The approach people take with their horses, is usually similar to how they deal with every other relationship as well. Emotions play an important role with how we communicate amongst our parents, friends, coworkers, etc. I am recognizing that the better your emotional fitness becomes around horses, the stronger it becomes in everyday life too.
Recently I stopped riding Nekoda for three weeks while I was busy getting ready to go away for a holiday. When I finally got back in the saddle, she was just the way I had left her in every aspect of her development, but even better. She had time to soak on our previous sessions and was exuberant to offer me what I had been asking for earlier in the month.
Nekoda’s emotional fitness has continually improved since I have “tapped into” a happy state of mind when I am teaching her, which sets her up for success. This is a very different feeling than her level of obedience used to be. I was unknowingly training with a lot of pressure on her and myself, which led to more than enough emotional breakdowns on both parts in the past.
What is emotional fitness about?
Having a high level of emotional fitness is a basis for feeling comfortable and balanced with whatever the circumstances are in your life, so that you can feel inner peace regardless of what is going on around you.
Why does emotional fitness matter with horses?
Our decision making is heavily based upon our emotional state. We are far more fair, and better partners for our horses when we can deal with the pressures of challenging situations from a place of calmness within ourselves. This includes every aspect of developing our horsemanship, as well as the ability to leave all other “real life” pressure behind when we head out to the barn. Horses seem to sense our emotions even when we have not recognized them within ourselves.
1. Become aware of your emotional fitness.
You can strengthen your level of emotional fitness, just as any physical exercise would strengthen your body. Take a step back every time you feel frustrated or overwhelmed and consider why you feel this way. Realize that there is no one to blame, only the need for a different approach that allows you to continue forward with less tension. Your horse will thank you for paying close attention, and your relationship with improve.
2. Let go of impulsive techniques with your horse.
Changing plans abruptly (even if you are changing plans because your horse is out of you control) only adds tension and stress to a situation. Breathe before and during any change in communication aids so that your horse has time to comprehend and respond accordingly without unnecessary pressure thrown onto them. This small adjustment in your approach will begin to strengthen your emotional fitness. Eventually you will find fewer and fewer occasions when you feel loss of control because you have coached yourself to relax and consider every challenge as an opportunity coming your way.
3. Count your blessings.
Keep all of the things in mind that you enjoy and find successful no matter how modest they may seem. Positive thoughts will change your perception and help you relax in the present moment. These small blessings can be as simple as the way you feel when you run your hands through her main, or how amazing you feel when she greets you at the gait.
4. Be honest.
Honest gestures such as thanking our horses for the ride at the end of each session are equally as good for us as they are for them. It seems silly to hear the words, but our emotions are directly connected to the positive energy that we want our horses to feel when they are with us. They will be more likely to enjoy working with us if we convey gratitude and happiness for their efforts.
5. Accept the learning curves to emotional freedom.
There are other outside influences that we have the power to change in order to simplify life. I decided to stop drinking coffee on my drive to a farm where I was working with several young, green Paso Finos. They already had so much natural energy as such a sensitive breed. It was as if my seat was electrified by the caffeine! The massive tension releases that each of them gave during rides was impossible to ignore when I stopped drinking coffee – their yawns and blowing said it all!
Avoid showing up at your barn to ride when you are crunched for time, or the most competitive, unconsciously noisy rider is due to be there. Setting your sessions up for success will allow you to relax and enjoy the moment. This leads to better emotional fitness.
Fear is one of the most challenging emotions to free yourself from, and seen with every age and level of individual. Every rider needs to be honest with themselves when it comes to their abilities and stressors. Respect your intuition, and find ways to break down each challenge into tiny pieces so that you can find success until you overcome the larger challenge. Given that you are afraid to fall again while jumping your horse; leave the polls on the ground for a while. Given that you never want to be run over again, start by addressing personal space boundaries with your horse.
6. Find someone who understands.
Find a horsemanship instructor who understands and supports mutual respect for the horse and rider. Neither horse nor rider should be pushed to the point of becoming emotionally unravelled. We all learn best when we are calm and confident.
7. Be a positive influence.
The words “leadership” and “alpha” are frequently used with horse training. You can become a solid rock that is unflappable. However, you will only influence your horse to become more emotionally fit if you are walking the talk. This does not mean acting bold and forcing your horse forward when the plastic bag blows past you on the trail. Instead, this form of influence comes from a place of understanding the real threat that your horse perceives; and calmly giving direction so he can feel the softness in your hands and seat. He will notice that you are free of tension and can keep him safe. This approach takes time and patience, but the result is a horse who allows you to make the decisions because you have continued to prove that you make great choices from an emotionally balanced place. Horses will follow someone who creates a safe environment around them.