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Archive for the ‘Life Lessons’ Category

Learning to communicate with your horse is similar to learning a foreign language. Although, you cannot communicate in a language until you have learned the fundamentals of grammar, vocabulary and syntax, you need to hear the language spoken many times to get a feel for its cadence and flow. Likewise, in riding you need to learn how to use your hands and legs effectively to give the aids. You also need to learn the feel of the horse when he is straight, balanced, and rhythmical.  Relaxation enhances your ability to empathize with the horse, and strengthens your ability to feel what you are seeing. This makes the language easier to learn.

While we have learned how to communicate with our aids, practice our balanced seat and relax our body, we must make a commitment to take the risks involved with asking our horse to do exactly what we want, with the expectation that he will listen. The risk of a communication breakdown always exists, we must bravely declare our will despite the possible problems. No risk, no gain. Your horse will quickly let you know if he understands you or not. If not, you can continue to ask, as often as necessary, until he shows you that he understands through a correct response. This risk-taking with a horse is much safer than it is with people.

Miscommunication with a horse is immediately recognizable, because we do not get the outcome we expect. When this happens, we should pause for a moment and try again. If too many retries are necessary, we should walk and review what is happening. Somehow we are not getting the message through to our horse. Re-evaluate what and how you are asking making sure your horse understands what you want.

Misunderstandings, whether with a horse or man, are the root of most problems. Each of us has an obligation to try to avoid failures in communication. The first step is to believe that we do not want to cause harm or discomfort to another being. The second step is to be observant to the response of our communication: we must notice the reactions of our partner. If we notice any reaction other than the one we intended, we must change the way we phrase our question until we are certain that the other party understands what our statement or question means. We can never assume that the other party understands our meaning, we must always closely observe his reaction.  We do this automatically while on our horse. Horses demand an immediate response or they do not know what to do. People do not have this need.   It is important to remember that, whether you are dealing with a horse or human, unsatisfactory communications that remain unresolved do not go away.  The longer they remain, the more negative energy they accumulate. What began as simple misunderstanding can become a resentment, grudge, hostility, or even aggression. Therefore, it is important to resolve ill feelings as soon as possible.

Something I have learned over the years being in the saddle, as well as on the ground teaching,  is to communicated with my instructor. Especially when I was younger, I was afraid to express my concerns, frustrations and especially my fears. Once I started communicating with my instructor about my feelings, problems I was having outside of my lesson and as well as my fears we discovered (together) solutions easier and my problems were solved much more quickly.  Since, instructors are not mind readers, they make decisions based on what they see. Once I started teaching I realized that many hours of frustration could be avoided if students developed the confidence to express themselves to their instructor. Ideally, students should try to achieve a complete communication cycle with their instructor. The student asks a question, the instructor answers, and the student then acknowledges the answer. Effective communication is the essence of teaching, and it is also the fundamental process of learning.

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Our conversation with horses is through body language and energy,  rather than through the words that dominate human interchange. Since body language and energy play a major role in our horse interaction, we must learn the art of a new type of communication. In order for our body to be a relaxed and supple communicator, it must be in balance with our mind. Only then can can it offer us the highly refined interaction necessary for the quick, effective conversation we need and desire with our horses.

Our philosophy sets the tone for all forms of communications.  The more we can believe in a positive attitude, unconditional love, and free flowing energy, the more likely it is that out interactions will have a positive outcome. Determining your personal philosophy and purpose in life paves the way for the most effective communication. 

Whether communicating with horse or man, all interactions have a three-part cycle. These three steps are clear and concise; question, answer and acknowledgement. For humans; ” How are you?” “I am doing well.” “That’s good to hear.”  And that’s the three-part cycle for human interactions.  For horses the three-part cycle is a little more subtle; close your legs, then close your hands (question), horse stops (answer), you soften (acknowledgement). Each of these is  a complete part of the communication cycle, and an incomplete cycle opens the door for confusion.

I still remember when I was learning to ride my corners with my young, very green thoroughbred, Chance, and the importance of this concept.  If I forgot to release my leg after Chance responded, he would speed up or pin his ears back. If I forgot to release my hand, he would get harder and harder against my hand. If I held in my seat, Chance would get more and more resistant. All these evasions were a result of Chance’s effort to do what he thought I was asking of him. It took several months to uncover all the different confusions that I was creating because I did not understand the communication formula.

Every aspect of our life is influenced by communication. Intimate disclosures, ones that require us to express what we really feel, are frightening. They frighten us because we are not certain if what we are feeling is acceptable or correct. Our feelings may not match what we think is expected. Riding requires intimate communication. I think it is easier to learn this type of conversation with a horse because a horse is non-threatening, responds without preconceived notions, and is non-judgmental. Intimate communications do not begin until we have learned the fundamental skills of riding. Position, control, and relaxation must become second nature to us, before we can begin to concentrate on communication. The first part of your riding journey encompasses learning position and basic control. While learning these skills you begin by using your hands, legs, and seat to control your horse safely.  Initially, your communication is limited to stop, go, and turn. Ultimately, however, control is through feel, so a rider must be comfortable, confident, and relaxed on the horse. A stiff rider inhibits his horse’s ability to respond, and is deaf to the responses of the horse. As a rider gains experience, these basic fundamental skills will become more refined, creating a solid foundation for more intimate communication.

The relaxation required for basic control of your horse, means that you are comfortable and balanced in your position. Once you decide to specialize in a particular riding discipline, your communication skills will be developed to meet the requirements of the discipline of your choice.  Whatever horse sport you choose, relaxation is a perquisite that allows balance, both with yourself and your horse. Becoming more deeply relaxed allows the muscles to supple, the energy to flow, and the body to move more freely. If you do not feel you are getting the results you want with your horses, you might want to look at your ability to relax both mentally and physically.

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Relaxation

The definition of relaxation includes “the lengthening of inactive muscles or muscle fibers” and “the return or adjustment of a system of equilibrium following  displacement or abrupt change.” Relaxation should exist on three levels: Physical (suppleness), mental (clarity of mind and emotion) and spiritual (freedom from fear, anger, resentment, jealousy and other negative attitudes). The three are related in both humans and horses. Physical relaxation can be destroyed by confusion or fear, thus it is not a simple matter of controlling the length of muscle fibers. In most cases when the mind is the cause of tension, stress, fear or confusion we must try to relax our mind. Even if the cause requires a solution, the starting point is a relaxed mind that can focus. If we hope to achieve physical relaxation, we need to address the methods of promoting mental and spiritual relaxation since they are so closely connected.

Relaxation has many benefits in terms of both performance and soundness. Communication is more straightforward when we are relaxed. Both observer and horse feel the rider is lighter and more graceful. Our body will move in harmony with the horse’s movements. Our legs will breathe with the horse’s sides. Our hands will be quiet receivers and directors of the forward energy we are sharing. Our body as a whole will be prepared to respond to the horse quickly, quietly, and effectively. This harmony will enable both horse and rider to move forward with power and elasticity, creating a picture of total unity and majesty.  A  relaxed horse is an amazingly elastic creature, and therefore our goal should be to maintain this elasticity. It involves careful management of his physical body, slowly building up muscle tone.  Most horses have an advantage over man, in that they begin with a calm mind. If communications are clear and demands are realistic, they should remain mentally calm. This mental calmness, combined with the proper training of horse and rider, should maintain the horse’s elasticity, thus minimizing the wear and tear that cause unsoundness in our equine partners.

No doubt it is easier for a rider to relax on a horse who is relaxed, but the rider must learn to become supple and relaxed himself so that the horse can stay elastic and relaxed. It is the rider’s responsibility to maintain the relaxation of the horse.

It is more difficult for the rider to maintain a relaxed state, because the rider continues to have situations develop that make it difficult to maintain a relaxed, supple body. It is up to the rider to find an effective method to maintain a well functioning body.

Emotional turmoil produces disequilibrium in our bodies, leading to physical stiffness. Returning the body to equilibrium is a matter of relaxation. When we feel upset, or experience an uneasy feeling, an upset stomach, a headache, a backache, or another physical symptom, it may be our mental or spiritual self crying out. Physical exercises are designed to relax and supple the muscles, while meditative therapies provide methods to relax and free the body, mind and spirit.

“Mediation is any activity that keeps attention pleasantly anchored in the present moment” -Joan Borysenko

The more of our self we can access consciously, the more control we have over our lives and our goals. The more unresolved experiences we have, the more we will need to create freedom that brings about the useful inner self.  By having control over our thoughts and experience we come more relaxed in who we are, our goals and our dreams. This is key in our relationships, even our relationship with our horse.  Relaxation is necessary for the rider to attain inner harmony and for the horse to display his natural beauty.

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Acceptance

With each successfully experience  our confidence improves , which should further develop our self-acceptance. I find that the most  difficult part of this aspect of our journey is knowing when to accept what we cannot change, and how to change what we can.  If we try to change something that cannot possibly change, it can lead to defeat and scar our self-confidence.  However, we must try to change what we can change or we will not fulfill our capabilities. I believe, as we advance through the stages of our life we seek to balance ourselves through a positive philosophy, knowing when to accept becomes more clearly defined and more easily enforced.

Change is a key element to acceptance. The ability to change is an important part our uniqueness. Each experience, each personal encounter, as well as what we hear and see, changes us. We are not the same person from one day to the next. Each time we come across an obstacle in our life, we need to evaluate the situation, learn from it,  and hopefully make a positive change in our life.

If we accept the circumstances of life and learn to evaluate them, we discover that experiences combined with positive attitude and a philosophy of betterment can turn many experiences into positive assets. The acceptance and “letting go” that I learned in my riding and horse relationships continues to be an asset to my personal and professional life. I believe the interchange of experiences through open-minded evaluation followed by acceptance or change has a powerful influence on all areas of our life.

People are often afraid of change  because change represents the unknown, and this fear contributes to many people’s unwillingness to make a change. Throughout my life, I have witnessed many people in all areas of my life be driven by fear.  They are unable to change the things that they are capable of changing.  In order for us to reach our full potential we need to learn to  face our fears and take a leap into the unknown so we can grow and learn to accept the things we cannot change.

We can learn some much about acceptance through our equine relationships. Your horse accepts you with your uniqueness. He does not judge that you are too fat, too thin, too tall or too short. If you can accept yourself as your horse does, you will discover a new-found love and acceptance for yourself and your horse. We need to accept our horses as they accept us, with all their strengthens and weaknesses.  Without acceptance, it is easy to get caught up in resentments, self-pity and anger. These resentments can begin to govern your life, and the discoloration can prevent you from enjoying the beauty and the awe that are part of every situation.

However, we should not accept a painful or a negative situation without challenging it. Each time an obstacle is presented, you must investigate it thoroughly, understand it, do what you can do to change it, and then accept the things you can not change. I realize that this is much easier say then done, however I believe the result is well worth the tough part of it.

Everyone of us has obstacles to deal with. Often people feel alone or unacceptable because of their problem. Our uniqueness makes us feel alone with our conflict or problem. Unfortunately, our society does not encourage intimate communication. The difficulty of trusting others with our problems or concerns contributes to our loneliness. Loneliness delays our search for acceptance. During my lonely times I always had horses to turn to. Horses continue to be my counselor, best friend and support, however as I grow older I have developed other ways to resolve internal conflict, obstacles and issues in my life. I love to write and journal writing became a huge part of my life and a safe outlet to express myself freely. This in turn helps me release my anxiety, fears and weaknesses without judgment-just like my horses do! I find that sharing and expressing my ideas and feelings, whether with my horse, a person or a pen and paper, helps me relieve the pressure and loneliness of a problem. It can also help me find a solution to the problem that I am facing.

We are unique human beings and our horses our unique creatures. Each individual horse and each individual human has some weakness to deal with. Understanding this helps us accept ourselves and our horses, the more thoroughly we can look at our environment. The more realistic our goals, the more we can accept the joy and beauty that surrounds us.

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Humility is an essential ingredient to be in proper balance with our horse and the world. We can recognize humility by its unselfishness, thoughtfulness, gentleness, unpretentious spirit, and desire to help others. A horse outshines humans in unselfishness, has an unpretentious spirit and desire to please. A horse also possesses strength, power, agility, and presence. We can learn the lessons of humility by recognizing the attributes of humility in our horse and strive to be humble everyday.

Humility can affect the way we learn, select professionals, and relate to others. Humility can make the difference between mediocre and a superior performance. We can ride, perform, and even win without humility. However, humility changes the focus of our ride toward the horse’s energy, by allowing us to surrender ourselves to the horse. When we are able to let go we become a partner in the performance with our horse. We share the in the horse’s brilliance, we do not produce his brilliance through control.

By controlling our horse’s energy mentally through quiet humility we can out-think him and direct his power and majesty. We can allow him to perform at his best. I believe really love our horse we need to put his betterment ahead of our needs and be humble to our own.

By understanding our horse, his strengthens and weaknesses, we will be able to create and develop a humble relationship with him. We need to be realistic about our goals and our role in performing with our horse. We assume the role of a leader, guiding the performance or ride of the day to maximize your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses. Focus on what you what to accomplish and produce, and be responsible for the harmonic wholeness of the ride.

The best horse people are those who can remain humble by remembering it is the horse that wins and performs. We need to enjoy our role in the relationship and take pride in directing the majesty of our horse. I have learned that if I understand my horse and encourage him, maintain a positive attitude while defining our roles in the relationship I can stay humble. As long as we can think of our horse first and his needs we will have humility in our relationship. The horses in my life teach me about humility on a daily basis and help me develop and maintain humility in other areas of my life.

Remember, whatever your goal, approaching it with humility will enhance its value and magnify the joy it attaining it. You will have a better appreciation for your horse’s role in the accomplishment, but you will also attain a more honest perception of your own contribution.

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Trust is Imperative

Trust is build on reliable, consistent, decisive, and loving actions over time. For a lasting relationship, trust must be present between horse and man, between man and horse professionals, and between professionals and horses. True trust allows us to relax in the partnership. Relaxation in relationships and help set the stage for closer, more efficient and effective interaction, and thus for better results as well.

Horses will do almost anything for humans they trust. Their trust is conditioned by the love and compassion they feel from us, as well as the regular care given to them. We have a responsiblity to uphold the human-horse relationship by always maintaining a horses trust by doing what is in the best interest of our horse.

With each horse relationship I enter I know that I need to earn that animals’ trust by my actions and reactions to every situation that we come across. As a horse person your awareness of yourself, your horse and surrounding have a great effect on your horses’ trust in you as the leader in the relationship. Your horse is looking to you to guide him in a direction that is safe and secure. Once that trust is established your relationship with your horse with become one of true trust.

Trust is a product of love and consistency that is clear and reliable. There is no miracle way to develop trust during your life journey, but I feel that the first place to look for a trusting experience is with your horse. If you can learn to accept the fundamental elements of a trusting relationship with your horse, it may help you with the people in your life.

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Lessons in Love

Love is a feeling that motivates us to appreciate life with joy, enchantment, awe and wonder. It is an emotion that allows us to be aware, appreciative, open-minded and accepting unconditionally what is less than perfect, and willing to change what can be changed.

Each one of us is born with the capacity to love ourselves, others and life and it is inherent to our being. I believe that learning to love ourselves, others and life is a function of our soul. Often times we think we love but, most importantly, we need to be able to feel love and act in a loving way. Understanding what love is will help us understand our self, others, our horse and our life.

Simple delight in life’s experiences is a characteristic of love that is shared in both horses and humans. Horses express this daily and show their love through gratitude and appreciation. One example is the food and care that we give them. Almost all horses enthusiastically accept their food. They hear the feed door open, perk up their ears, whinny and sometimes bang on their stall door. Once a horse is fed, his eagerness is replaced by the joyful sound of munching on his grain or hay. The horse’s ears are relaxed, eyes soften, and he is solely focused on the joy of eating.

How often do we appreciate our food? The provider of the food? Or even the purchaser of the food? Even if you pay all those roles, do you take the time to appreciate yourself? How often do we take the time to really enjoy, be present and thankful for the meal we are eating? Maybe, we should take a tip from our horse by being thankful of each one of our meals and appreciate how and where it came from.

I love when I clean my horse’s stall and put new bedding down only to have him lie down and roll, oblivious to my presence, completely absorbed in the scratching of his body in the fresh, clean bedding. He is immersed in the absolute enjoyment of scratching his back. I can hear him saying to himself, “Ahhh, right there. That’s the spot”. It always makes me laugh to myself and at that moment I know that he is taking full advantage and is thankful for his clean, fresh stall. It is his way of thanking me for taking care of him. How often do we show thankfulness to the people who take care of us?

These are the little ways that a horse reminds us to be aware, thankful and present in each moment, no matter how little or insignificant they might seem. Now, every time I clean my bed sheets and climb into bed I enjoy the smell of the fresh dried sheets and take a moment to feel the cleanliness and softness of my bed. I try to really enjoy the sensation of how my body feels and enjoy the slowing down and relaxation I feel as each one of my muscles relaxes into the mattress. I owe all this to the horses in my life.

I believe that taking several minutes a day to enjoy the total sensation of your bedroom, your living room, your yard and yourself could be a great learning tool for appreciating more aspects of your being. I feel this concept directly relates to you, your horse and your riding. Successful riding requires awareness, and awareness is enhanced when we learn to be aware, know and love ourselves and our surroundings. Love of life experienced through all of our senses adds to the fullness of life.

Unconditional acceptance of yourself and others is another manifestation of love. Our horse accepts us as we are. He tries his best to do what we ask. His nature allows him to love and accept himself and you, free of judgment. This is just another way we can learn to love ourselves and others, void of judgment through the way of our horse. By emulating our horses’ ability to accept their conditions with out judgment we can learn how to love unconditionally. How has your horse taught you about love?

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