This is possibly one of the most underrated lessons in the course.
You already know that helping your horse release any old resistances and anxieties is going to help your riding hugely – I have explained it often enough and you haven’t heard the end of it even now. 🙂
This lesson is very useful for releasing those resistances and anxieties. And because you are going to rub your horse all over AT LIBERTY before you put the halter on, you really get to learn to listen to those early warning signals that something is Not Quite Right and learn to back off before your horse walks away.
So you are going to really fine tune your listening to AND TAKING ACTION on Not Quite Right – with the goal being to have your horse WILLING to be touched all over too. Sometimes this task will happen in layers, so don’t get hooked up on “it has to happen NOW”. For some horses, they have to be prepared to be vulnerable to work on deep layers of old crap and that takes a deep confidence in you that may not be there yet this early in your program.
Just sit with that last paragraph for a minute because it’s a biggie…
There’s a Lesson in Oliver’s Diary about an enormous breakthrough that Oliver made to be the giant teddy bear that he is today, that is very relevant to this subject of “they have to have enough confidence in us to be willing to be vulnerable”. It’s the bandaging lesson that’s coming up later in the program. Keep your eye out for it. It’s also in the forum against this lesson.
In this lesson, we are introducing inner awareness, listening inside yourself, into your horse work and starting to fine tune Not Quite Right to be anything that DOESN’T feel good. It is just a more refined sense of what is Not Quite Right with you and your horse. Enjoy!
It took me a while to get the hang of listening inside myself when I was working with my horse – it’s a “practice makes perfect” thing. If you get impatient and “I want my Feel NOW!” then take advantage of all the support that you have in your course here. Come in live on a monthly seminar and take the opportunity to get your Feel with less effort and more auto pilot. Or if you can’t come in live, ask for what you need and I’ll do my best to have it waiting for you on a recording. 🙂 There’s also private sessions with me or with our brilliant staff available too.
Here’s a bunch of reasons that you want to be able to do the practical side of this lesson:
1. You don’t want to find out that you can’t touch that spot comfortably while you’re on their back – specially if that means a big reaction!
2. So that any medical or first aid procedures ever necessary are much less traumatic for your horse.
3. Comfort in your horse’s legs being touched is the first baby step for picking feet up happily.
4. And most importantly, if you cannot touch your horse all over (apart from ticklish spots that simply annoy them mildly if touched the wrong way), then there is a part of their mind in the “do not touch” state as well.
I have done this Lesson as an audio file so that you can download it to your mobile device and take it out to your horse.
Click here for an alternate audio (To download, right click and save.)
Here is a video of my sister, a brand new beginner rider at 57 years old, grooming my horse Bobby because as you will remember from this lesson about your posture, posture will have an impact on how pleasant your touch is to your horse in this rubbing your horse all over exercise.
Watch on youtube if you need to.
Written Version of the Audio
When you can walk up to your horse and say the horse hello and have both of you enjoying the experience, then you’re ready for this next task.
Scan yourself briefly from head to toe, noticing how you feel inside yourself. Notice any aches and pains, notice any feelings.
If your mind is busy, then notice your breathing and how the different parts of your body move as you are breathing.
You can even listen for your own heartbeat or feel for the tiny feelings of energy moving through your body – that will quieten your mind.
Now keep feeling that same listening-inside-yourself feeling as happens when you are scanning yourself and look at your horse and notice anything that changes in your own body. Notice what your horse looks like as they’re standing there relaxed at liberty beside you – notice their eyes, their ears, their breathing, their mouth, the way they’re standing, even notice their body shape.
Spend some happy time just standing there, connected and enjoying that connection. Look for a feeling of contentment or peacefulness that will let you know that your horse is in their Comfort Zone.
Then think about rubbing this horse all over with your hand. Do you feel any uneasiness at that thought?
If there is uneasiness at even the thought, then here are some options for action:
You can take a few steps backwards and wait for The Chew – just from the thought. Sometimes the uneasiness that you feel – the Not Quite Right is your horse’s and you backing off and waiting for The Chew will release something for them and we already know that releasing stuff is a very good deal.
Or you can do this exercise with a nice solid, smooth stick that you can put some pressure behind and get a really good happy scratch that will keep you safe from further away. About 4 feet long would probably be about right.
If you’re working with a stick you need to have your horse in their Comfort Zone with you walking up with the stick before you do anything else with it. You might need to re-do the walking up to your horse lesson with the stick first.
You’re going to see if you can rub your horse on their neck in three or four big firm, rhythmic sweeping circles. With inner awareness, listening inside yourself AND in good posture AND rotating your whole body for the strokes – backing off and waiting for The Chew any time you are NOT feeling that lovely contented, peaceful, enjoyable feeling.
Because if you are not in that lovely enjoyable feeling then you ARE experiencing the very early warning signal that something is Not Quite Right – because your touch should be pleasant and enjoyable for your horse.
So, any time you have a feeling of Not Quite Right stop, even back away a few steps and wait for The Chew. You can watch out for any changes at all in the look in their eye but the Not Quite Right feeling will usually come BEFORE you notice any physical changes in your horse.
Some really generous horses will just go blank in the eye when they leave their Comfort Zone – it’s like they block you out or go “off with the fairies”. I have a horse whose bottom eye lid flickers when he leaves his Comfort Zone and another who looks away without physically leaving.
And notice what thoughts and ideas were you having as your horse chewed? Any at all? The Chew is the physical signal of shared communication. A signal that you have heard them, that you’ve understood them, also that they have understood you – as well as the signal that they’ve finished processing and that they are ready to move on.
So if your horse chewed quite quickly, there was nothing to release. If it took a long time, then there was. And of course, that is the “make like father Christmas” gift that you give your horse – waiting for however long it takes for The Chew if they are releasing some old trauma or pattern of resistance.
Do exactly the same thing again as many times as you have to, to establish a Comfort Zone for your horse in just being touched on the neck.
You can even take a break for a while if it was a really big deal and you had to wait a long time for The Chew and they did a lot of processing. When you’ve established a Comfort Zone rubbing firmly but gently on the neck, with hand or stick, then you can use that as a “Comfort Zone Base” to come back to when they leave their Comfort Zone on some other place on their body.
Now you can work your way around their whole body, slowly and very importantly, rhythmically. I like to work in slow sweeping circles of my hand that go in the same direction as the hair growth. With a stick, I like to find a pleasurable scratching spot and work outwards from there. Again holding inner awareness AND being in good posture AND rotating your whole body for the strokes like you have already learned.
Sweep your hand in nice big, slow circles expanding from the neck to shoulder, to the body, to the hind end. Rub their belly, around the girth area, down their legs. I know some people doing this Lesson are having trouble with horses picking feet up. Being able to rub the legs in a way that is comfortable for the horse is the first and very necessary baby step before you move on to starting to pick the feet up. Go back to the neck every couple of circles as they get more and more enjoyment out of what you are doing.
Later on if you want, you can go further and rub inside their mouth (preparing them for the dentist or a drench) and into the tips of their ears, up into the groin and under the tail (in case you have to take their temperature). But for now I’m not looking for anything fancy, just a nice big sweeping rub from just behind the ears to the tail and down the legs.
Pay attention to every feeling, every thought, every knowing, every pain or visual signal of Not Quite Right that you have – or see – that means that they are out of their Comfort Zone.
Each time you find a place where they are out of their Comfort Zone, go back to the neck if you can and rub for a couple of circles then stop and wait for The Chew no matter how long it takes. Some of you will have to actually step away to help your horse find their Comfort Zone.
This method is a significant advance on, and works much faster, than the method known as approach and retreat and has a hugely better feel to it than desensitisation that we talked about in Lesson 25. By stopping and waiting for The Chew you are giving your horse the opportunity to release any resistance or trauma about being touched.
Work with your horse until rubbing all over their body, on both sides, is in their Comfort Zone.
If you needed a stick to feel comfortable and safe, then repeat this Lesson as many times on as many days as you need to, with the stick and then start again at the beginning and do it with your hands.
This is an important point. If your horse takes a long time to chew, does a big, long processing – releasing of a trauma – then it is most likely that they’re not going to be up to doing anything else for at least a little while. They’ll likely be emotionally exhausted and needing to rest.
Take a good break or you may even be better off to walk away and come back tomorrow.
Pay attention to what it feels like as you walk away – that might be your horse’s bubbles of joy that you’re starting to feel!
Enjoy this and remember this is not a task to be done – it is supposed to be a pleasure for both of you.