Desert Horse Equestrian Services Guest Authors' Series


I Get So Mad Every Time My Horse ___________!
(fill in the blank with
undesirable equine behavior
of your choice)

How to transform your equine partner
into a mount you can enjoy and appreciate every time you ride.

Are you a serious rider? And by that I mean, do you really want to “get it right” with your horse, and establish great communication and partnership, so your riding is pure pleasure for you as well as your horse?

As much as you may appreciate your horse’s strong points, does he or she do things on a regular basis that annoy, frustrate or even anger you? Do you feel like you are “this close” to having a perfect ride, if only your mount would correct this one little annoying habit?

What if the solution turned out not to be a training issue – at least, not for the horse? Now, I know you already know the problem isn’t you (!) – but let’s say you could quickly get past your unpleasant reaction to the behavior, so you could better focus on how to solve it. And what if this new ability to shift your focus made you so open to your instructor’s training tips that “fixing” problems with your horse’s performance became easy and enjoyable?

If any of this is ringing any bells, see if the following sounds at all familiar:

You saddle up in a great mood, confident that this will be the day you successfully execute that move you’ve been working on for weeks -- the smooth upward transition, the nice quiet headset, the balanced canter circle, the relaxed approach to a fence….

The moment arrives and you give your horse the cue, trying to show her clearly what you want, and optimistically look for that immediate, willing response you know she’s capable of. But once again she gets stiff, stubborn or seemingly stupid for no apparent reason, just when she should be accepting your aids. She completely ignores your leg, pops her head up repeatedly, falls in on the circle, or bolts to the next jump – and there you are, back in a familiar response that has been getting worse over time.

You might be overheard muttering some choice words, and maybe you get after her a little more aggressively with reins or spurs than you mean to, communicating your displeasure. Maybe you feel mildly guilty then, on top of the annoyance.

Whether your frustration started out mild and escalated, or you went straight to full blown aggravation, your whole mood has changed and all the pleasure has been sucked out of the experience.

Your reaction is perfectly understandable, right? You may feel disgusted – what the heck is it with this darn horse? Why doesn’t she get this? You’ve had it with struggling. You consider handing her over to your trainer for a month of intensive schooling. If it’s been going on long enough, maybe you start to think she’s just not the right horse for you and you should consider selling her.

Either way, you have a lousy end to your ride, and probably go home feeling resigned and somewhat powerless.

Well … what if I told you it is possible to avoid that whole cycle of aggravation and despair, and to really enjoy your horse instead? And no, it’s not a matter of “just getting over it” or positive thinking. What if, as a bonus, you might just get exactly the performance improvement you’re looking for?

Your horse has an enormous, finely tuned emotional antenna, and you would be astonished how much anticipation, tension and anxiety you are communicating to her every minute that you are concentrating on, and worrying about, what you want her to do. Her behavior can be significantly influenced by altering your emotional state. And the more quickly you are able to do so, the sooner your horse will respond the way you would like her to. Then voila! Happy partnership!

One thing I can promise you – your suffering is not inevitable! These tools can be learned, and with practice they become almost second nature, giving you more power to create the outcomes you desire.

Here's the story of one horsewoman who did just that, with a little help:


Julie and Mr. T

“Mr. T” was the pride and joy of Julie’s life. Serious competitors on the hunter/jumper circuit, they had a great relationship. Only ONE thing bothered Julie about him, but it was a biggie: when jumping a course, Mr. T would land from one fence and bolt to the next one. On a 17 hand horse with tremendous power and speed, this was nerve-wracking, frustrating, and intimidating. It also caused major interference in accomplishing Julie’s training goals – it’s pretty hard to jump a course in a calm, controlled manner when your horse is running off with you!

After reluctantly obeying the trainer’s orders to punish him a couple of times and feeling terrible about it (and seeing no improvement!), she decided there had to be another answer. Amazingly, Mr. T himself helped her find it. She was grooming him one day and he suddenly bit her – grabbed her, really - gently but emphatically, on her right shoulder. It was so unlike him, she was shocked. He wasn’t upset, and he clearly didn’t do it with the intent to hurt her. It almost seemed as though he was trying to tell her something. But what?

 
"...it’s pretty hard to jump a course in a calm, controlled manner when your horse is running off with you!"

To answer this question, Julie and I went on a typically unconventional journey of coaching inquiry. We started with interpretations of the physical body part involved. First, we know that the right side of the body is controlled by the left brain, the center of logical function and, some say, our more “masculine” or assertive energy. So we speculated that maybe Mr. T was impatient with the part of her that wanted to ‘get it done’. But why grab her shoulder?

We then consulted the book You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay, who guides people in healing their bodies by revealing and reversing self-defeating thought patterns. She teaches that these thoughts and beliefs are the real root causes of physical “dis-ease.”

I know what you’re thinking – this is all very “woo-woo,” right? All I can say is, we had seen startlingly relevant information come from that source before, so I pulled my copy of Hay’s book off the shelf and looked up Shoulders. The book indicated that shoulder problems suggested an interference with “our ability to carry out experiences in life joyously. We make life a burden by our attitude.” Other related sections cited, “Carrying the burdens of life. Helpless and hopeless…inability to flow…Fear and trying to hold on to old ideas. Not trusting life.” Suggested New Thought Patterns were “I choose to allow all my experiences to be joyous and loving. I release all fears. I now trust the process of life.”

In the index I noticed, “Should – as a damaging word” was directly above Shoulder. (Hmmm, Shoulder is the word Should with two more letters! What’s that about?) I read further, and saw that Louise believes “…should is one of the most damaging words in our language. Every time we use should, we are, in effect, saying ‘wrong.’ Either we are wrong or we were wrong or we’re going to be wrong.”

I asked Julie if any of this meant anything to her; was there any lack of joy in her relationship with Mr. T? Did she feel she was carrying any burdens? Was she not trusting, or feeling fearful about anything? Did she feel anything was wrong in their relationship? Nothing jumped out as the obvious answer, but she took the information in to ponder it further.

In a process that took a few weeks, Julie first identified that her focus on training and her determination to correct Mr. T’s bolting habit (both powerful “shoulds”) had gotten in the way of the joy she normally would have experienced while riding him. She then connected that with a realization that she was habitually tensing up in her seat and upper body when they were jumping. Julie knew a horse clearly senses such tension in its rider and thought perhaps her stiffness was inadvertently cueing him to speed up.

So she began consciously relaxing her core, remaining soft, flexible and supple, moving with him and ENJOYING THE RIDE. Voila – he immediately stopped bolting between fences! She made sure to ride this way and things were perfect … for about a week. Then it started again.

Hugely disappointed, Julie despaired of ever figuring out a solution. Then someone sent her video of her and Mr. T in a recent show, and she was shocked to see how slowly and carefully Mr. T was going around the courses – totally unlike the sensation of riding him, which was rushing and bordering on out of control. Mr. T’s sheer size and power created a sense of traveling faster and more “out of control” than he actually was. In reality, he was being very deliberate and taking really good care of his rider!

"With the emotional agility she had learned ... her experience
of riding
him was transformed."
 

She realized that even with her new consciousness about keeping her body relaxed and enjoying her ride, she was still going into each ride not completely trusting him. A part of her felt unsafe, concerned and anxious about how fast she felt he was going all the time. So SHE was actually setting up a cycle of distrust and worry, before anything even happened! Having had a lot of coaching in shifting at will out of emotional states that are not helpful in the moment, Julie committed herself to fully trust Mr. T from then on – mind, body and spirit – to safely and responsibly carry her around a course of jumps.

With the emotional agility she had learned, it was easy. And her experience of riding him was transformed. The “training problem” of his bolting to the next fence was gone, and six months later it has not returned!

An excited and joyful Julie shared with me soon after that everyone in her barn was amazed at this transformation. Barnmates have been declaring, “I can’t believe that is the same horse!” And “what did you DO??!” Her trainer is amazed. People want to know her secret. Julie is thrilled, and eternally grateful that she didn’t punish Mr. T for something that wasn’t even his problem – something actually caused by her unrecognized anxiety and concern.

No wonder Mr. T finally went to extreme measures to get her attention! And as it turns out, “woo-woo” or not, he went to just the right spot on her body to make his point, clearly and unequivocally! “There is nothing wrong! Just relax, trust and feel the joy!”   Lynn Crozier


Lynn Crozier is a Leadership Development and Life Coach, and a specialist in Equine Experiential Learning (EEL).  She educates and coaches equestrians in optimum self-awareness and self-management skills and helps them establish improved sensitivity and rapport with their partners, both equine and human. Applying their new abilities in emotional intelligence, body awareness, effective decision-making and enhanced communication, Lynn’s clients achieve more satisfying and successful relationships with their horses and colleagues, trainers and students. The result is greater enjoyment as well as more consistent success in training and performance. For more information about her individual and group coaching, teambuilding workshops, and high-impact EEL retreats, contact Lynn at (520) 777-3348 or via email at Lynn@TransitionAlternatives.com.



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