Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve written about mindfulness and self-awareness and given you some tools to explore. This week, I’m going one step further – possibly one step further into woo-woo land then you might be willing to go – but again, please give this a try before you just roll your eyes and give it a miss. The new tool? Tapping – also known as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).
Tapping was “discovered” in 1980 by Roger Callahan. Callahan, a psychologist, had some knowledge of acupuncture meridians. He discovered that tapping your fingers on different points of the meridian could have some pretty amazing results. (If you’d like to read some research on meridians, check out this paper on the National Institute of Health (NIH) website). The NIH also provides substantial research findings on Tapping being successfully used for health issues such as anxiety and depression. I know – woopty doo. What does this have to do with your Horsey Life? A lot my friend, a lot.
In this post and this post, I discuss some exercises you can do to de-stress from a long day before you head out to hang out with your horse. (I’ve been told that wine is also an option.) But what if you’re dealing with more than the “It’s been a long and crappy week and it’s only Monday” kind of stress? What if you’re dealing with genuine fear or other emotional roadblocks? Number one – I’ve been there, heck, everyone I know who’s involved with horses has been there at one time or another, so no self-recriminations allowed. Denying an emotion or feeling does not make it go away.
The elephant in the room
Honestly, fear isn’t that socially acceptable. There are lots of peppy phrases like, “Feel the fear and do it anyway”, and, “There’s nothing to fear but fear itself” and a favorite: “FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real”. Yay. I’m sure those quotes and phrases made you feel 100% ready to tackle whatever you fear and get on with your life… or not.
While these lofty quotes can be inspiring, they’re missing a critical element: the HOW. How do you “Face the fear and do it anyway”? How do we convince ourselves that the fear we’re experiencing is just… the fear itself. (Awfully chicken and egg, if you ask me). What about the fear that you’re going to fall off? The fear you’re going to do something wrong with your horse? The fear that the vet bills are 250% more than you budgeted? Those are only feared because… we’re just afraid of fear??? I think not!
Let’s back up a step and have a quick biology lesson. Our fear responses were developed to save our butts long, long ago… (I really want to add, “in a galaxy far, far away”, but I’ll resist.) Saber-toothed tiger entering from the right? Run like hell to the left. Survival of the fittest was the day-to-day reality.
Fast forward a few millennia. Last time I checked, the only Saber-Toothed Tigers around now are just various collections of bones. Not very threatening. But in an effort to keep us safe, our amygdala takes any perceived threat and prepares your body for the running-like-hell part of the situation.
Perceived threat. “I’m going to be 5 minutes late to work” and “That ambulance was heading in the general direction of my house.” are the only things your poor amygdala has to work with these days, so it makes the most of what it’s got. Seemingly insignificant incidents can kick our good old reptile brain into overdrive. But having muscles prepare for flight, in part, by taking oxygen away from our fore-brain, usually doesn’t help our modern-day situations. Critical thinking skills go out the window, fill up the tank with cortisol, and boom – you’re a wreck.
Now instead of being late for work, substitute going for a ride on a windy day when your horse is a bit spooky. Or your instructor mentioning doing some jumping or riding in the big, open field this week. To lower your flight response and significantly improve your chances of having a lovely ride, you need a way to break that connection between the trigger (it’s windy) and the fear (I’m gonna die!). And Tapping, or EFT, is just the tool to do the job.
Next week, we’ll get into the actual tapping, and I’ll have some tapping meditations you can try for various situations. In the meantime, if you’d like an overview of the actual tapping process, check out THIS page and THIS page.
Questions or comments? Drop them in the comment box below, I’d love to hear from you! Prefer email? You’ll find me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’ve read any of my posts or grabbed a free copy of my 10-Minute Toolkit, you know I’m all about awareness. (And if you haven’t gotten your 10-Minute Toolkit yet, you can do so HERE.)
Awareness means experiencing life as it happens. Too often we get caught up in our to-do list, the news, pressures at work, and now, stressing over the changes the coronavirus has wreaked in our lives. I don’t know about you, but I find it all too easy to go and feed my horses, do a brief health check, do fly spray, do fly masks, do their water and be on my way. The only trouble with all of this doing is that I’m often on autopilot.
Ever had one of those moments where you can’t remember if you shut off the stove before you left the house? That’s a classic example of “unawareness”. And to be honest, being “unaware” is like putting blinders on. We miss experiencing our life right now because we’re caught up in what we did, what we have to do, and when, where, and how we’re going to do it.
On the flip side, awareness can mean you notice birds singing when you wake up, how good food tastes, and just how much your horse loves having his belly scratched. Awareness at the barn translates into a more enjoyable time for you and your horse.
Awareness can take some practice, but the rewards you reap will add up exponentially, both in the barn and beyond. There are apps and alarms and reminders we can use (more on that in a later post), but there are plenty of low-tech/no-tech ways for you to become more aware of what’s going on in your Horsey Life.
Yup. I said it. Before you close your browser and carry on with your (unaware) day, hear me out. Meditation can be as simple as stopping and breathing in and out 2 or 3 times while paying attention to your breath. You don’t have to go to an ashram, sit in lotus position, or even do some fancy breathing exercise – just breathe normally and focus on where you feel your breath. In your nose, as you inhale? Does your chest rise and fall? Notice that and you’ve taken your first step toward becoming more aware.
To carry that exercise directly to your Horsey Life, stand next to your horse and watch him breathe. (If you’re in the habit of tracking his Temperature, Pulse, and Respiration (TPR), you’ll be able to do this easily. If not, there are a few ways to watch his breath, just as there are for watching your own breath. You can watch his nostrils, or you can watch his rib cage rise and fall. You don’t have to count anything (so no need to use your high-tech watch’s timer feature).
Once you’ve got this down, go a little deeper with your observation. Instead of just noticing when he breathes in and out, notice his expression, his ears, how he’s standing. Take in the whole picture. I find it helpful to look at my horses like I need to describe them to someone – size and color, sure, but also general temperament, favorite spot(s) to be scratched, and any goofy habits – like being a water hog, (more on that in another post).
So take a few breaths, head out to the barn, and pay special attention to your horse. You’ll both enjoy it.
We’ve made it to Day 5 of 5 Steps to Better Understanding Your Horse! The steps so far:
- Be Still
- Be Curious
- Be Patient
- Be Open
To wrap up the series, I’m going to share the most important step – the 1 Step to Rule Them All.
This is the foundation on which all of your interactions with your horse should be built. Yes, your horse should respect your personal space, not barge through the gate, or squash you against the wall of his stall; but, again, this isn’t about him, it’s about you.
As we discussed earlier in this series, you need to learn to understand everything you can about your horse. Starting with the basics, like the fact that he’s a prey animal whose response to threat is flight. The fact that his eyes are set on the side of his head so he’s able to see nearly 360° in case a predator approaches from behind. That’s why a horse immediately puts his head up and slightly angled if he perceives a threat – it gives him a better field of view. (In case you didn’t know that, I figured I’d add that in here.)
Horses have evolved over millions of years as prey animals. Despite the fact that your horse has probably never had to run from a pack of wolves or a mountain lion, he’s programmed to run from any perceived threat.
A perceived threat to him might be a garbage can or flapping flag to you.
Because you understand that a garbage can is not a predator, it falls on you to understand and respect the fact that he’s not “being an idiot”, or “doing it on purpose”. Respect of your horse’s innate horsiness will make everyone’s life easier. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work with him to help him understand that sometimes a garbage can is just a garbage can (sorry Freud), it does mean you shouldn’t punish him for a response developed eons ago.
On a side note – if you start to get tense when your horse does, he’ll sense that fear and be ready to get the hell out of Dodge at a moment’s notice. He doesn’t realize he’s the source of your fear, he just knows fear = run.
Learn as much as you can about your horse’s behavior, about horses’ behavior in general. Understand and respect the why behind the what. You owe it to your horse – and yourself.
Hope you’ve found the first 3 posts in this series helpful! Today’s step is:
To set the stage, let’s start with what “openness” is in this context.
In an article on PsychologyToday.com, Ingrid Clayton, Ph.D., states that to” be open” means the following:
“For starters, I think it means that we refrain from shutting down possibilities before they’ve had a chance to breathe… ‘No’ feels like a safe choice. There’s nothing to risk and I stay in my comfort zone.” Ingrid Clayton, Ph.D.
Sound familiar? Some examples in your Horsey Life might be:
- You’ve always ridden hunt seat, but your friend suggests you try balanced seat or dressage to help improve your balance.
- You typically buy one brand of fly spray or shampoo, but someone tells you about a brand you’ve never tried.
- You’ve always ridden the same horse at your lesson barn and your instructor wants you to ride a different one
- You always ride in a ring and a friend invites you on a trail ride
All of these scenarios offer some risk (as does getting out of bed in the morning)’ however, staying safe has its own risks – ie burnout or boredom – for you and your horse.
I’m definitely not suggesting that you should decide to go out cantering in a field if you’re not yet established enough in the canter for it to be safe, but there’s a difference between being safe and being stuck. Being safe is realizing that any activity with horses carries some inherent risk and preparing accordingly – i.e.wearing a helmet, not riding alone, letting someone know where you’re going when you go out on a trail ride, (and when you expect to be back). Staying stuck is letting the degree of risk escalate to the point where nothing new feels safe.
As humans, we’re evolutionarily programmed to avoid risk; running when a saber-toothed tiger approached was a matter of life and death. Fortunately, most experiences with horses don’t involve that level of risk. Taking small steps outside our comfort zones is how we grow, as a rider, and as a person.
The benefits of being open to new experiences don’t just affect you, they’re also beneficial to your horse. As a dressage rider/trainer/instructor, I understand the importance of geometry and precision. I know how to plot a perfect 20-meter circle, I know how to ride into corners and make transactions at the letter rather than somewhere in the vicinity of the letter. I also know drilling on the same thing day after day after day can be about as stimulating as watching grass grow. If you’ve ever watched (or scribed for) 32 Training Level rides, you know the depths of hell that unprepared riders can drag you into (a rant for a different post ;-).
If you’re bored stiff watching the rides, imagine how bored the horses are having to drill on them day in and day out. Your horse needs some variety in his work for both physical and mental health. Trail riding can offer fresh perspectives. Trying out a different discipline (i.e. hunt seat, saddle seat, stock seat), can be fun and help you learn how your position affects the horse.
Don’t let “no” become your default setting. View each new opportunity as a bridge to a broader experience. You don’t grow as a rider (or a human) by being afraid to cross the bridge into a new experience. It’s time to be open.
Welcome back! If you’ve been following along, you’ll remember that we covered the first two steps of the process, Be Still and Be Curious in the posts Monday and Tuesday. If you haven’t read them yet, visit part 1 HERE and part 2 HERE. OK, everybody ready? The third step to better understanding your horse is:
The human race is becoming a lot more impatient. Studyfinds.org reported on research commissioned by Bic, famous for pens, razors, and lighters, that showed most respondents’ patience for things like waiting for ink to dry on a card or waiting for a kettle to boil, (it was a British study), could be measured in mere seconds. Instagram, Instapot, Instant Rice – the ever-shrinking time we’re willing to wait for anything could end us up in an Insti-tution!
Glance back over your day and try to remember times where you waited for more than 2 minutes. For anything. Kind of hard, isn’t it? We deal with this frenzied pace all day – and then we go to the barn to spend time with our horse. Patience is probably the last thing on your mind.
Following this scenario, you arrive at the barn, you’re stressed and want to get tacked up, and ride so you can work on the new exercises you’re introducing to your horse. He was doing a super job yesterday, and you want to take it to the next level today.
So you get on.
And it sucks.
Your horse apparently lost all memory overnight because he obviously has no idea what you’re asking him to do. What was easy yesterday just ain’t happenin’ today. You’re frustrated, he’s frustrated. The whole thing is heading to Hell in a handbasket and you’re ready to take up crocheting instead of riding. Then you could just sit at home evenings with a bottle of wine and feel satisfied.
Take a deep breath and resist the urge to just go home and spend quality time with a bottle of wine. This is where the learning begins.
Enter patience. Patience doesn’t just refer to waiting for 20 minutes while your horse takes his time eating his dinner, and then another 5 while he licks out the bucket. True patience doesn’t just refer to your relationship with your horse, you also have to practice it with yourself.
You’re probably discovering a theme in this series – it’s not him, it’s you. And if you want to improve things, you need to learn to be patient with yourself.
It’s hard to be patient with your horse (or your kids, or a traffic jam) when your internal dialog starts complaining that “this is taking too long” when you’ve spent 10 seconds on a project. (Even crocheting doilies doesn’t happen that fast).
Horses are here to teach us things we wouldn’t otherwise discover in ourselves – like stillness, curiosity, and patience, and spending time with them offers plenty of opportunities to practice.
Your ride not going as planned? Your horse threw a shoe right before the long trailride you were going to take (and 1 day after the blacksmith was at the barn)? Great – another chance to practice patience!
So flip the way you see things – instead of getting angry or frustrated, view this as an opportunity. Horse not getting the exercise he’d done perfectly yesterday? Take it back down to something he learned a week ago or a year ago. Give him (and yourself) a chance to have a positive experience. Pulled a shoe? Spend the time you were going to be riding on grooming, hand-grazing, or ground manners.
Don’t worry, his short term memory will return. He’ll give up spooking at the mailbox he’s been walking past for the last year. He’ll sail through the new exercises flawlessly.
It might not happen right away, but with patience, you’ll appreciate the journey and the end result will be even better.
But be patient, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Welcome back! Today we’re on the second step in our journey toward better understanding our horses. (If you missed yesterday’s post, you can read it here). Today’s step is Be Curious
Being curious is vital to learning, and retaining, new information. Think of it this way: if you can’t stand golf, but your spouse watches the golf channel all the time, are you likely to learn more about it? Probably not. I don’t know about you, but being curious about something is the first step to learning about it.
We started to develop this a bit yesterday when I quizzed you on how well you know your horse. If you don’t know his vitals, or how he reacts in certain circumstances, your desire to understand him better should spark curiosity which will, in turn, spark full-fledged learning.
Once your curiosity has been piqued, there are a couple of different ways to learn:
- Direct learning – learning directly from your horse. This type of learning involves you spending time with him – groom him, lead him, pet him, ride him, observe him. Start with yesterday’s skill of being still and go from there.
- Indirect learning – learning from an outside source such as books, YouTube videos, your vet, your instructor, etc. Curiosity will serve you well in indirect learning. There is a LOT of information available, and not all of it is safe or helpful or applicable to you and your horse at this time. Be curious about the source of the information as much as the information itself. For instance, forums tend to be attract people who have strong opinions on how things should be done, and they’re not afraid to share them. Just because they’re vehement, doesn’t mean they’re right. Which brings me to the third kind of learning.
- Discernment. Might does not always equal right, especially when it concerns the health and safety of you or your horse. If you read something online, is it written by a vet or a reputable trainer? If you’re watching a YouTube video, is the information being presented in a professional manner?
Any time you feel uncomfortable during an indirect learning situation, either about the way the horse is being handled or the amount of drama in the video, listen to your instincts. I’m not saying those people are wrong, just that they may be wrong for you and your horse where you are right now.
Curiosity is a great starting place for learning. Be curious about what your horse is telling you and see where it leads.
Tomorrow – step 3 is Be Patient.
See you there!