When we describe how we want our horse to be and behave, we usually use words like calm, confident and relaxed. Most of us want our horse to be our best friend and a willing, happy partner like Oz is in the photo.
But HOW is the big question.
HOW do we get a tense horse – like Oz in the pic above used to be – to be calm, confident and relaxed, able to learn new things happily and focus on the job AND look out for us at the same time?
Fine tuning your use of the Comfort Zone Model and applying it in every aspect of their life with the Feel that is central to the way we work here, will give you the ability to create a whole new idea of what’s REALLY possible with a horse.
And help you to create a bond with your horse that will quite simply melt your heart.
Cartoon of Joe (that’s the same Joe featured in the Key to the Kingdom video) is by the talented cartoonist Kim Wong, who stayed with us here as a wwoof”er a few years ago. (Never heard of wwoofers? Willing Workers On Organic Farms, fabulous farming program.)
There’s a written version below.
If you have trouble playing the video on my website, click here and watch it on Youtube instead.
The Comfort Zone and its relationship to Feel
It’s difficult to HAVE Feel without paying attention to you and your horse’s Comfort Zone.
You’ll be hearing a lot about the metaphor of the loud vacuum cleaner sound, that drowns out the noise of the telephone ringing. When you’re in the tension of the Not Too Sure Zone for too long and the mindless fear reactions of the Oh Shit Zone – that’s the sound of the vacuum cleaner going so loud that you can’t hear the phone ringing. Either you and / or your horse being in the Not Too Sure Zone for too long or in the Oh Shit Zone regularly, risks drowning out the sensitivity of your Feel. Makes sense?
Start by observing and noticing the Comfort Zone Model in everything that you do with your horse. What zone are they in? How can you support them back to their Comfort Zone? We’ve got lessons coming later that will have you thinking more about HOW you can do that with Feel and more about WHY you want to be doing that too…
Written Version of the Video
The most important job you will have with your horse from now on, is to notice when your horse is afraid AND TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT to help your horse to feel safe and because of the way you feel your connection to your horse, your own feelings of safety will depend on it.
It doesn’t matter that you don’t understand how they could be afraid of this thing, it doesn’t matter if you think their fear is irrational – it only matters that you do whatever action it takes to help them feel safe.
Here’s a diagram of the Comfort Zone Model that will help you to understand how to do that. I got this from a gifted Tasmanian horseman called Philip Nye.
Towards the centre of the circle is the comfort zone. The comfort zone is where your horse feels comfortable and relaxed – where everything is familiar and feels good and learning takes place easily in the comfort zone.
This narrow band outside the comfort zone is what we call the Not Too Sure Zone. In the Not Too Sure Zone, your horse feels a bit of tension, even a slight anxiety.
The oh shit I’m dead zone, from now on known as the Oh Shit Zone, kind of speaks for itself. I think every horse rider knows this feeling. It’s a place where our horse cannot think, they can only react with survival reactions many of which are not useful to us as riders and some of which are downright dangerous.
Spending too much time in the tension of the Not Too Sure and flipping out far too often into the fear reactions of the Oh Shit Zones is the reason that so many people think that horses are dumb creatures of routine and habit – when in fact they are amazing, thinking, responsive, co-operative beings when they are not afraid.
Us humans aren’t too smart in our Oh Shit Zones either!
Phil used to say that working mostly in the Comfort Zone and spending no longer than two minutes in the Not Too Sure Zone was a good learning program, but he is a seriously gifted horseman.
If you have a happy relaxed horse learning something new, then no longer than two minutes in the Not Too Sure Zone can work. LONGER than two minutes in the Not Too Sure Zone is a no no. Longer than 2 minutes in the Not Too Sure Zone and we are in danger of creating a HABIT of our horse feeling tense and anxious – even in a relatively relaxed happy horse.
In fact, because nobody ever told us this stuff, it’s a sad fact that MOST horses already have the habit of feeling tense and anxious in many situations that are actually routine in their lives. And it happened because they spent way too long in their Not Too Sure Zone. This chronic tension not only gets in the way of their performance, it adversely affects their ability to carry their bodies freely, causes muscle and joint problems and eventually adversely affects their health.
We can actually RELEASE old tensions from even chronically scared horses, by understanding this model, listening to them in all the ways that I talked about in the Key to the Kingdom of Horses and working their Comfort Zone with connection and sensitivity of Feel. And we’re going to talk more about how to do that in the next lesson.
The practical application of this Comfort Zone Model is that EVERY TIME YOU NOTICE YOUR HORSE IS AFRAID, YOU DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO HELP THEM FIND A COMFORT ZONE AGAIN – ideally in seconds.
You back off, slow down, take the pressure off, change what you are doing, get off, turn around and go back to the paddock, to the field or the barn, go back towards their horse friend – whatever it is that you have to do to help them find a Comfort Zone again.
When your horse feels OK, you can stop there and wait for The Chew – that’s the validation that I talked about in the First Key – that signal of shared communication.
When you take this action EVERY TIME YOUR HORSE IS AFRAID, then the Comfort Zone will get bigger and bigger until it covers everything that you want to do with your horse.
And it gets much, much faster to put new things into the Comfort Zone as you go along and it is sooo worth it.
I apply the Comfort Zone Model to everything that I do with horses – all the time – so that relaxation and thinking and curiosity and learning easily becomes the normal thing for my horse to experience. And I take whatever time it takes for that to happen.
And believe me, once you and your horse get the hang of working like this it is sooo much faster to learn new things with your horse’s active co-operation.
It’s absolutely delicious to have your horse’s active co-operation in learning new things. It’s a very special experience.
Today’s photo:The cartoons in this clip are by the very talented cartoonist Kim Wong, who spent some time here with us as a WOOF’er a few years ago.