One hot summer day while picking up rocks in a client’s arena, dressage-horse-in-training “Dueszy” began trying to help me by picking up rocks too. He rolled each one around in his mouth for a few seconds before spitting it out and picking up another. He looked at me as if to say, “I’m not sure what you want me to do with this now that I’ve got it in my mouth!” What an eager pupil! Horses are eager pupils. They are eager to copy the behavior of their leader and they are eager to please their leader. They all have different ways of showing their eagerness, however, and their willingness can be easily forgotten when we are trying to teach our horse something new and s/he is not catching on quickly.
I am a dressage trainer. Like any equine endeavor, on a day to day basis, dressage is a practice. Progress happens weekly when we’re lucky, but more often monthly. Being mindful about our daily practice with horses cultivates this monthly progression. Just as important, it helps us keep the work in perspective. Mindfulness safeguards against unrealistic expectations that lead to feelings of failure. Mindfulness allows us to appreciate the honest daily efforts of both ourselves and our horses. Mindfulness reminds us to have compassion for our horses and ourselves during difficult work. Some examples of ways to be mindful are:
· Take a break from work to walk your horse on a loose rein or line once around the arena. Use this time to contemplate how you can better communicate the lesson to your horse.
· Take a deep breathe and be sure you are responding to your horse how you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed.
· Mentally list 3 things that have gone well in your training session, giving both you and your horse credit for these achievements.
· Try to break down whatever difficulty you are having with your horse to the most basic misunderstanding. When you start work again, approach the lesson step by step, starting with the most basic component of the exercise.
· At the end of your work session, describe in one or two sentences the most effective thing you did to get a positive response from your horse. Write it down on an index card and read it right before you work with your horse tomorrow so you can bring today’s success into your next session.
We are lucky to have these powerful creatures by our sides. At the end of the day, it is only fair for our horses to know we are truly grateful for their presence in our lives.