There’s something about horses that can bring out a fierce inner dragon in us. We can get extremely frustrated while interacting with our horses. Maybe it’s because they are big and intelligent. Perhaps it’s their spirit or expansive energy. Whatever it is, we can snap!
How can you tame yourself and prevent that Yosemite Sam outburst?
I can remember schooling my horse as a teenager. I remember an incident where I was schooling in the sand ring in the forest behind my house and I lost my temper to the point that I jerked repeatedly on my mare’s mouth and kicked her in the side. My entire body was rigid with anger. I remember hitting her with my dressage whip on her shoulder. I know that before this incident occurred she was bucking and I was trying to school basic dressage figures.
I’m ashamed of my reaction now, but the odd thing is that the behaviour that I demonstrated can be seen across the globe and often it’s even accepted.
However, my reaction wasn’t acceptable. I wasn’t “training” or “disciplining”. I was flat out losing it!
You might think to yourself, “I’ve never lost my temper like that!” But what about the more subtle simmer? I’ve seen a gigantic cloud brewing over people’s heads while their horse braces with tension. It’s clear from an onlookers vantage point that the horse is scared to make a wrong move because the handler is emanating angry thoughts and energy. This psychological threat can be just as emotionally damaging to your horse as a physical outburst.
There’s no point in beating yourself up about things you’ve done in the past, but you can improve your emotional control in the present.
Find the trigger
Something triggers your anger. It can be different for everyone. In my case it is fear of death and injury. Any time I think my life is on the line with a horse, the anger rises to the top. It’s a defence mechanism. I’m shift straight to FIGHT instead of flight.
Think back or write down the incidents where you started to lose it and ask yourself what was happening. In my example, my horse was bucking. I had experienced bruised ribs and concussion from coming off my horse during surprising bucks in the past. I was flat out terrified when my horse bucked after that.
This awareness helps me now. When I feel I’m in danger, I recognize the fear and it’s rare for me to zip to anger. I acknowledge to myself “I’m afraid and I need to get myself to safer ground.” Safer ground might be physically removing myself from the situation, asking something simple of the horse to get him to calm down or it might just be taking a deep breath and looking at the situation logically.
Pay attention to your state of being
How are you showing up to your horse time? Are you ticked off before you even get to the barn? Are you
looking after yourself or are you running on a short fuse? If you haven’t got the energy to deal with a horse then do something else or pick something simple like grooming or sitting together.
Do you even know how you are feeling?
I’ve taken a lot of classes on energy and emotional awareness. I’ve learned that a good portion of the time I didn’t have a clue how I really felt! Even now, sometimes I will be working on a deadline at my office job for a few hours and on hour three I finally notice that my muscles are tense, I’m perched on the edge of my chair, I’m speaking fast on the phone, my chest is tight and I’m feeling nauseous. Then I realize I’ve been feeling like that all morning and was so caught up in work that I was oblivious to the damage I was doing to myself.
You might be unaware of your emotions around your horse until they get too big to control. Check in regularly. How are you breathing? How do your muscles feel? Are there any tight or tense or sore parts on your body? If you feel great, then fabulous! Keep doing that! If you feel crappy, then sort yourself out. NOW.
Change your perception
Many times we get frustrated with horses because we take their behaviour personally and decide that they are purposely out to get us or being difficult and evasive. But horses have difficulty understanding us and it’s a miracle they cooperate as much as they do. Put some imaginary horse shoes on and think from your horse’s perspective. Did she really sign up for this? Are you making any sense? Does she understand why this circle is so important to you?
Your horse is a gift and your companion. It’s your job to try to help your horse to be as happy as possible. It’s not your horse’s job to make YOU happy.
How can you improve your horse’s well being? What can you do to make this lesson simpler, to stay more relaxed and to help your horse experience the joy that you do in your relationship?
Look for the good things your horse is doing, rather than the bad or the things that he is missing. Praise him when you catch him doing good things. Re-direct or ignore him when he’s doing behaviours that you don’t like. His goal is not to ruin your day. If he seems to be having trouble then you need to ask what you are doing that might be confusing the situation. How can you help?
Do you have some suggestions for cooling down your emotions with your horse?