Skip navigation

The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, communication through body language, tools used only for safety, never to train.

_I0A7721

The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

 

When I Make Mistakes…

 

The fact is, I am human and I make mistakes. I don’t often talk about those mistakes because I am striving to move past them and focus, focus, focus, on the solutions instead the problems.

 

I encourage my students to do the same thing. Notice your mistake, get through it as best you can, learn from it and make a better game plan for what you do next, but whatever you do, don’t dwell on what went wrong.

 

You see, I believe our brain tries hard to create the things we think about. So much of what we do is subconscious, and most of the time I don’t know why I moved my left pinky finger, or wrinkled my nose or looked at the ground before I started to walk. Maybe those things don’t matter, or maybe to a horse who speaks body language fluently I just said many confusing things all at the same time.

 

The understanding of the subconscious mind and its tendency to try and create what we focus on, leads me to this conclusion: If I am thinking hard about all the times I have made mistakes causing my horse to lose confidence, then subconsciously my brain starts to recreate the tiny behaviors that led to those situations and then without consciously knowing it I am causing mistakes to happen all over again.

 

If instead I stay focused on the solutions, my subconscious will help me recreate all the small body behaviors that made me successful developing positive solutions at other times.

_I0A8358

When speaking with a horse using body language, I feel often like I am still in kindergarten in the first levels of fluency. Regardless of my level of conscious skill the thing I CAN know is the results I get. Each set of results leads me to assess what we did to achieve that, thereby educating me for future patterns of behavior that get the kind of results I want with my horses.

 

Every horse is different, and every horse has slightly different likes and dislikes. Every horse teaches me slightly different things about this beautiful, complex language.

 

Let’s talk for a moment about the nuts and bolts of what a mistake is with horses.

 

A mistake is something that causes you or the horse to not want to be together.

 

We know we made a mistake because there was more Fight, Flight, or Freeze in the relationship than one of the partners was comfortable with.

 

Now, for simplicity I am going to talk only in terms of Freedom Based Training® where there are no food rewards to keep a horse with you and there are no halters, ropes, or fences to keep a horse from walking away. (Once you add the tools that hold a horse close to you the mistakes often get a lot bigger before you realize they were mistakes.)

 

If I make a choice that causes a Fight reaction that is my biggest kind of mistake, because that one can be quickly dangerous.

 

If I make a choice that causes a Flight reaction, that is not so bad because it just means we need to find harmony and make amends from a greater distance for a while. Distance is not my first choice, but there is nothing unsafe about it.

 

If I make a choice that causes Freeze, that is only a problem to the degree that I am impatient. Freeze is something I can do with the horse and it can be a bonding, relationship building time for us. But only if I have enough patience and wisdom to wait for that Freeze state to evolve into a better feeling of Thinking, Yielding or Playing.

_I0A7684

Any time I make a mistake that causes Fight, Flight, or Freeze, I need to figure out what to do next.

 

Freeze is the easiest to solve.

 

Option one:

I walk around the space looking carefully in every direction for danger as I move, because making the horse feel like it has a partner looking out for it, will cause it to feel safer and will minimize the extremity of Fight or Flight that might occur after a dysfunctional Freeze. The movement of my body also has a small degree of effectiveness lowering a horse’s stress. I can come back into flow with the horse when I see they are thinking again.

 

Option two:

I wait in harmony with the horse because I believe the next thing to happen (no matter how long it takes) is that the horse will feel better and start to think.

 

Flight is a little more difficult to solve because I have a strong desire to stay in the relationship (not abandoning the horse), balanced with a strong desire to understand their request for more distance from me.

 

Option one:

If I think the Flight will be stronger than I can keep up with, I walk strongly in the opposite direction that the horse is moving to show them I am brave and will intercept any danger coming from that direction. (I know that seems silly if they are running from me, but it also lets the horse know I understand they would like to be farther away from me.) Once you see the horse settle you can start rebuilding the relationship from the distance the horse tells you they are comfortable with.

 

Option two is:

If I think the Flight will be short and might turn to yielding quickly (the horse moving in a way I can match and flow with) I can follow them and find harmony with them again as soon as possible.

_I0A7741

Fight is the most difficult mistake result to solve for, but it does happen sometimes so I need to be prepared for that also.

 

Option one: If I think this Fight is only getting worse, run like hell and live to make better choices another day! (Yes, I am not proud of this, but I have done it.)

 

Option two: If I think the Fight will be brief and resolve to any other possibility quickly, I will surprise the horse to break their pattern. For safety, I teach all my horses that ANY other response to my mistakes is preferable to Fight. To surprise a horse is quite dominant, it usually makes the horse so uncomfortable they immediately choose Flight instead of Fight and that is safer. My favorite methods of surprise are to jump up and down, or to throw my hands in the air dramatically as I step closer to the horse.

 

In this option, I have chosen to make a second less dangerous mistake (causing Flight) to break the pattern of the first mistake that caused Fight. There are a couple of problems with this option that everyone needs to be aware of before they try it.

 

The first problem is that an angry horse will attack more violently if you make the wrong choice and fail to cause Flight when you try to surprise them.

 

The second problem is if you make too many mistakes and use surprise too often, it stops being surprising and simply becomes annoying instead, which can cause a more violent attack.

 

The third problem is even if you succeed in surprising them into Flight, then you need to address that smaller mistake and rebuild the relationship from the bigger distance that came from the Flight behavior.

 

With Atlas who came to me with a history of aggression I had to be extremely careful that I didn’t make a mistake we would not be able to recover from.

 

The way I did this was to invest in our distance relationship. I was fully prepared to work from outside the fences for as long as I needed to and the goal was to gently and consistently teach Atlas that moving away from me was a more successful strategy for him to get comfortable than moving toward me.

_I0A0915

When we think of the spectrum from Fight to Play, it all includes an aspect of moving closer to each other.

 

When we think of the spectrum from Flight to Yield, it all includes an aspect of moving away from each other.

 

Any horse with an aggression problem is simply a horse who has found more comfort moving closer to others than they find moving away and this needs to be balanced out the other way before the aggression can soften and the horse can be safe to be around.

 

I knew I needed hundreds of hours of reinforcing moving away behavior with Atlas before I ever found myself in a situation where I had to surprise him out of a fight instinct. It would only be with those hundreds of hours of foundation in teaching him yielding that I would be safe enough to surprise him without risking the instinctual violent attack that had served him so well in his past life.

 

I taught Atlas this gently from a safe distance without ever needing to confront him.

_I0A7767

Every time he moved toward me I would either take one extra step toward him (this made him less comfortable because he did not want me close to him). Or, I would start walking around the paddock (on the outside of the fence if I felt I needed it for safety) and I wouldn’t stop walking and return to flow with him until he moved some part of his body away from me. The walking around the paddock worked because horses prefer harmony and flow with their herd and I only gave Atlas that harmony and flow if he moved away from me at least a little.

 

The other reinforcement for yielding we practiced was following Atlas. When Atlas walked to the water trough, I followed him in flow (at a distance he was comfortable with), but then I took one more step than he did. This way when we were standing at the trough and he was feeling that good feeling of drinking water it was after I had just pushed into his space, (not him pushing into mine). The same was true when he walked to his favorite outlook spot on the hill or to his favorite rolling spot or just the place in the sun he wanted to stand. Atlas got what he wanted just after I pushed into his space a little bit.

 

This taught Atlas that good feelings happened after I pushed a little bit closer to him. Less comfortable feelings happened after Atlas pushed closer to me.

 

When Atlas pulled away from me in any way that looked like he would not like to be followed I would pull away also and make the space between us bigger. This respect for his preferences is something that set him up to respect my preferences as well. My job is to set the tone for the relationship and then show Atlas that acting in this way together results in good feelings for him.

 

Now, I know that this early work Atlas and I did together is the reason why I still cannot touch him and all our relationship building is still being practiced at the non-touching distances. However, the safety I feel around him now is worth far more to me than any amount of touching ever could be.

 

This evening when I was working with Ari, I mistakenly stayed too close for too long next to Atlas who was eating from the same hay net as Ari. Atlas had a moment of anger at me pinning his ears, and while that mistake of mine might have cost dearly in the beginning of our relationship, it was not at all difficult for us to manage tonight. I simply took my hand quickly out of my pocket and threw it into the air dramatically and Atlas stepped hurriedly away in a few steps of flight, followed by a change of focus, his ears coming forward and a gentle reach out of his nose to check in with me that all was right between us again.

(This picture is from a different day and a different mistake, but it was one caught on camera so I thought I would share it with you) 

The important part though, is that I noticed what mistake I had made that caused Atlas’s anger in the first place this evening. Even if I know what to do about it when I make a mistake, I am better off working at appropriate distances with good feel and timing so I never need to fix the problem in the first place.

 

I aim to teach my horses to Think, Yield, and Play so completely they believe those are their best choices of action for getting the things in life they want. If we can strengthen the good stuff enough, we theoretically never will make a mistake that results in Fight, Flight, or Freeze.

 

Yes, I know we are all mortal and we all make mistakes that will need to be managed. Hopefully this blog post helps you to understand how you might manage those potential mistakes.

 

More importantly though, I hope you are inspired to invest more time in developing the Think, the Yield, and the Play in your relationships with your horses.

 

Join us on Patreon for more ongoing discussions about Freedom Based Training® and the filming of the movie “Taming Wild: Evolution”. Thank you to my current patrons for asking all the right questions that inspired this blog post.

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: