Ready, set, go!

Such a simple and childish phrase.

READY SET GO!

Many of us learned it from our earliest days in kindergarten when racing our friends, a healthy level of competition mixed together with fun.

The whole aim of this philosophy READY SET GO is to check with your friends, competitors or comrades, before you all begin a known activity;
‘Are you ready to begin?  Are we all starting on an even footing in fairness?  Do we all have what we need to start?  Ok, NOW we can go!’

Can you imagine if those same games as children did not start with such a simple and fair beginning?  Can you imagine if you joined a group of children who wanted to have a fun race together, and before you had gotten into position, properly prepared yourself, or even knew what was expected somebody yelled GO and the race began?

Would you feel that it was fair?

Would you have hesitated for a moment, wondering if you should participate or not, because you are already behind everyone else?

Would the race begin in an orderly and balanced fashion or would the sudden shock give rise to potential chaos and misbehaviour?

Would you have a good chance to succeed and begin you race in balance and strength?

Would you want to play with those kids again?

Now imagine those same children, at the end of the race, turning to you and saying things like,
‘You’re lazy!  Why did you not begin when we said GO? You’re not very smart!  You should be paying closer attention.’

Next time you might pay closer attention to those children, but with a suspicious heart, a distrustful attitude and hold yourself in a constant state of readiness because you never know when they might surprise you, and you don’t want to be punished because of their lack of fairness or preparation.

Now imagine I am no longer talking about children or humans, but talking about horses. 

Did you have a penny drop moment?  Do you now see common problems with a new perspective?

Time and time again I see it with riders and trainers, even very experienced ones.  They JUMP on their horses with an aid, or request for a transition.  I talked about it in a lot of depth in my blog ‘Cocoon’ ages ago but here I get to the point in a more blunt way.  The common problem looks like this:

Horse is going along, walk for example, horse feels good, presenting no protest to the rider, the activities or anything, just a calm horse doing his job.  He looks committed to the walk, mind and body fully focused on the walk. ‘Walk= walk’  he thinks.   Upon his back is a rider.  The rider has a tensed face of concentration and is clearly doing her best to ride this horse correctly.  BOOM.  Suddenly the rider has done something.  As an observer I am equally surprised as the horse… what just happened?  BOOM it happened again, much before I was able to recognise the first…. BOOM, once again.  Horse swishes tail and after 5-6 tense steps of walk, likely hollow or confused, a stilted trot appears out of nowhere.  GOOD BOY!!!!!!!  Says the rider.  Pats on the neck.   The horses eyes seem to vaguely take in the praise through their confusion, but do not seem 100% on board with the situation.  Despite their confusion, the horse perseveres, because this rider on their back is otherwise totally amenable to them.  The horse thinks… I will give her a chance, benefit of the doubt.

This same horse might in the same day be labelled as lazy, heavy to the aids, stubborn, stiff, unwilling, unfocused the list can go on.

I wonder what would have happened if someone had remembered their childhood games of fun and fairness and given that horse a chance to PREPARE

Of course what I am talking about is PREPARATION.  I do not talk about ANTICIPATION.  Anticipation is the negative side of preparation, it is a nervous state of anxiety where the horse stays in anticipation of the riders aids because the rider frequently surprises them or fails to prepare them, so the horse must stay ready so they don’t have to GET ready.

I have a bridge for the horse when I ride.  A clear connector between point A and point B.   It starts first as a feeling in my body that I create.  This feeling says something like I am getting ready for a change, can you get ready too?.   If the horse is not broken, not shut down, not dead behind their eyes, without fail they will all feel this change.  They are hardwired to respond to shared physical feelings.

Once I have generated a ‘change state sensation’ I will say often out loud:
‘Are you ready?’
Or simply ‘Ready?’.
Already the horse is brighter, more aware and more concentrated on me.  Already the transition, when I finally ask for it, will be cleaner.

Then I ask for the transition.   On many horses, this works without fail, to gain an effortless transition without emotional worry.

I also use this bridge when checking out a horses emotional status about a behaviour to discover any history of discontent with certain activities.
For example, if a horse has a bad history with canter; people pushing them, whipping them, cantering them out of balance, or any other general abuse and trauma that horse might not feel very good about canter anymore.  They might canter beautifully in groundwork, but under saddle that horse might have a bunch of surprises waiting for me, if I surprised them first.  Bucking, shying, bolting, balking.  Do I want to discover that horses bad behaviour when we are already cantering and the shit has the potential to hit the fan?  No.  I like my life.  I value my physical safety almost as much as I value a horses right to clear and balanced emotions.  I will check how the horse FEELS about the canter BEFORE I ask for canter as a behaviour.
‘ Ready?’, I say at the trot.
‘Nope, nope, nope.’ Says the horse shaking their head and even offering a violent and shuddering half halt at the trot.  Clear enough information that they are NOT ready to canter.  Not emotionally or physically.
I may ask this horse once or twice again, to get ready.  I am asking them to think about the canter, and observing what they think and feel about it.  If I do not like the emotional state they offer me about that idea, I do not ask them to actually canter.  I wait for sunnier skies and a better expression.  Why force them into it?  I am not a sport rider who MUST do anything.  I am here for the horse and the horse only.

With my horse Sanson I can now say the verbal cue without making a physical change, and he knows.  With him I can also make the physical change without the verbal cue and he knows.  Sometimes I never have to ask for the transition because he guessed ahead, and because I had him prepared, he had the trot ready for me.  I have taught him how to prepare himself, without my intervention.  Going on from last weeks blog about the Three Modalities of Leadership, this is something about being in the state of ‘The Guide’, as opposed to ‘The Gardener’ or ‘The General’.   It is one of those I only have to think about it and he does it! moments.

READY.  SET.  GO.

Try it!  Stop shocking your horse.  Give them a few seconds of space between the idea of a transition and the actual transition, and watch their expression change!

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