Monday, September 22, 2014

Emotional Fitness Clinic has Given Me Endless Inspiration!

      Last weekend I attended one day of a two day Emotional Fitness clinic put on by our local Parelli instructors; Todd and Maureen Owens who hosted the incredible Dr Jenny. She is a sports psychologist with the most amazing views on self help, healing and understanding ourselves so we can better understand our horses. She talked about a lot of amazing ideals, character traits and day to day actions we can do to help ourselves become more emotionally fit. But one thing she talked about which struck a major chord for me; is how little people are really in tune with their horses.

      I am just as guilty, as I went home and thought about everything she had said. How we need to take breaks in our training sessions so our horses can digest what we've been telling them, and working them through. How we need to stop and really observe our horses so we can look for tell tale signs of tension, fear and confusion. This pushes past just the ability to ask a horse to do something and having them react, we're talking about having a calm and collected horse who understands, digests and then responds to your cues. Tension and stress free.

      It was so interesting to see her working with different riders and trainers to pin point their issues and to work through them together. There was one lady who had her horse doing wonderful patterns and who was obviously very obedient... but after a few patterns we all came to realize what she did not. Her horse was actually very tense. This mare was reacting to very small, easy cues; and doing all of the patterns with ease. But she never relaxed into anything. She was always very tight necked, her tail was clamped, her legs were choppy.. And those were just the really noticeable traits from afar; there were more tell tale signs close up that Dr Jenny gave advice on.
      How do we know when our horse has really relaxed into work? When are they 100% on and ready for work; cool, calm and collected. Responsive and ready for action. This is where Dr Jenny stressed our need for better observation of our horses. Here was a seemingly wonderfully trained horse, who was living with stress 90% of the time during work. And to no fault of her owner, she just didn't know! She thought, well if my horse is answering my questions and working through what I ask of her, she must be ok with it. But she wasn't.

      It's not hard to take the time to recognize stress in our horses, or to even take a break and bring them back down. Passed that it's not very difficult to work them out of that state, and into a relaxed mode in both their body and mind. This is where we want them to be anyways!

      This lady took advice from Dr Jenny, and from Todd; and worked on how to be in tune with her horse. She learned to wait for her to lick and chew after every movement; which in the beginning took upwards of 10-15minutes. She learned to embrace her calm self, and how to ask for that calm self. And she also learned about her own walls that had been blocking her from seeing her horse's stress in the first place. She learned she was very much an LBI and needed to stop worrying about the big picture check list (circle game, check. yoyo game, check.) and instead focus on her horse's attitude and mannerisms. Is she relaxed? How do I know? Is she tense? High headed? Is her tail loose and swinging? Is her back tense and choppy? Are her eyes blinking and thinking or stuck open in shock?
      These are all things we need to start doing on a regular basis with our horses in everything we do. Because the more we tune into these qualities, the more quality we will start to see in our horse's work. Who works out and studies better when they are relaxed and comfortable? *raises hand* It's the same for our horses.

      I want you to look at your own training and riding; think back to times when you've maybe pushed your horse passed their relaxed threshold and into a stressed environment. Don't get me wrong, as Dr Jenny has said, stress isn't a bad thing; it's a biological imperative. But we need to be aware of when we're asking for emotional fitness, or when we're ignoring our horse's signs of being uncomfortable. Just because your horse allows you to climb up on their back, doesn't mean they are entirely relaxed in the process. Just because your horse allows you to stand up on their bum, doesn't mean they are comfortable with the idea. Are they standing cool, calm and collected because they are relaxed? Or are they frozen in shock or fear?

      My biggest advice is to look at those ears, paired with those eyes. They will tell you about a world of emotional thought in your horse. So next time you go to work with your horse, make sure you are waiting for those licks and chews, make sure you are giving them a few breaks here and there, and most of all make sure you are tuned into their comfort levels and wait for that relaxed demeanour before moving forward.

      I took this advice and had an incredible break through with a client's horse this past week. It was one of the most inspiring moments of my training career, and I've only just begun!

As always, keep on keepin' on!

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