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What’s funny is WordPress has a little starter text for every draft I create, and this one said “What could you do less of?” At first I was like, what a weird thing to add there… and then I thought, actually this goes perfectly with what I’m about to say.

I’ve really been thinking about what horses have been saying to me lately. The dominant message patterns. The first two things I wrote down were: Not enough choice and frustration. These two things go hand in hand.

I am fortunate that most horses I talk to have such willing people who want to really and truly understand how to better their lives. However; We get into the daily grind and I think we lose sight of what giving them true choice really means.

We walk into the barn, say hello, offer them a cookie, put the halter on, and lead them to wherever we normally take them. Well, what if we started offering them little choices… Would you like to wear the halter, or just the lead rope around your neck? Cross ties, stall, or paddock to tack up? Which foot would you prefer to offer me first to pick out? Would you like to skip being brushed? Shall I just sit with you, or can I take you out?

When we think of choice, I think often times we think in offering them variety in their routine, so: Trail or arena, jump or flat, lunge or ride… but what if we broadened that variety. Just a thought!

This leads me to the frustration bit. Frustration often only happens when the horse says ‘No’ when we want them to do something for us or with us.

Think of it this way, if you offered your horse an apple and he turned away, you’d most likely be like, “Really? Ok, wow, you don’t have to eat it I just thought you might like it.” You most likely wouldn’t offer them an apple again (or at least not over and over) and that would be the end of the conversation. BUT if you asked your horse to load in the trailer, or trot over a ground pole, or put the bridle on and he turned away and said NO… “What do you mean no?! That’s not an option. I want to do X with you!” …. cue frustration (on both ends).

You say to your horse, yes, you have a choice… but only when I say so, and when it benefits me.

I am writing this because I have been really focused on offering my horses autonomy, and today my human ego was challenged when working with my horse Bro. We’ve been working on multiple different exercises and he has anxiety about tracking left. Today he told me very loudly, NO I will not circle you to the left. So, I welcomed that opinion, that personal boundary, and I asked other questions instead and found several yes’ until he offered the circle to the left on his own. I was happy with those few steps. I rewarded him and today I did not ask the question again.

So, “What could you do less of?”

Less worrying about having to get things done. More fun. Less fighting. More play. Less doing things to them. More asking questions. Less control. More freedom. Less frustration. More understanding.


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