Observing patterns and breaking habits for person AND horse, so that their presence and connection become more auto pilot.
Habits and patterns – SUCH an interesting subject that I hadn’t given a lot of conscious thought to before Sue brought this up as an important part of our Masterclass.
The dictionary defines habits “as routine behaviours done on a regular basis. They are recurrent and often unconscious patterns of behaviour and are acquired through frequent repetition. … A habit can also be thought of as a link between a stimulus and a response.”
Something that repeats in a predictable way is a pattern.
It sounds so innocuous doesn’t it? Not a big deal at all?
They can be incredibly useful to us and some are not so useful any more.
At various formative stages in our lives, we form neural pathways in our brain which become the basis for our habits and patterns. These neural pathways are established very simply by the first time something happens to us, we react and the brain lays down its first familiarity, its first pathway. If the same thing happens again in exactly the same way, the reaction is deepened, the pathway is deepened and the reaction established. And so on into deeper pathways until it’s so familiar that it simply doesn’t occur to us that this could be different.
Well that prompting is what we’re about here! <3
Some of these things that cause the neural pathways are beautiful and loving and supporting – others can be simply thoughtless words and actions, some can be deeply traumatic events.
ALWAYS our neural pathways were useful to us when we established them – we’re still alive aren’t we? So they worked.
But are they still useful now? THAT is the question.
Noticing whether our habits and patterns of behaviour are useful to us now. THAT is the big deal raised by Sue’s subject.
The only way I know of to change habits and patterns effectively is in our comfort zone – no judgement, no making them wrong, just noticing what’s working for us and what isn’t.
Talking about how goals and intentions and heart feel weave together with noticing habits and patterns i.e. neural pathways, some that are useful some that are not so useful any more. (Heart feel wasn’t natural to me, but what brought it in for me, was being willing to and then looking for, open to, the truth behind whatever was going on, on the surface.)
Each of us teachers talking about how we deal with habits and patterns that are no longer useful.
Making myself and others wrong has been my big thing and so not useful. What am I feeling when I make something wrong?
I’m not following my feel somehow, when I make myself or others wrong, that’s what’s happening. I’m not looking behind the surface to what’s really going on. I’m not using MY OWN FEEL. I’ve felt like this for so long that its familiar and normal and changing that to something more useful to me will take time to do in my comfort zone. And that’s OK. I’m no longer going to make myself wrong for being wrong, smiling here. These are habits and patterns of a lifetime that I only know how to change in my comfort zone.
Before Sue talks about habits and patterns with horse, lets do a little quiet mind about noticing a pattern or habit of our own that’s not so useful to us anymore.
Sue talks about noticing our Feels AWAY from the horses as a way of taking pressure of our horses, about noticing our different Feels in ALL aspects of our lives, particularly the challenging parts.
That’s funny (smiling funny) because I call that “ the gift horses bring us” – the ABILITY to extend the feel we have with them, to enrich all aspects of our lives.
Talk about developing good habits, noticing them, soaking them up, expanding on them.
Sue’s got a story about Gentleman Jim that demonstrates how she has worked with a horse to change a habit / pattern
Here’s her quick notes but she’ll talk about this in more depth.
Sue: For me it is important not to just address the habit but also the root cause , replacing an undesirable habit with another more appropriate routine or pattern is not enough, I need to identify the emotion, how my horse is feeling when he does this, how it makes me feel when he does it, and then i need to look for a reason we are feeling the way we are ie He is angry I am frustrated what is beneath that …..Why is he feeling angry why am I feeling frustrated. What is his anger based on what is my frustration based on …..could be ….the need to control ….stay safe……take care of basic needs …defend etc. Once we have this understanding we can stand together and appreciate and show gratitude ,he is grateful that i am listening, i am grateful that he feels able to show me how he is feeling and that something is not ok,we both appreciate that we are able to have this conversation about our un ok ness. From that place we are able to create a way forward , we have a goal but when we bring our intention into the equation we create a way towards that goal, a pattern ,that is positive and feels good for both of us, and most important of all draws our attention to and addresses the missing piece in our foundation.
Back to me to talk about Philip Nye’s pattern exercise for extending a horse’s comfort zone.
Later addition – Caroline’s notes on flooding that we didn’t get to.
I had said in the class that I didn’t know any other way of changing habits and patterns except in the Comfort Zone, but I knew that some trainers consider flooding an effective technique.
I’ve seen flooding done many times, most often around learning not to fight being tied up. What I saw involved wrapping the lead rope around a post so that it gave the trainer leverage, but still had slide for some give and take and either shaking a plastic bag on a stick or a flapping a rope, to get the horse to pull back and to KEEP applying that bag or rope until the split second that the horse stopped leaping and pulling and fighting and only then to give them a reward by slackening off the pressure. Then re-apply and re-apply until the horse gave to the halter on the first pull. Then repeat on subsequent days until there was an auto response to jump forward off the pressure of the lead rope.
And honest to goodness they truly think they’re helping the horse. I’ve been part of it in those natural horsemanship days. On reflection, it’s the kind of thing that can happen when we turn over our Feel and our discernment to someone else and take on as truth what isn’t really even true for them.
Now knowing that the problem can be addressed in the Comfort Zone, I can’t imagine wanting to do it any other way. I still think it’s useful to understand what people are talking about though, so I’ve asked Caroline to talk about flooding generally and its effectiveness.
Caroline – Definition:
Continuously presenting an aversive stimulus, such as a whip, plastic bag, wiggling rope, saddle, pig etc., without giving the horse the choice to get away or use their natural instincts in relation to pain, food, fear excitement etc.
Flooding….. it can have a different affect on each different horse…. because they are all different. It can help create what would appear to a learnt lesson…. Or it does the exact opposite and create bigger more difficult behaviours to deal with.
What flooding does in reality is ‘over shadow’ what’s already there, it doesn’t get to a root cause of an issue, and it doesn’t utilise neural plasticity for a well learnt, good feeling lesson, so that the lesson becomes an automatic, habit part of the horse’s repertoire of behaviour, such as being ridden, in a happy, willing way.
This is when there is always a chance; some bigger than others depending on the horse, for the explosive type behaviours…. Or he did it for no reason, or the constant reverting to an unwanted reaction, or behaviour. There are exceptions of course, and for some it does seem to completely ‘fix’ the lesson of being ok with the thing they’ve been flooded with.
If a lesson is learnt filled with adrenaline, which flooding creates, THAT stress hormone will be triggered by your desired, required action, such as being ridden, but rather than the horse reacting aversely to being ridden, it will still release, use up, that adrenaline in an alternative way, such as exploding, reacting for no reason, reverting to unwanted behaviour.
It also can become overwhelming where the horse, over time and experience, has learnt to react differently to adrenaline… not in the way it’s designed to work, but in a shut down, learned helplessness way. This puts chronic (long term) strain, on the health and welbeing of your horse.