So often in life we humans can get caught up in the race to achieve what we think will make us happy. There are endless books and gurus telling us to be goal oriented and outcome driven so we can live our best life. Now I'm not saying that it's not important to understand the big picture and visualize want we want. This is necessary if we want to have some influence over our life path. I'm simply saying that we can get so far ahead of ourselves sometimes that we miss out on the time in between recognizing a goal and its achievement. This time in between is called life and its purpose is to be experienced.
In my rehabilitation work with horses, I often have to figure out how to reset how horses feel about people. The truth is that even if the horse is perfectly willing and the handler has the best intentions, there is a major language barrier involved, and it can be difficult for the horses to understand how to we would like them to behave. Even in the hands of experienced horse people, if we do not communicate carefully, many horses can become confused and stressed out, causing them to become reactive. They can become afraid or unwilling if they cannot figure out how to avoid the pressure we put on them to get them to behave the way we want them to. Many horses will learn to cope with this pressure by establishing a state behaviorists refer to as learned helplessness. But there are also those who will develop aversive and even dangerous behaviors that become difficult for handlers to manage. Unfortunately, these horses now need to be rehabilitated in order to have a safe place to exist in our human world.
I have found the process of resetting and re-educating troubled horses to be profoundly enlightening. These horses force me to be on my game. They need to see me as their caregiver and learn to trust that I will provide for them. They also need to view me as a qualified leader in order to find confidence in my guidance and direction. And these are roles that I have to earn, without causing fear, to establish the kind of partnership these horses will need from me for me to educate them effectively and ethically. These are roles that I need to show authentic suitability for as well.
Animals are more in tune with their natural instincts than we are because their instincts are still required for their survival. They are incredibly perceptive. They will not trust me if I have ulterior motives. They will not feel safe turning over their decision making to me if I cannot prove that I possess a higher level awareness then they do. If they are sharper than I am, they are more suitable for the leadership role. It is that simple. That is how Nature has to work for a species to survive.
The processes involved with my rehabilitation work and relationship-based horsemanship have similar steps. The idea is to allow the individual horse to guide the course of the journey. We do not just make them conform to a rigid training regiment. We adjust our interactions with them based on what they need and how they view us in the moment. So I am not going to try to reach out and touch a horse before he is comfortable with me standing beside him. I'm not going to send him off on a lunge line at a canter if he cannot walk quietly. And I am not going to try to ride him if he does not trust or know me. We do not do things that disrespect or demean their spirit. We do not challenge them with things that they are not ready for. We do not push them beyond the threshold of their comfort zone. We learn to enjoy the challenge of balancing on the edge of that comfort zone and allow it to stretch naturally as we move forward together. In short we do not ask them to do something until that something is the next logical step in the relationship.
The objective of our horsemanship is to bridge the communication barrier with the horse, and to eventually connect and communicate well enough to share a state of flow with him during our time together. We want him to want to dance with us ... whether it be in the form of liberty work, line work, or work under saddle. We want to enjoy the bliss of moving in harmony with one another ... and do it in a way that is pure. In order to do this in a way that generates an authentic partnership and a meaningful collaboration of the two bodies, we must embark on a long term relationship-based journey with the horse. This journey enriches our lives. Each challenge handled with finesse and presence from both horse and human. The concept of the next logical step can apply to all areas of our lives. It is the practice of mindfulness. It provides us with the joy of honing our senses by challenging our awareness, making the best possible use of our lives while we enjoy the journey.