“For fast acting relief, try slowing down.” – Jane Wagner
Today’s thought to ponder is about considering our normal level of energy compared to our horse’s normal level of energy. As a high energy person I was always attracted to hot blooded horses, but that was not always the easiest match. We could go fast anywhere, but sometimes all that speed and energy could become frustrating or even out of control. I thought if I found a low energy horse then life would be so much easier! But working with horses that are low energy and don’t want to move or go fast had a whole new set of challenges. So how do we balance our energy levels and help our horses find the same?
Ironically, slowing down helps both high energy and low energy horses (and people).
What slowing down really means is mentally slowing down, taking the time to stop instinctive reactions and develop conscious control. Horse instincts and human instincts naturally work in opposition, so as long as we or our horses are reacting to things with pushing or pulling energy, then we get nowhere. Slowing down brings instant relief to any situation because it creates space for us to think first, then act. When our horse is starting to react to something instinctively, then we might need to slow down or even stop for a minute and allow the energy to settle down so that our horse has the space to think through the challenge.
For example, when our horse starts pulling on us making the reins heavy or dragging us around by the lead rope, then our horse is reacting rather than responding. Our instinct is to out-pull our horse and enter the pulling contest. What if we simply refused to enter the pulling contest? What if we slowed down our minds and just stopped for a minute. As we quit reacting from our instinct, then our brain will calm down and offer up a few new things to try. If we stop ourselves, then maybe our horse continues to pull on us for a bit, but we do not have to pull back. Horses will feel the pull and release that they do to themselves and eventually stop the pulling because it takes too much energy and gets them nowhere.
One of the challenges that all riders face is that horses are just not ambitious like us.
Horses don’t care about winning ribbons or even looking clean for a show. Horses care about feeling safe and feeling comfortable during work – end of list.
It does not matter if we show, trail ride or are just developing our horse in our own backyard. Horses work with us cooperatively only when they feel safe and trust us. Horses listen to our aids guiding them along a path or through a competition only when they feel comfortable in their own bodies during the work. Most of the problems we have with horses can boil down to the fact that our horse does not feel safe on the inside in this moment or our horse is struggling physically to find comfort doing what we ask.
Whether the issue for our horse is not feeling safe or not feeling comfortable, slowing down our aids, reducing our demands, taking short breaks or allowing our horse more time to think through the challenge all take pressure off of our horse and offer relief.
As the human, it is up to us to stop the action-reaction game with our horses.
Our horses will learn to remain calm, tune into our guidance and think their way through challenges when we lead the way. We know when we are slipping into our instincts when our emotions start to rise, when we start feeling frustrated, worried, upset, demoralized or rushed. Our thinking gets fuzzy and we feel the strong urge to blame our horse for being a horse and not doing what we want or we feel a sense of disappointment in ourselves. Those types of feelings can become our flashing signal to slow down mentally or take a pause – for ourselves even if not for our horse! If we do not feel calm and safe, then we simply cannot think or act with conscious control of our own bodies – it is a simple fact of how our nervous system works.
Sometimes our training sessions have to move at our pace, where we give ourselves permission to take things slow so that we can develop good riding habits that often are not intuitive or instinctual for us. When we take things at a pace that works for us, asking our horse to remain mentally focused on us while we think our way through the challenge, then we help our horse’s feel safer. Other times we may have to slow things down in order to help our horse overcome instinctive reactions. Whenever our horses start to intensify energy along with flight or fight behaviors it is their way of letting us know that they do not feel safe. For fast acting relief that comes with reducing anxiety or tension, try just slowing things down.
Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we are in a partnership with our horses – and that our horses are just not as ambitious as we are when it comes to leaving the safety and comfort of the barn. In order to help our horses love working with us, we have to become a source of safety and comfort just like the barn, no matter where we go.