Be present with your horse

Those who know me know that patience is a virtue that I often lack.

If I want something, I don’t want to wait around for it and whilst I love learning, I want to know everything NOW. Take the fact I’ve been learning guitar recently (a bucket list skill I’ve been meaning to acquire for years) and I keep saying to my teacher, “I sound awful, why can’t I play like you can?” and he replies, “because you’ve only had 4 lessons and I’ve been playing for 40 years…”. I don’t want to go through the ‘I suck at this’ phase, I just want to skip to the ‘look what I can do’ moment.

I always argue that patience is something that I am at least capable of showing towards animals, even if not towards myself, yet I question whether this is really true because I am so eager to push on with their own learning. There is so much that I want my horses to be able to do that when we are together, I can risk disallowing them from just being able to be with me.

With my youngsters, I am so acutely aware of everything that they need to learn that I put this insane amount of pressure on myself – and subsequently on them – to learn it all now. Whether it’s thinking that they simply must learn to have their feet handled by the time the farrier next arrives, or that they really must learn to lead calmly in a head collar by, well, yesterday, it is difficult to avoid turning up at the yard without expectations of what I should be achieving with them by now. With older horses, it might be “by the end of today’s session I need to have mastered that collected canter” or “by the end of this month, I need them to be confident hacking out alone”.

Whatever it might be, these strict time frames and excessive demands can result in us unable to just enjoy the present moment. Whilst it is great to start with the end goal in mind and to construct a shaping plan for your horse’s training around this, it is equally important to accept that we all learn at different rates and that if you’re not quite where you hoped you’d be at this point, that’s okay. That’s precisely why good training plans break things down into tiny steps and allow you wiggle room to go back a step as well as forwards, rather than giving into temptation to rush ahead and push both you and your horse to the next stage before you’re really ready.

Slowing things down and asking ourselves whether there really is such urgency can help us take stock of how far we have already come. There will always be times when things have to be done in haste – and we all know how well that normally goes, when you’re confident that you’ve perfected your horse’s catching and leading skills but then the farrier is there and you’re stressed and your horse senses your impatience and won’t let you near them – but we can do our best to prepare for these times and to have enough in the ‘trust bank’ to allow for such moments.

Whilst investing in training when our horse’s are young will help when they’re older, ultimately we know that horse’s dislike feeling under pressure, they’ve evolved to do everything they can to evade it, and hurrying training is completely counterproductive. With my youngsters, I keep reminding myself that, hopefully, I have a good 20 or 30 years ahead of us to enjoy learning new things together and that right now, I should really just be enjoying them, watching them grow up whilst not worrying about the next step.

Yesterday I didn’t do any training with my horses. I just spent some time hanging out with them in their field and those moments of ‘just being’ with them will pay dividends next time I do decide to do some training. Those moments – where I’m not thinking about time frames or plans or expectations – are my favourite moments. Where I’m just sat with them, listening to them grazing, snoozing or mooching around, and all I’m thinking is this: This moment is all I need. This is enough.

Published by Kate Fletcher

I have an MSc in Equine Behaviour, Performance & Training and over 10 year's experience working on the front line of animal welfare operations, helping people help animals. I currently work for an international equine welfare charity and am committed to promoting compassionate training and positive human-animal relationships using least invasive, minimally aversive methods and through encouraging human behaviour change.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: