I was caught off guard this week when I saw a picture of myself standing between two of my young clients. OMG I am SO tiny! I’ve been told this my entire life, but I’d never really and truly realized it until I saw that picture. It’s just never crossed my mind. I deal with large animals every day; teaching, training, and riding requires a certain degree of self-awareness and self-confidence. It also doesn’t hurt if your mind set is one of, “don’t think I can’t take you”, because I absolutely can.
Perception is everything. It shapes how we see ourselves and how others identify and perceive us. Perception is the foundation of all relationship hierarchies. Horses defer and dominate each other based on their perceptions of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s a sacred system developed over time to keep them safe and it’s the exact same one they use to evaluate and determine whether we’re worthy of their attention and respect.
My horses think I’m huge and it’s a perception I’m happy to perpetuate. I learned a long time ago that standing up for myself helped me to gain the respect of the people around me and it helped make the transition to working with horses much easier. Growing up, my sisters and I were very feisty, fought long and often, and had no problem wrestling each other into submission. Those life lessons weren’t always pleasant, but they did lay a great foundation for understanding how to apply a little pressure to get my way, something that’s come in quite handy with the horses over the years.
This more aggressive approach to life seems to have fallen out of favour, for obvious reasons, but it’s left us coaches with a generation of riders unfamiliar with the concept of domination. We now live in an era which I’ve dubbed the “Era of Zero Tolerance”. The “keep your hands to yourself” approach is great when dealing with other people, but it’s hell when trying to teach to young riders the importance of projecting a sense of power and confidence when interacting with their horses. Making themselves “big” is a foreign concept. School playgrounds used to do that job for us, but these days with the schools cracking down or simply doing away with the more physical interactions like snowball fights, red rover, or even holding hands, our kids are missing out on the ability to test their physical prowess. They’re also missing out on the joy of learning that they can live through the occasional bump or bruise. For riders, the ability to tough it out is a mental and physical advantage when needing to convince a 1500 pound horse that you’d really rather to go left when he’d like to go right.
It’s not that I don’t understand the need to respect our personal space. I firmly believe that all kids need to learn the self-control, which comes from a policy aimed towards keeping things civil and safe. But I also believe that it can rob them of the ability to problem solve and assert themselves in stressful, intimidating situations, the likes of which riders face pretty much every day.
I’m finding that more often than not, young girls are encouraged to adopt attitudes that encourage them to avoid most forms of physical confrontation and that’s too bad. As potential horse women we need to encourage these young girls to explore their more powerful, dominant side, so it won’t be completely foreign when they have to keep their horses from dragging them towards the nearest patch of grass or when they hit the ground for the very first time.
Riders are a tough bunch – we have to be. No other sport that I can think of demands that it’s participants be mentally and physically powerful enough to command the respect of an animal that outweighs them by a ratio of 10:1 all the while remaining poised, elegant, and graceful. Young girls need to know that they’re tough enough to withstand the occasional blow to the head, crushed foot or broken bone. That’s what I call “Girl Power”.