How do you handle it when your horse gives you negative feedback? On a scale of 1-10 do you completely lose all hope in the future of your riding? Do you lose your confidence? Do you get mad? Do you become sad or defensive? Do you become an enabler and make excuses for your horse?
What if instead you responded with curiosity? Being curious is one of the best ways you can take a step back and remove your personal emotions and expectations from the situation.
When your horse gives you a red flag that they are not feeling well, are not confident or are having a rough day, it’s important to ask why: especially if the change is sudden or has been going on for a while and doesn’t seem to be going away.
When we become curious instead of judgmental or defensive we hold space to problem-solve for our horse. You are your horse’s greatest advocate - after all he doesn’t have a voice. The only way he can tell you something is wrong is by acting up or off in some way.
Oftentimes this part of the horsemanship journey can be so hard because we come across an internal conflict that we didn’t even know was there until we hit a snag. The conflict between the picture we had in our heads of what having and enjoying a horse was going to be like vs. the sometimes extremely harsh reality of owning a horse.
The initial picture is usually of achieving some kind of goal. Wonderful relaxing trail rides day after day. A horse that runs up to us and meets us willingly at the gate. A horse that is loving and loyal like a dog. A horse that will willingly go with you anywhere and do anything you could ever want.
And then reality hits and you have your first spook on the trail and fall off or spend hours chasing your horse around in the pasture or can never seem to figure out this mystery lameness with your vet… you feel betrayed, mislead and bewildered as to how things could have gone so wrong. This can lead you down a spiral that is very hard to come out of.
But you have a choice as to whether or not you want to go down that spiral of self-pity and self doubt or (assuming I have mostly female readers) you can cowgirl up and respond with curiosity. Don’t let anyone tell you that horses do things for no reason at all. That’s just lazy horsemanship. There is ALWAYS a reason. And usually it can be figured out.
Three steps to dealing with your horse’s negative feedback:
1) Get curious - ask why right away
2) Get help. Don’t know what’s going on? Don’t stay stuck: find a
professional who might be able to figure it out.
3) Choose a plausible answer and stick with the solution
consistently before deciding if it works or not.
Remember, horses are pattern animals. Their habits (just like ours) are built on patterns of behavior and repetition. It takes a fair bit of time sometimes to work a new pattern in to create a result.
Whether this be a new medicine prescribed by your vet or new horsemanship technique suggested by your trainer, give it a fair chance to work before trying something else. Eventually you will find the cause or will accidentally resolve the issue along the way. Either way you will be able to move past it and get back to enjoying your horse again.
Be sure to check out our new podcast The Mindful Horseman! New episodes airing every Monday morning!