Fear. Ego. Dishonesty.
These are the three elements that I believe are the biggest obstacles all horse people need to overcome. These three things, will always serve to keep the horse away from you. I believe these three elements are universal and apply to almost every aspect, style and technique of horse handling and training. And if they are active within you, they will become blockages.
These blockages will show up in many ways. It can be lack of improvement or perceived progression. It show up as a lack of consistency with your horse; they are calm and responsive one day, nervous and reactive the next. It can even be more insidious and subtle… such as, the horse doing everything their handler or rider asks of them, but there is a constant wringing and swishing of the tail, a hardness or worry around the eye, or an overall expression of tightness, concern, confusion or frustration.
I believe that if an aspiring horseman are able to overcome these three destructive elements, it will unlock their true potential and a new wave of flow and learning and development! Like pipes that once unblocked can flow pure and clear, or a dam that once destroyed allows the river to flow again, if you can set aside these three destructive elements in your Horse Life, then no matter WHAT method, technique or style you set out to learn, the horses you meet will have a much better chance of responding to you positively, and you will have better chances at success… no matter what success is to you!
I have discussed it before in my blog ‘SHAKE’. It can be like an animal, a monster and it can be totally overpowering. All horse people have felt fear around horses and if they tell you they have never been afraid of a horse… they are lying! Horses are large and powerful creatures and especially at the start of ones journey with them, they can be confusing, and confusion is a twin sister of fear.
Fear can also display as anxiety. Anxiety is not necessarily fear of what is happening right now, but the fear of what COULD happen, sooner or later. Both horses and humans can feel anxiety. It shows up a great deal in traumatised horses and traumatised people. Coincidently, traumatised people can sometimes be attracted to traumatised horses for this reason! As they seek a path of healing, if they do not have the right guidance and support then they can end up with a rodeo and disaster! An anxious horse plus an anxious human will result in either true and powerful healing, or compounding of fear, as the horse and human find that their anxiety has sufficient grounds to exist… as eventually the horse will scare the human or vice versa and …’Ha! SEE! I told you there was good reason to be anxious!’.
None the less, fear is something that will do nothing but block you, if you allow it time to grow.
If you think fear is part of your horse life, do not ignore it. You actually have to recognise it and own it. When a client of mine looks like they just experienced active fear I will always ask them,
“Are you scared? Did that scare you?’
Usually they will answer ‘No.” Which 9/10 is dishonesty, which is another Element of Blocking that is not productive. I will always then say;
“Are you sure? Tell me the truth. Did that scare you?”
“Actually, yes, a little.”
“Good. Repeat after me. ‘That scared me. -Horses name- I am scared now. Please be gentle with me”.
By actively owning up to your fear you abolish the power of both fear and dishonesty and what it is doing to you. Fear likes the darkness, it loves secrecy and lies. Drag it out in the open, identify it. And use it to your advantage.
How do you ‘use’ fear? Summoning up bravery! It really is that simple. Take a breathe. Acknowledge the fear. And then try that thing anyhow. Be brave!
This is probably the least discussed and my most disliked of the Elements of Blocking. It is everywhere. In every stable. Every method and approach and technique and school of horsemanship, there will be Ego. Now, I am not talking about confidence. Which I like! Confidence is important. The opposite of Ego, contrary to popular thought, is NOT modesty. Modesty is a false affectation.
Modesty, functions like this; You KNOW what you’re worth, value, ability and skills are… but you deliberately LIE about it to others, so that they do not feel threatened! Modesty is a mechanism taught by those who have a pathological Ego, and they teach it to others so that they can control others through Shame. No! Modesty is not the solution, because modesty is a form of dishonesty.
If someone asks me what are my strengths, I have no hesitation in telling them without shame or false modesty exactly what my strengths are. But in the same breath I will also describe my weaknesses. I believe that if someone asks you ‘What are you good at?’ You better have an answer! Because you can bet your bottom dollar, that a horse is going to ask you the same questions sooner or later. E.g.
“Human, why should I trust you? What do you have that I need? What are you good at?”
I have seen even gentle horses ask their humans this question and they got no answer in reply. That human was probably manipulated to become MODEST by someone with an out of control Ego, once upon a time. Therefore when the horses asks the human for an answer they get nothing but a stunned silence in reply. It will result in the horse leaving you… totally uninterested. But unlike some humans, horses usually give you a second chance. And a third, fourth, fifth….
Ego is confidence that lacks honesty. Ego is used to cover pain and pain is a form of fear.
Unacknowledged pain and fear can too easily morph into ego, when that person is unwilling or unable to take a deep and honest look at themselves, inside.
I had a client recently who said something interesting. I advised them to stop using carrot treats in training, for one week, because I felt that they were using them as a crutch to avoid getting to the bottom of the issue, which was a patchy, shaky framework of trust and communication between them and their horse. This was a conclusion I had come to after EIGHT MONTHS of regular work with this client, slow, careful observation of them together. And finally I had to admit the truth of what my impressions were, and calmly told the client this;
“Your horse doest trust you completely, and neither understood your communications always…. For one weeks homework, no treats”.
Treats can get big results really quickly and then tend to plateau. They can also make the horse over focused on treats, rather than concentration on the human and co-operating, listening and communicating with them. I am not communicating with this human but they have carrots and if I do a series of things for them I will get carrots and this will cause the end of this training. I was angling for something slower, a rebuilding of trust and communication from the ground up. Something I hoped would result for a better future for the client and this horse. The clients response?
“Oh no! My ego is attached to treats!”
What can I do in such a situation? Nothing. As the old saying goes, ‘You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make them drink.’
I am not saying treats in training is bad, I use them occasionally myself. But in this circumstance I advised a one-weeks break from them, to give the client a different perspective in working their horse without over reliance on treats, and Ego shoved the idea back out the door, before it had a chance to even get settled! It is a huge pity, because I really like that client and consider them a friend too. It was a pity to see them controlled by Ego when in fact they are a sweet, kind and smart person with tremendous internal strength.
Ego will throw out things, without trying to understand them. Those things can be equipment; saddles, bits, bridles, shoes etc. It can be entire methods, trainers and sometimes sadly… even the horse itself.
This one is rather simple and self-explanatory. The inability, failure or non-function of seeing the truth. This can be objective environmental and external truth; what the horse does and what that means. Or internal truth; what the person does and what this means.
Dishonesty can come as a result of ego or fear. Or both. As you can probably tell, all these elements and inter-related. Being honest with one’s self can be really hard. And ‘challenging horses’ are often those whom are the best at delivering difficult truths to the humans they are in contact with! Horses that people call ‘Easy’ are often those who either do not, or have given up attempting to tell the truth to people. Easy horses can often be sad horses. Broken, over-trained or frustrated… but compliant. If you met a super honest horse, and a super expressive horse, they will be telling you the truth left, right and centre. Good trainers will seek out such horses, so that they can be challenged into a better state of function with horses in general. Because difficult horses are REALLY good at throwing down Ego, encouraging courage in the face of fear, and delivery honesty, where honesty is needed.
The point of these three pillars of blockages is not to eliminate them entirely. That would be unreasonable. The truth is, all of us have these elements within us. But are they active, or inactive? Destructive or passive?
Which one of these three are you feeling the most at the moment? How do you try to work on them? Or maybe your horse is doing that for you!