Have you ever had your horse do something totally unexpected? (If not, I’d love to meet your horse!!) It seems that just when you’re on cruise control, everything’s humming along smoothly – bang. Weird response from your horse. A sudden spook at… who knows? A shift in behavior, a habit that’s just starting to annoy you. I hate to be blunt, but chances are it’s probably not your horse – it’s probably you.
Please understand, there could be medical reasons for a change in behavior, so be sure to check with your vet to rule out any physical issues. Sometimes a change in behavior is due to pain or other health issues, and that’s not what I’m covering here.
So – I dropped the bombshell, it’s not him, it’s you. Take a bit of time reflecting on this. How well do you really understand your horse, physically and mentally? Being the (allegedly) higher life-form in this relationship, it’s up to you to learn his language and behavior before you expect him to understand yours.
- What’s your horse’s normal T/P/R (temperature, pulse, and respiration)
- What do your horse’s legs feel like before and after work? Is there heat, filling? Are there old “jewels” like windpuffs or splints? Are they changing?
- How well is he drinking – especially in the hot weather we’re experiencing this summer (at least we are here in VA!)?
- How quickly does he eat his breakfast and/or dinner? Is he a picky eater or an equine omnivore?
- What’s his typical overall behavior? Is he a type A or more of a cool dude?
These are just a few of the things you should know about your horse. If you can’t answer any of these questions, learning the answers is a good place to start. Record his health data – whether in a notebook or in an app. By taking a few minutes every day to analyze and track this info, you’ll catch any changes earlier rather than later.
Ready to jump in? Here’s step 1, Be Still
Step 1 – Be Still
It’s hard to learn anything when you’re not paying attention. In the case of understanding your horse better, not paying attention typically takes the form of distraction. Here are a few things to avoid:
- Thinking about what you need to do when you get home
- Chatting on the phone while you’re with your horse (the exception for this is a call to the vet).
- Working on the wrong part of the puzzle i.e. – when your horse is muddy, don’t think about getting rid of the mud, view it as getting your horse clean. Your different focus will be noticed.
So, what does an “un-distracted” visit with your horse look like?
- Leaving your phone in the car or the tack room, unless you keep it with you in case of an emergency. If you do keep it with you, turn off the ringer, don’t answer any texts, and resist the urge to pull it out every time you get a ping, ding, chime, or rhyme. Assign special ringtones for your family so you’ll know when the call could be important and you need to answer it.
- Leave the outside world outside the barn. I shared this exercise in an earlier post to help you do just that. For some more great exercises check out my 10-Minute Toolkit.
- Breathing, relaxing your body, and just being with your horse.
There is a time to be “busy” and strive for goals, but this isn’t it. Let your only goal be to learn about your horse, how well you understand the way he communicates with you, and how well he understands when you communicate with him.
Ready? Head out to the barn, and let the learning begin.
Next up: Step 2 – Be Curious