When was the last time you gave your horse the space to act FREE from expectations beyond those necessary for safety? When was the last time you told your horse thank you?
Seriously. Can you remember the last time you interacted with your horse and they had the freedom to be with you or do their own thing? Can you remember the last time you stood quietly for a moment and then SAID “thank you” to your horse. I don’t know about you, but for years of my riding career I don’t think I had an interaction with my horse that he or she was truly free to decide whether they wanted to participate or not. And I honestly cannot remember sending quiet gratitude to my horse with a soft “thank you” aside from a couple times when my horse made the correct decision to a jump (when I made the incorrect one) and therefore saved us both.
Our horses certainly won’t understand our words, but he or she will understand and feel the freedom and gratitude emanating from our body.
Is your Horse Living in a Box?
Most horses are used to doing their work within the limitations of our expectations, like a box around them, quietly without thanks. Most horses will continue to do their best existing within that box and without appreciation. However, the doors that open when we DO dissolve our expectations and express gratitude are beautiful. Again, I have the donkeys to thank for clarity around these topics.
Cassie and Sunny are at least 10 times more sensitive than horses to the agendas that we humans have. They are used to expectations in their relationships with humans. For example, we will treat them kindly IF they do what they’re told. We will leave them be WHEN/IF they obey us. I am just as guilty as the humans that have handled them before. When I realized that I was trying to force them into a box, a rather large box compared to the mental and emotional space we often try to put our horses into, I immediately felt sorrow. One of the goals I have for myself as a horseperson and that I help my clients work towards as a coach, is dissolving expectations in our relationships with our horses. The only “expectation” I wish to have in my relationships with horses and our donkeys is to be good partners to each other.
Placing the expectation on Cassie and Sunny that they should be capable and willing to do the things that horses do AND enjoy them was unfair. Donkeys are psychologically and behaviorally different than horses. Cassie and Sunny especially because they have lived basically feral on the property we purchased up until 5 months ago. In trying to force them into that “box” I was taking away their magic, their authenticity, and they were beginning to dislike being around me.
I decided to make a change. I simplified my expectations of the donkeys drastically to the bare minimum for safety. My expectations are now this: they be willing to be haltered and led for the farrier and vet and herded into a trailer in an emergency. That’s it. That’s all. Everything else is their choice. Even interacting with me is their choice. If they don’t wish to come over and see me at any given time, I will make no judgment about it and will thank them for their authenticity that day. Each day they oblige me if I DO need to move them into a different paddock, etc. I will take a moment to say “thank you.” An amazing thing has occurred in this process. They DESIRE to be around me. They follow me around. They walk right over and swing their rears toward me for a scratch. Each time I take a quiet moment to thank them, they look at me with their big eyes and ears and breathe a deep sigh. I can feel the relief roll off of them.
What expectations do you have of your horse? See if you can put them into words and write them down. The more expectations and the stricter they are, the smaller the “box” you are confining your horse in and the less freedom you are giving him or her to participate in a conversation with you. Do you consciously thank your horse often? If so, AWESOME! Keep doing it. If not, can you make it a goal to do so once a week? Twice a week? Every day?
I’d love to hear about the expectations you discover that you have, the ones you decide to keep and if there are any you decide to dissolve. I’d love to hear about any unique ways you express gratitude to your horse. Lastly, I’d love to hear if you discover a change in your relationship with your horse after dissolving some expectations and expressing gratitude for him or her. By sharing our stories we can help each other heal our relationship with ourselves and our horses.