The ultimate togetherness with our horse is that we don’t need any tools to make ourselves safe or to be better understood.
That we don’t need something to point or reach or explain because we are so synchronised in our minds that such things are unnecessary any more.
The reality is that our horses are affected by our Not Quite Rights, anxieties, fears and our overall need to be and feel safe as much as we are affected by theirs.
So whatever tools we use to help us be and feel safe are entirely appropriate and indeed, necessary.
Our job is to make sure that those tools cause neither pain, fear nor anxiety.
Because fear and anxiety that our horse cannot act upon is CUMULATIVE.
And if our horse cannot act upon their fear and anxiety about a tool that we use, to keep themselves feeling safe, THIS ADVERSELY AFFECTS THEIR SELF CARRIAGE…
…and will adversely affect your ability to fast track brilliant riding together as one being.
And remember that it’s the horse’s perception of feeling safe that we’re talking about here, not ours, and it needs attention even if it doesn’t make sense to us.
For those of you who are riding your horse while doing these lessons, check for any Not Quite Rights about ALL your tools – on the ground AND in the saddle – and take action on them. I promise you it will be worth it!
You may wish to review these related lessons:
Written Version of the Audio
Whether you use a reed or a stick or even a lunging whip (gosh the word whip has terrible old feelings about it for many us, hey?) or whether you whip your shirt off like I did one day when I didn’t have anything else to use. And crikey did THAT make the neighbours eyes pop out! Just kidding, I am PRETTY sure that no one saw me…
No matter WHAT you use to help explain what you are looking for from your horse, it’s our job to make sure that they are not afraid of it.
For example, I noticed that when I was feeding up, that a new agistment horse was afraid of the stick even when it was just sitting in my hands – Peppi went seriously into his oh shit zone if I so much as waved it gently at someone.
Now that is absolutely not OK with me that I have a horse who is even just a bit anxious about something, let alone so afraid of something that I am using routinely.
I tried various ways of finding a Comfort Zone with it easily – tucking it tight under my arm when I was near him and other things – but none of them worked well enough, so at the end of one feeding session, after every one had finished and wandered off, I started to play with Peppi with the stick, with the intention of helping him find a Comfort Zone about it.
I knew I couldn’t play with it close to him without pushing him into his oh shit zone and I wanted him to be no worse than his Not Too Sure zone when I started to move the stick, so I started a VERY long way away from him.
What I did was I very gently fanned the stick along the ground in front of me ever so casually, not asking anything, just standing there giving it a bit of a swish – BUT I DID THIS AS I BACKED AWAY FROM HIM. I kept fanning the stick, swishing it a little as I backed away, using the backing away to take even more pressure off him, to help him more quickly find a comfort zone again.
When I got far enough away, I stopped swishing, leant on the stick, waited for him to process and then Chew. I finished for the day on that Chew. But YOU can use the opposites of your good feelings and your Not Quite Rights to decide whether it’s OK for you do it a few times in one session or not.
Next feed up, same thing. After feeding and everyone else was grazing again, I used the stick and string, with just a little more energy swishing the stick around this time. This time I let the rope part of the stick actually flop on the ground, slowly and rhythmically, asking nothing of anybody, just walking backwards ever so casually again, talking the pressure off by walking backwards. Then I stopped and waited for The Chew again.
Then on one of the days, maybe the third day? I walked away from him using the stick – then, keeping the same rhythm with the stick moving, I started walking towards him – approaching and retreating – walking towards him and away from him – using my connection to him, my good feelings and Not Quite Rights to know when to move forward and when to move back. Then I stopped again and waited for The Chew.
Throughout all these days working with the stick, Peppi was doing lots of processing like I talked about in the bonus lesson of The Six keys to Happiness with Your Horse, lots of releasing old fears and traumas. But on that last day, he had a huge release, with huge yawns.
Now he has a Comfort Zone with the stick. I can walk up to Peppi dragging the stick behind me or tucked under my arm and say hello. I can even stroke him while it is in my other hand and have that in his Comfort Zone.
But even more importantly than that, his whole body shape changed. His muscles plumped out on places where they had been straight, his spine straightened a bit and his overall sense of well being was dramatically improved.
Peppi is in retirement here and has told us that he is in the process of winding down to leave this earth, so I see no need to take the exercise further and be able to rub him with the stick or anything like that. But if he were a young horse who had a lifetime of interaction ahead of him I would probably do that. I would probably even get a young horse comfortable about using a stick with much higher energy than I used with Peppi too. It’s a good thing to have my horse used to all kinds of high energy before I think about sitting on their back! I don’t want any accidental slipping into the oh shit zone then!
So have a think folks and notice whether there are any tools you are using, whether to play the Mirror Game or at any other time, that need some version of this approach and retreat for your horse to find a comfort zone with them.