “in a minute” mean sixty seconds? When is “later” exactly? What is “in good time” because I’m frustrated, and my Merriam-Webster is no help. It says time is a nonspatial continuum.
You share a nonspatial continuum with your horse.
Does that feel different? Do you draw a blank? Your horse softens his poll and thinks that’s an improvement already.
Working with horses will always take as much time as it takes. Each individual horse is a composition of their unique intellect and experience. One technique will not work on all horses because horses are reading at our intent balanced with our anxiety. The old adage is that horses can tell when we’re afraid but horses sense our anxiety might be closer to the truth. Just like a horse tenses when herdmates spook, could your horse be mirroring your anxiety? Does your horse read your angst about time but think it’s frustration with him? Does checking your watch send an unsettling nebulous warning? Does he freeze a bit or act distracted? Is he giving you a calming signal because you are sending conflicting messages, both pleased with his work but anxiously aware you’re late on your schedule?
How did a nonspatial continuum become so alarming? Could time be the invisible thing your horse spooks at? If you had all the time you needed, would you still feel impatient? Try an experiment: Change the idea of time and see what happens.
Four ways to alter time to benefit your horse:
- Prepare ahead. It’s boring and dorky and Type-A but take the time to think through what you need. It takes longer to run back for the things you forgot. Do the same with your mental preparations; avoid needing to stop and start because you don’t have a clear idea about what you want. More important than the details, your horse reads an affirmative message when you are steady. When the work begins on the ground or in the saddle, mentally prepare for each transition ahead. It isn’t fair to expect a good answer if you haven’t set up the opportunity for him to respond calmly.
- Go slow. It’s counter-intuitive but do you notice when tension happens? Is it when you speed up, giving in to impatience? When you look at a horse doing impeccable work, it’s because the task was trained in small pieces, one step at a time. Be satisfied with a good effort. Greed reads as anxiety, too. Instead, make time a gift. Once you make a habit of being steady and consistent, your horse can trust you, so what looked like work becomes play. You are building a lifelong relationship; investing in a solid foundation is worth every second.
- No corrections. Instead of looking at the last thing, judging it poorly, and dragging failure along, just let it go. Prepare better next time and ignore the rest. Don’t let anything kill the rhythm of your body and your horse’s forward movement. Time spent being adversarial toward yourself or your horse, even mentally, is wasted effort.
- Take back control of your time. Don’t let a clock steal you from your horse. Talk less, it’s only chatter in your head distracting you. Let the air be still and time will languish there. Breathe deeply and let your horse answer with his breath. The real conversation starts here. Take five minutes and stretch it out, each second limitless. Have a calm confidence that you both have all you need, perfect right now. Let your horse settle, give him the freedom to reason his answer. Let yourself be peacefully present in each instant, interested in what he has to say. Let this moment become infinite. Hold steady for him now and become his proud legacy for others.
We’ve all lost time with horses. We start grooming and wake up from a circular trance an hour later with soft shoulders, mentally revived. We’ve spent three hours mucking after two horses and come away with a half-full muck cart and a sense of peace. Most of us can look at a photo of a horse and be lifted by his beauty. We are the very definition of a nonspatial continuum. Loving horses is the easiest thing we do. It’s our job to repurpose those timeless moments into our training sessions to benefit the confidence and well-being of our horses. It’s our job to give back in kind and complete the circle.
Anna Blake for Relaxed & Forward
Want more? Visit annablake.com to find over a thousand archived blogs, purchase books, schedule a live consultation or lesson, subscribe for email delivery of this blog, or ask a question about the art and science of working with horses. The Barn, our online training group with video sharing, audio blogs, live-chats with Anna, and the most supportive group of like-minded horsepeople anywhere. Courses and virtual clinics are taught at The Barn School, where I host our infamous Happy Hour. Affirmative training is the fine art of saying yes.