Along for the Ride – Are you letting yourself off the hook?

by Robyn Schiller

Robyn is the wife of horse (and people) trainer Warwick Schiller. She invites you to join her as she journeys through her life as trainer’s wife, mother, businesswoman and Internationally competitive rider.

Not that I think you shouldn’t check on your horse’s physical wellness, but when I hear someone dismiss working on a behavioral issue with a horse and instead focus on soreness or a feed to give them instead, I think you are doing not only a disservice to your horse but yourself as well.

Read my first sentence – it’s not that I don’t think you should be on top of those things – you certainly should be.  I just don’t want you to let yourself off the hook.

Brene Brown says that Blame is just the discharge of discomfort or anger.  I found that definition very enlightening.  Now, when I find myself teetering on a blamefest, I try to become curious about the underlying feelings and examine them further.  At first it was just the act of identifying that I was using blame – you know what they say – you have to be aware of the problem first.  I’m not saying I have this mastered, blame is something that has a pretty good hold on me.  I’d like to think it’s getting better though.

When we see our horses respond or act in a way that we’ve decided is not right, I think too many times we want to blame soreness or feed or equipment or the weather or the change of scenery or ANYTHING BUT US.  I touched on this in my earlier blog You are the constant factor. There is one story I wanted to share that prompted me to write another about this subject.

We were at a horse expo – Warwick was working with a “problem horse” on the ground and the owner was having some trouble.  The owner had described her horse using a couple of different names (stubborn was one). She was having trouble getting her horse to go off around her.  It turned out that she was asking the horse to go, but stepping back at the same time.  This resulted in a horse that was confused – not stubborn.  This is one of the most common problems that we see horse owners do with their horse.  The result is that the horse gets mixed signals and often doesn’t know what to do.  They get confused.  It’s not the human’s intention – having a rather large animal in front of us causes our body to react all sorts of ways.

To describe this a little more – because this is definitely something to understand about horses.  Horses are very good at letting you know if what is on your inside doesn’t match how it comes out the outside.  A good word to use is Congruent.  They know when your thoughts and your actions are congruent or incongruent.  In this case, consciously, the person was wanting her horse to go but unconsciously there was something that did not match that and it came out as stepping backwards.  Maybe she was thinking, I want the horse to go, but……what if he does this or last time he did this or I don’t want to get run over or kicked or whatever.  The point is, the horse picked up on the incongruence and was confused.

As if he was sprinkling his fairy dust around, the minute Warwick took a hold of the lead rope, the problem went away.  He explained what he saw her doing, why it didn’t work for her and showed her a different way.  The horse responded immediately. Warwick didn’t really do anything except act with congruence.  His internal intention and thoughts matched what he asked the horse to do.  He didn’t need a rope, a stick & string, nothing but the ask, because it was clear to the horse.  The session ended with the horse showing it was capable of going off with energy and relaxation.  It was really cool.

The owner came up to the booth later and said that another clinician had approached her after the session and told her that her horse was sore and that she should have it worked on. Now, that is fair enough, I’m never going to tell a person NOT to do something that will benefit the horse and we are huge advocates of body work on horses – we get ours done all the time.  It was how I heard the owner of the horse communicate it to me.  To me, it was like she had forgotten that Warwick had shown her that her horse didn’t really have the issues she thought that it had.  I believe she was convinced that the answer was that the horse was sore and that is why it was not working for her.  It’s like she did not see the horse “not be sore” with Warwick and respond to what he was doing.  It was like she was holding onto an answer that let her off the hook.

I bring this up because this is a common occurrence on the Facebook group.  People want to first blame the feed or the body or the teeth or the feet or the equipment (not that you shouldn’t be on top of all of those things to begin with, you totally should).  But, what you should also be cognitive of is you and how you affect your horse.  Are you bringing in the baggage of your day? Using the time with your horse as your release? Are you mentally present and ALL IN? Are you making tiny little mistakes that confuse your horse? (Not being consistent is one of those little things – think of a person you’ve known in your life that was inconsistent and how you responded to them – Warwick had a boss like that. Every morning it was a guessing game as to what mood the boss would be in and that would determine the day he’d have.)  Be aware of it, don’t beat yourself up over it, but also don’t dismiss the fact that you are probably a bigger factor than food, equipment, etc.  Maybe some days it is better for your horse if you don’t show up or maybe just hang out with them instead of working with them.

Hopefully I can persuade you to FIRST look at how the horse is being handled and what it is being taught (whether you mean to or not).  When you are handling the horse, you will notice if there is something physically wrong.  In doing the first parts of either the SKILLS or RELATIONSHIP path – you are observing your horse intensely.  If you notice something “off” ask yourself:  Does he do this when I am not around/attached to him/riding him?   If the answer is yes, then perhaps you should investigate further.  But if your horse has done something 1 time or doesn’t do it when you are not in the equation, then perhaps the only investigation you need to do is with yourself.

The more and more I learn about energy, the more convinced I am that I am the one that needs to change to suit my horse rather than the other way around (the way I have conducted myself up until this realization.) This journey is really a self-development one and I am learning so much!

Thanks for reading – I hope it didn’t come across as a rant!