There is no Autonomy without true Calmness and Safety.
The true Autonomy always requires boundaries that keep all situations safe for you and your horse.
What is true Autonomy? How to give your horse true Autonomy?
Autonomy can be described as a WANT to do something. So we simply agree that our horse has a free will and can do as he wishes. This is very important because autonomy is expressed in and can be nurtured only in this very basic want to do something. Autonomy is when you say: “I want to do this, because this is my decision”.
Strengthening Autonomy is based on strengthening in your horse this very simple WANT of doing some things out of his free will and out of his own desire. Knowing this, during this Workshop, we will deliberately create situations that support autonomy and independence of your horse and we will bridge these WANTS, originating from autonomy and independence, to any other desired exercises and situations in which you want your horse to be more engaged, more willing, more happy and for which you want your horse to be more responsible.
But, again, this won’t be possible without true calmness and true safety first.
If you are not calm when you are with your horse and when your horse is not calm when he is with you, you will be very afraid of this simple idea that your horse will do things when he likes and as he likes and that you will have to agree for this to happen. Being scared and afraid will lead you to wrong conclusions that you have to apply pressure, scare your horse or take away the autonomy you have just given him.
Letting this all to happen will make you feel safe for a second because your horse will behave again “safely” – he will have no initiative and will and he will behave like an infant and thoughtless servant again. But with such partner you will never rob a bank. With such partner it’s impossible to win Olympic Games. With such partner it is impossible to have a safety hack in the forest. Why? Because your horse will not participate fully in these situations and he won’t help you. It will be only you versus nature.
And that is why we need to achieve true calmness and be 100% sure that our horse is calm, feeling good and not is not in pain before we give him any autonomy.
We want to give our horse a true autonomy that will make our life with our horse even more safe, and even more fun. We want to have a willing and engaged partner that will tell you during a winter hack “Please don’t go there, it’s too slippery!” – a partner that will give his best to save your life. Why? Because he is your partner “in a crime”.
We don’t want to disappoint our horse with taking away the autonomy he has been once given.
Why so? Because when autonomy is taken away from your horse, the independence is also taken away from him. And in effect, engagement is also taken away from him.
And when there is no autonomy, no independence and no engagement there is also:
- No energy,
- No creativity,
- No sense of being able to influence the situation,
- No desire for action in the given situation,
- No responsibility for the task.
And the lack of all these aspects creates a situation in which the exercise is no longer your horse’s.
It’s yours now.
So your horse doesn’t have to care about the outcome anymore. Your horse doesn’t care if the exercise finishes good or bad. Your horse doesn’t care about engagement and about showing his best potential. Because it’s now YOUR EXERCISE and it’s you who is responsible for it. And when it happens will see that:
- You start to have more initiative within this exercise than your horse,
- You start to have more ideas on how to do this exercise,
- You start to invent new ways to complete the given exercise,
- You start to be more engaged and active within the given exercise than your horse,
- You want the situation to be successful more than your horse wants it to be successful,
- It’s YOU YOU YOU YOU and your horse is usually just observing and waiting for the next steps.
So we know now how much autonomy is desired and needed during our training.
But we have to be very careful now, because there are also very specific types of autonomy that are disengaging for horses and people, and all other animals. We cannot just “hop” onboard of the Autonomy Ship and sail in the direction of the sunset. We have to be very careful and always check if there is true calmness and we are really and deeply connected with our true inner selves and we are able to see the inner self of our horse. Only when we truly know who we really are we can see who our horse truly is, and we can give him what he need. But to be able to see it we need true calmness first.
These disengaging types of autonomy are:
- Exaggerated autonomy – when your horse is absolutely not ready for the level of autonomy you have just given him, but because there was no calmness and stillness in the base of your training your mind took over and you judged the situation too quickly. Your mind wanted to proceed faster through the training than you and your horse were really ready for. This kind of autonomy can be scary for your horse. It’s like telling a 3yo child “Here is the key to the apartment come back from the kindergarten on your own, have fun!”
- False autonomy – when you pretend that you have given autonomy to your horse, but when the situation appears when your horse can finally make an actual choice – you immediately take away the autonomy from him and make the decision yourself. It usually happens when there was no calmness and you have just pretended that you and your horse were calm, but in fact there was still a deep stress in both of you. This deep stress is always awaken by any fast or unpredicted move our horse does causing us to overreact. Overreaction is always bad and has nothing to do with setting the right boundaries. Before you set the boundaries you have to really know what your horse can do in the given situation and which behaviours can be accepted as harmless expressions of his fear, curiosity or simply himself and which of them can become dangerous for both of you. From time to time, false autonomy is also caused by the need to control. So be careful and watchful – when you observe your horse during the training constantly check if your observation is directed into reinforcing things that were done well or into constant correcting the things that you are not happy about. The last one is a sign of a False autonomy and thus is very discouraging for your horse and disengaging for him.
- Forced autonomy – when your horse doesn’t feel confident or safe enough to start making real decisions for himself and you push him into situations within which he has to make decisions he is not ready to make yet. We cannot start with a horse that hasn’t got any autonomy before, with giving him 100% autonomy today. We need to proceed slowly. Start with tiny steps and 1% of the autonomy at a time. Forced autonomy is a serious strain of trust. That is also why we need to achieve true calmness first. Without having a calm horse and a calm you we won’t be able to see your horse as he truly is and we won’t be able see what he is ready for today. So you won’t be able to set the right boundaries and give the right level of autonomy. It will be training an imaginary horse with disconnection from your inner self and his inner self – and this kind of training never bring true and stable changes for the better.
- Overloading with information – I understand that this may be surprising for you to discover it now, but this is so very true that non stopped tips and continued praise take away autonomy as much as continued corrections. If you have already watched the videos that are attached to our PreWorkshop Materials, you probably noticed that I do not click my horse all the time and that I take a lot of breaks. I also don’t give constant feedback. Sometimes I just observe – I am there with my horse to support him. But I don’t try to be the main actress, the main start of “the movie” that our training is. I don’t take away the space with my constant over-flooding praises and treats. I give a lot of space for my horses. I agree that the training is about them, not about me expressing my need to click some animals or praise them ;)
The two main questions I am asked when I train other people and we reach the subject of autonomy are:
When should I start reinforcing my horse for showing autonomy?
And the answer is: Right from the beginning.
When should I give autonomy to my horse?
And the answer is: When we want to wake up your horse’s sense of responsibility and independence in the tasks.
There are some tasks that actually increase the autonomy and we will practice them during this Workshop. But I believe that it’s not as much about the right tasks, as it is about the right approach and the right intention we have during the time we spend with our horse. So to wake up the autonomy of your horse in any given exercise you have to practice this exercise in a situation that is filled with your intended questions:
- Please show me what do YOU (=my horse) want to do now?
- Please show me now how do YOU (=my horse) want to start this exercise?
- Please show me how do YOU (=my horse) want to do this exercise today?
That is also why I stressed so much in our PreWorkshop Material about Effective Training Session’s Planning the importance of starting our training sessions with asking our horse what he wants to present to us today. This is really a “WAKE UP” alarm for your horse’s autonomy, engagement and independence :-)
Whenever I work with other people’s horses that are claimed to be “not engaged”, “lazy” or “too slow” and these people want to consult their training I actually see that in many cases it’s not the question of engagement as much as it’s the question of the autonomy and being dependent. Why do these horses don’t want to take full responsibility and autonomy for the training?
In my eyes it’s because of the three following situations:
- These horses don’t want to be responsible for the outcome of the task,
- These horses don’t think they are really responsible for the task, because the autonomy given was false,
- These horses don’t want to be responsible for the task, because the level of the autonomy was exaggerated or they were forced to this level of autonomy without their acceptance or readiness.
Autonomy is my favourite subject when it comes to the horse training. Everyday, when I train other people and their horses I see that many of the problems these people have with engagement and willingness of their horses are originating from the ABSOLUTE LACK OF AUTONOMY in their horses’ lives.
We all want a horse that wants to show off, that wants to do things on his own, that is responsible and works extra hard for us during the competitions or other very important tests. During such trials we usually want a horse that is a trustworthy PARTNER that knows his job and doesn’t require any extra attention or constant checking if he does his job well. We dream about robbing a bank (=winning Olympic Games) with a partner that knows his job and let us focus on doing our part of the job.
But during everyday life I see that people usually don’t care about creating or nurturing such spirit in their horses. Instead, we prefer to have an infant or a thoughtless slave that constantly waits for tips on what to do next, that needs our our feedback, support, our problem solving and our constant approbation.
Some people prefer this, because there is no true calmness and no true safety in their everyday life with their horses and they simply don’t feel safe around the horses they spend life with. The idea that their horse can have his own ideas and the idea that they would have to agree for this to happen simply scares these people so much that they block it from happening. And that is why our Workshop starts with reaching true calmness and that is also why I wrote you that before that if you will give even 1% of the autonomy to your horse when he is scared or anxious – it can lead to dangerous situations in the future.
Being scared is a mother of all misbehaviours and wrong decisions. As well for humans as for the horses.