When I started working with OneHorseLife Student Christine Kern, who runs a yard in Switzerland, and is a horse professional working with difficult horses, I knew we have to do something special in order to support this experienced horse-woman in work with her OTTB hot and explosive mare Beijing.
Approaching old and well-known training concepts with fresh eyes, and broadening applicability of the skills they already had was an important part of our work, but the thing that was like the cherry on top of the cake, and the thing that gave this special finish to our work and empowered Christine most in her work with Being was FLEXIBILITY.
What is Flexibility?
Flexibility is the ability to respond in different ways to the same situation.
Now, this is a very important moment for you to understand. Being flexible means that I can respond to the same situation in as many ways as possible. You can already see, that this is a totally opposite idea to what the conventional training does to horses and people – it teaches them (and us) ONE single response to the same situation, and it keeps them (and us) fixated on knowing, remembering and being able to repeat this one single response whenever the same situation occurs.
Patterns, patterns, patterns…
We can say that horses do learn through repeating patterns, yes. But this is only because all people do around them is… repeating the patterns!
For many horses it works well. But let’s think for a moment when it does not work well? What happens if in the training, which is lead this way through reinforcing ONE response to the same situation, something goes wrong?
Then, this pattern of responding in ONE learned way to the same situation gets even more reinforced. How come? Because fear makes memory permanent. But now you do not have the answer you had put there in, you have a random answer that sneaked into the communication pattern you have been creating. And this random, many times unwanted, answer is what got stuck there because it got reinforced with FEAR.
Training horses through patterns can appear as “quick” and “successful”. Horses do fall extremely easily into the patterns, for two reasons. One is, what I already mentioned, due to the fact that the humans around these horses respond and act only through patterns. The other one is more subtle one: this is the way horses use to protect themselves from unwanted human impact – they shut down the reasoning through the mind, and they keep their inner world protected by responding to the unpleasant situations automatically: I do not give you my mind, I do not give you my heart, you can only access my body.
The more stressful Life the horse had, the more patterns and patterns-triggered responses he will show. This is because FEAR makes memory permanent. For the flight creature this is especially important: while facing threat from the environment or human being, there is no time to think – I have to respond, I have to do something quickly in order to survive. I have to give an answer. And because I see outside environment as a threat, I keep myself protected, I close myself – I close my thinking, I close my feelings, I close myself to the outside world. I respond automatically, through the shortest road possible – outside trigger & body response.
How true is that with rescued horses, and horses with the past, some of you probably know just too well. And it is very tempting to lead training of such a horse through patterns, because they do give the illusion of safety. When you work through patterns, you already ARE a part of the pattern. But there is one thing: nothing good can come out of this pattern, because it was created through lack of communication, lack of openness and was reinforced by fear.
Unpredictable nature of the environment
So to make the pattern work you have to be very predictable and accurate – and you have to make environment very predictable. The best way to make the environment predictable, which by nature is absolutely unpredictable, is to put on all elements of the environment the label of “threat”. So I show you umbrella – it’s a threat – you have to respond in one certain way to it. I show you a flag – it’s a threat – you have to respond in one certain way to it.
There are many horses for whom this works…
But there are those for whom it doesn’t work, and there are people who are brave and crazy enough to think that there must be another answer…
That labeling everything around us as a threat, is not supporting growth. That being able to give only one answer to the same question is not creativity. That maybe we can achieve more by OPENING and not by CLOSING…?
Among them the OTTB are special. They are like computers – what you will put in, you will be given back. They are so delicate, and so intelligent by nature – when meeting humans they can become either extremely communicative, flexible and open, or extremely closed, moody and introvert, with some unexpected behaviors startled by any memory from the past.
Opening to the NEW ANSWERS
I believe that Opening a shut down horse or working with a horse with the past is about opening the person by his side. This path can be successful only when it will be started from the human being, who will awaken flexibility in her to see, respond and act differently under the very same circumstances.
Usually, when I work on opening people to more flexibility, they see only two options: I can do this, or I can do something opposite to that, for example:
I can work with positive methods, or I can use pressure.
I can ride on the bit, or I can ride bit-less.
I can use the whip, or I can work without whip.
Such a binary approach is not flexibility, it only shows the tensions which people carry in themselves when they are around the horses. In fact, it only shows how much closed and inside the patterns we are trapped.
Give a new answer to the old question
With my Exercises for Awakening Flexibility, I am able to support the human being in expanding borders of her flexibility so more options become possible. When we start to see more options, we relax, when we relax our awareness grows, when our awareness grows horses who are by our side can change. They also see more options and they can use these options, they can enter them. And then we can support them to explore these options to create, continuously create new answers to the very same, old situations.
This is how we move the world forward.
Here’s to all the people who dared to give a BRAND NEW ANSWER to an old question, and who changed the world by doing so.
You can be one of them, it’s just enough to awaken your flexibility.
You can do it with the help of your horse, and you can see how much the both of you will change… and how it will change the world around you.
Now, enough talking!
Let’s give some new answers to the old question today!