Sunday, April 1, 2012
Knowing me, knowing you. Finding common ground in your training philosophy.
It is a process of becoming, whether in your private and professional life, or in the training of your horse. In my own journey, I am always searching for growth and deeper understanding. One of the most incredible gifts that this trade offers is that it is infinite. There is always room for greater appreciation and knowledge. You become more proficient; you improve your skill; you get better at learning how to learn and interpret, but there are no limits to the expanse of the experience.
The power in understanding most often comes from the ability to liken the concept to something that is familiar. As a trainer of horses and people, my task is to help guide people to these concepts. To be effective, I have to draw on my own journey, as well as understand the human and the horse that I am working with. This is not always an easy task because it challenges me to deal with my past failures as well as successes. Sometimes what I see isn’t what I like, but it gives me an opportunity to identify things that need changing.
I am working hard to define my belief system as a trainer. I have always discouraged people from anthropomorphizing their horses. Horses operate from instinct and conditioned responses. I take issue with people trying to work with horses as though they are two horses working together. I encourage them to work as a human with the understanding of the behavior of a horse. I discourage them from putting human emotion into their animals, largely because they are then bringing their own emotions to the table, and that is rarely a positive thing. Horses are large in relation to a human, and can be very dangerous if approached as though they are equals. I always have the safety of both the human and the horse in mind at all times.
Another strong belief I have is in the power of the horse/human relationship. I am in constant awe of the majesty of what is possible in a properly functioning relationship. Many of you know that I have a number of special horses in my life to whom I attribute much of my success. I do not see horses as simply a vehicle to championships. I believe, to my core, in their intrinsic power and value. I rely on the strength that the experience with horses can give you in all aspects of your life. I believe in it so deeply that my entire life is built around helping to nurture that relationship between other humans and horses. These statements probably define me as a horsewoman more than any others.
In my own life, I am in a period of examination and growth. Most people who know me would classify me as passionate, emotional, and logical. I am so all or nothing as to make other people’s idea of black and white seem grey. It is part of why I have had success, but in my personal life, it has not always proved to be so useful. In my own head, I struggle with that classification of emotional and logical. I know both are true, but they seem to be conflicting concepts. I always see emotional as kind of a state of overreacting, and I feel like that is one of my less attractive traits. I often sympathize with my horse Sox because I think of us as having this similarity of being very talented and giving 110%, but sometimes a little finely wired and hard to get around. I have actually had a person say to me once, “I don’t understand you. How can you care so much about EVERYTHING?” (imagine that phrase spoken in a slightly exasperated tone)
I feel the need to explain myself a lot. I seem to have a strong presence and sometimes my real intention doesn’t always come across. The sometimes logical presentation can get muddled with the emotional accounts. Over time I started trying to explain my emotions and responses to life events in horse terminology. As though somehow this would soften the blow of “Allison-ness” of it all. Perhaps my behavior would be better accepted by humans if they could just think of me as a high spirited filly. I chuckled this morning when I realized that I have moved from trying to explain horse training philosophy with life analogies, to explaining my life as though I was a horse. It was an interesting moment when that dawned on me, especially since I am often attempting to illustrate the differences between horses and humans. True to form, I immediately set to reasoning why I wasn’t wrong, either then or now, and it led me to this epiphany of sorts.
When I compare myself to my horse, Sox, to help explain my own nature, I have started referring to myself as hyper-reactionary. My emotions/reactions are not specific to the moment in which I am feeling them. My current heartbreak is never entirely about the situation I am in; my emotion is developed largely because of my experiences up to that point. The trial I am going through is going to become a part of my emotional composite that will have an effect on how I react when I am in another similar situation in the future. I immediately thought of how I am always saying we are training our horses in this moment for the future, not for today. Always be thinking about the next show or the next day’s training session. Our feelings are nothing more than a conditioned response to our life to that point. These experiences can be so profound in our human lives as to be crippling in our relationships and our lives as a whole. Your emotional experience is the core of what makes you unique.
Conditioned response is the basis of how we train horses. A horse only knows what it has been exposed to. Whether good, bad or indifferent, a horse is “trained” through the concept of conditioned response. The more you think about it, the more sense it makes. If you close your eyes and think of a certain emotional event in your life, you will have some gut level feeling associated with that thought. This is the same for a horse. When they are presented with something, they either associate the stimulus with something they know, and with that comes an awareness, or it is something they don’t know, and they are then drawing on their past experiences with you, or humans in general. If you use this understanding of your emotional experiences in life, it will allow you to have compassion for your horse’s journey. It will help you grasp the magnitude of the concept.
This does not mean, however, that we are just like our horses. Both horses and humans are born with instincts that come from biological evolution. We also share this emotional conditioned response that causes us to have certain behavior. For horses, this comes from their interaction with other horses, humans and the world in general. The crucial way that we differ is that humans have the ability to reason. We have the ability to communicate with other humans, self examine, read, and learn from experiences that others have had. There is not a horsey support group for yearlings who were kicked by their mothers. We have the unique capacity to take concepts and apply them to events other than the moment we are currently in. We can revisit our past experiences and try to learn from them. When applying this in our own lives, it can be very challenging, but it is possible. I know I struggle with it, but it is all part of the journey.
As the leader in the relationship with our horses, we carry the responsibility of reasoning. This is a great privilege. In a sense, we are the ones who control our horse’s “feelings.” We aren’t able to control the conditions of our own lives, especially in our formative years, and we are left with years of trying to reason our way into happiness. We do have the opportunity to be thoughtful and condition a horse that is willing, trusting and confident. I know that there are parts of my personality that I haven’t been able to properly address in my day to day life, such as my lack of patience. In my training I find it easier to master simply because it affects the relationship with my horses. I can see the needs in my horses or even in my students in that setting, and meet them in a way that I have not been completely successful accomplishing in my personal life.
Every day I am trying to become a better daughter, friend, human and trainer. It is certainly an uphill battle, but nothing worth doing comes easily. This particular realization was significant, and I am excited to see how it will strengthen both my process and my message.
Posted by Coastal Equine at 8:19 PM