I was watching a well known horseman the other day and noticed that during his whole workshop, he never once said “no” to the horse.
I compared that to when I see most people with their horses – -there is a lot of “No” or “stop that” or “uh-uh-uh!”.
And I realised that all the horsepeople I enjoy being with have one thing in common: they “allow” the horses to be horses.
As some of you know I have Coblet who, until very recently, did not wear a halter. I was bathing him and Gracie with some insecticide and afterwards became aware of a big difference in how I handled the two horses.
When Coblet, who we were bathing at liberty, with my friend by his head, became tense or worried, I would stop my movements, and soothe him – and when he relaxed we clicked and treated him as a reward for relaxation.
When Gracie moved or showed dislike of the bathing, I found myself automatically shaking the halter rope and saying “hey, pay attention!”
This led to me to start thinking about how we as humans want to control everything, tend to rapidly fall into the “you should know better” trap and allow our own issues to stop us from allowing our horses to be the horses they really are.
I also found it interesting to then start paying attention and seeing how often we actually abuse the halter by using it unthinkingly to “correct” or even punish the horse for expressing a feeling or opinion, rather than allowing the expression, observing it – and responding thoughtfully and mindfully.
And to me, this is the same as how many of us use the reins unthinkingly to “control” when we all “know” they are there for communication.
So, is this human nature? Our innate tendency to take short cuts and do “what works” rather than “what we have thought about and chosen to do”?
After all, I know we don’t MEAN to be rude, or offensive, or abusive.
We don’t MEAN to teach our horses that there is no point having feelings or opinions as we will just tell them off when they express them….
I have always thought of myself as a kind, caring “allowing” person. But this difference between my “instinctive” response to the same behaviour from Coblet and Gracie really made me question myself.
Craig Stevens often talks of humans being like monkeys. We grab hold of things, hang on to them tightly with our monkey hands. When we are frightened we cling in the foetal position physically, or onto an idea mentally – or to a feeling, emotionally. We are clutching, grasping creatures where fear makes us tight and unable to let go.
And although I know we are not monkeys, we are descended from apes, I find the analogy useful.
When we are with a young child, and that child becomes frustrated or angry, which approach do you prefer?
The one that says “don’t be angry, you shouldn’t be frustrated” or even “you’re not angry, silly! You have no need to be angry!”
Or the one that says “hmm, I can see you are angry, let me help you through this…and come out the other side….”
The first approach denies and invalidates the child’s feelings – teaching the child over time that their own inner experience is not valid or true and that the only way to know what they SHOULD be feeling is by external reference. That leads to a lot of problems!
The second validates the feelings, gives truth to the inner experience – and also offers support to find a way out of the state if the child desires it…
Which do you prefer?
So, if it works for children, how about trying it with our horses?
When we say “no, stop that!” or “you should KNOW what I mean by this!” we are not seeing the horse in front of us – we are working with an image of a horse in our head….
If we instead stop, observe our horse, “allow” then to express their thought, finish their move (while staying safe with blocks as appropriate, of course) — then we will be able to use our observation and respond mindfully.
What effect does “allowing” have on a horse?
I was working with a horse who, whenever asked to do anything, went to bite the handler. This was a bit intimidating when we were trying to work in hand!
His owner had tried many things – none of which had changed his behaviour.
And now, every time he swung his head toward her, she was reacting in an emotional way and this was really affecting her confidence.
I took his reins and stood by him. He swung his head round, mouth open. I offered the rope which he took in his mouth. And chewed. I stayed safe, he got to express his feelings.
Felt like a win win.
As we went through the session, each time he swung his head round I allowed it – and offered the rope…. at first he took the rope every time adn chewed it. Then he stopped chewing it – then he gradually stopped swinging his head round –
After about thirty minutes, he lowered his head and gave a massive sigh, licked and chewed, and yawned….
We waited about ten minutes before he gently turned his head and invited me to carry on working…
And has never gone to bite his owner again.
So what was that about? We may never know why he needed to do this – some kind of emotional stress, no doubt. But, by allowing him to express his feelings, giving him the respect we would give another person (I hope!) he came to a place where he didn’t need to do the behaviour anymore….
If the horse knows he CAN do X, then he has the chance to find out that perhaps he doesn’t NEED to do X anymore….
Allowing is key to developing a healthy, open, trusting relationship with a horse.
When I started doing the in hand work with Gracie, she kept rushing forwards. Now, I could have stopped that by being firm, or blocking her movement. I chose not to. If I take the mindset that she is only being a horse and doing what she needs to do – then why not allow it?
The next time she rushed forwards, I went with her I kept my hand on the bit, but walked with her and allowed her to go round the pen until I felt her soften, then I politely asked her “can you stop now?”. At first she said “nope, I need to keep walking!” so we walked some more – but the next time I asked her, she said “actually, yes, I can, thank you”.
Over the next few sessions she “needed” to walk off less and less, and was able to pay attention and listen instead of reacting thoughtlessly. Hmm interesting, the more mindful and allowing I am, the more mindful and listening my horse is…..
I now tend to start my sessions with liberty work, to make sure I am “allowing” my horse to express his or her true feelings, rather than just get compliance with the halter….
This can lead to some entertaining sessions when I have invited people to watch an in hand demo, and Gracie says she can’t possibly turn left today. Still, I think it is better to find that out at liberty and play with it there, than run the risk that my ego will cause my hands to turn into monkey hands and start forcing the left turn because people are watching….
If I truly believe that horses do what is easy, and that they enjoy their relationship with me, then how can I take it personally? Much better to allow that today my horse is finding something difficult and find a way to help her make it easier…
What has this got to do with confidence?
For the horse, having the confidence that it is ok to express feelings means that the horse then chooses to express them in a how level way. Instead of Gracie rearing and fighting contact, she simply walks forwards a bit. I know which I prefer.
Instead of a horse biting and being dangerous, he simply turns his eye to look at me – again, I know which I prefer.
We also have a horse who becomes “authentic” – a horse who tells us what they REALLY think of things, so we don’t have to guess. That makes ME as a horsewoman a LOT more confident when handling that horse!
To me, a safe horse is a “What you see is What you get” horse – and this is what “allowing” does.
And how about for you?
How does “Allowing” work for you?
Developing a mindset of ALLOWING MINDFULNESS for yourself –
So you feel nervous: pay attention to it, ALLOW yourself to be nervous, observe it and see where it is coming from. By allowing the feeling instead of denying it, your unconscious starts to trust you, and will be more honest about how it feels. Then, when you know you are having “real feelings” and you are experiencing the “authentic self” – then you can mindfully and thoughtfully choose what you are going to do about it….
It might seem that allowing gives the horse control.
However, it’s just the opposite.
Developing an ALLOWING MINDFULNESS puts you back in control…..
On control of yourself, and in control of your confidence…
So let me know in the comments – how can YOU use the Power of Allow to improve your own and your horse’s experience?
Yours, in Confidence