While they don’t take much, each has the power to dramatically improve the relationship with your horse. Are you looking to enrich the relationship you have with your horse? Here are 5 things you should do every single day with your horse.
1. “How are you?”
You are happy to see your horse and are ready to go for a ride. But before you grab him from his stall or pasture and tack him up, first connect and investigate what his mood is like today. Open the door of his stall and wait, letting him turn around and come to you. Or in the pasture, sit down and wait, until he is ready to come to you.
When he reaches out to you, refrain from putting the halter on right away. Instead pet him softly, give him some treats, and talk to him softly. Take the time to reconnect with your horse and learn how he feels today. Only when you feel he is ready, put the halter on and guide him to where you would like him to go. Often we get so caught up in our day that we forget to put the relationship with our horses first.
Taking the time to connect, brings out the beauty of the partnership between you and your horse.
2. "That was Amazing!"
When your horse seems stubborn, wild, defiant or lazy and things get rough, take a deep breath. Remember that there is always a spark of positive behavior buried under all the stuff your horse does that you would rather like him to never ever do again.
Everything you focus on grows, including the negative. If you want a more positive, happy relationship with your horse, get in the habit of seeing and acknowledging all the awesome stuff your horse does. Some challenging days, it may mean you have to go back to rewarding the very basics. Start praising your horse for standing still, making a transition or stepping backwards. Especially on those windy, stressful, challenging days, the power of praise can make long lasting improvements on the connection between you and your horse.
3. "How About a Break?"
I suffer from tunnel vision. While I pride myself of being goal oriented, it sometimes really gets in the way of things. I get obsessed and forget everything else around me. While that is fine when I am cleaning the kitchen, it can be a disastrous habit when working with horses. No horse ever got better by pushing him over his thresholds, they simply don't do well under pressure. Like people, horses like patience, reward, breaks and understanding.
When you feel frustration building during a training session, just stop doing what you are doing and go smell the roses. Feed your horse some carrots, reconnect with him and take deep breaths together. Horses can be really good at hiding tension, and the only way to learn whether there is tension, is to take a break and watch your horse take a deep breath after a few minutes. When you get stuck in your training session, there is nothing wrong with ending your session right there on the spot. Just guide your horse back to the barn or his pasture, while reflecting on how important that what you were trying to do, really is in the greater scheme of life.
If it is not going to cure cancer, or bring world peace, it is probably not worth obsessing about. Just take a break and try again tomorrow.
4. “ Are you ok?’
While horses communicate with one another beautifully, they lack the ability to speak to us in a way that we can understand. When nothing else works, they sometimes dramatically increase their non verbal language to the point that it might get dangerous for us to be around them. Think about bucking, kicking, rearing, bolting, biting, etc..
I just read about a chimp who was kept in captivity and got more sour and moody by the day. It got worse and finally he even started punching himself in the jaw. Months later, his owners realized he had a tooth ache that was so severe that he didn’t make it through surgery. This chimp did not know how to convey to his owners he had a tooth ache and his owners did not understand what he was trying to say. Horses face the same challenge. While we can’t expect them to learn to speak English, we can teach ourselves to become mindful of their subtle clues of discomfort, pain and stress, and simple asking them everyday, ‘are you ok?’.
When you ask, listen with an open mind, and an open heart.
5. “What would YOU like to do?”
Traditionally we were taught to control and direct our horse with our leadership. But quite frankly, this can be a real downer for a horse. Even the most submissive horse would like to have some say in what the day is going to bring. The most inspiring moments between my horses and me originated from times where I was not in the driver seat. When I stopped directing, they filled the space and made me laugh with their initiative.
Wik showed me how amazing he was at picking stuff off the ground. The pony showed me a move that looked a lot like tapdancing and through his initiative we later transformed it into a beautiful stand on his hind end. During lessons, when we left it up to the horses to do whatever they wanted to do, they showed us how they love to smile, touch a ball, knock things over, poke at a jump, stick their heads up reaching for the clouds, and much more. If we hadn't asked the horse 'what would you like to do", we would have never seen their sense of humor, their curiosity and their bravery.
Sometimes the beauty of life, is in the surrender into the unknown.