One of the greatest challenges I think quality horsemanship presents is that as humans we are incredibly driven to correct behavior. Whether with a horse or in other aspects of life, the urge to rewrite history is strong. To analyze and attempt to shift the past, living in what ifs and should have beens. We all do it.
In horsemanship, if a horse dives its shoulder into us on the ground, the urge is to block with physical pressure and move the shoulder away is what most people express to me. The same happens when leading, when riding, even things as simple as picking up a foot are prone to the infusion of some sort of punitive reaction.
But where this hits a road block in every part of life is that the act has already happened. The step has already been taken. Whatever the horse’s undesirable behavior was, it has already been decided upon and executed by the horse. The horse already felt the emotion that led to the decision to perform that action. It’s over, it’s done, it’s played out. Trying to change a step that has already been taken is utterly useless. Because there is no way to change the past.
The only thing we have control over is the future. We can only control the way we direct and influence the next step and that next step can look like anything in the world. There are no limitations. If the horse saw fit, that step could be a leap eight feet into the air or it could be a stop, drop and roll. There are no limitations to that next step. There is only choice.
All choices are the culmination of many experiences. Those that are happening now to those that have happened years in the past. These experiences, past or present, influence the dialogue and life between everything in the space. From the fence to the halter to the horse’s foot to the human’s hand. Every decision comes from a complex and integrated relationship of living and non living things, and their present and past interactions.
The choice becomes about how the dynamics of all these relationships are engaged with. We have to honor where the horse is coming from, understanding what is and is not clear to them in that moment, without dwelling in it. As the person who has a goal for the next step, it is our responsibility to sort through this and best communicate within these dynamic moments so that the horse can understand our intention and decide within his or her own experiences that their next step should be the same next step we had hoped for.
While this sounds daunting and impossible, it all comes down to shifting our mindset to focus on what can still be changed. To focusing on the next step, whether literally or figuratively, rather than the last. So much of the sort of horsemanship I am working towards is about understanding how to create, engage with and send a thought, rather than blocking a behavior. One of the biggest challenges this presents is being able to accept the behavior that was wrong. Accepting that something took place that we didn’t want to take place and responding to it thoughtfully but not reacting. We often note the difference between a horse responding to our requests versus reacting to a stimuli, but it’s so hard to see in ourselves.
If a wrong step was taken, I hope it is possible to live within the moment and respond to all the messy histories of experience that everyone involved (horse and human) has, simply by thoughtfully asking for the next step to be different. Instead of worrying about that shoulder falling in and pushing it back out, I hope to thoughtfully engage with the horse and ask their next step to be towards the line I would like them to be on. To think a little further out on the circle, because I’m sure their shoulder will follow. I won’t worry about why, when or how the bad step happened, but I hope I can guide the next step more clearly. I hope that this will give a sense of security and peace to both the horse and to me, because with this mindset, no last step was wrong and all next steps will be better.