Usually I use this blog as a place to discuss things that I am experiencing or experimenting with, and then I apply them to things that I commonly see as struggles among my students. Often they are one and the same so it isn't too much of a stretch! With this blog, though, I am going to discuss something I talk to a lot of people about, and I believe is more about humans than it is horses. I want to talk about taking risks, trying new things, and being accountable for how we are with our horses.
Almost on a daily basis someone tells me that they feel stuck because they don't want to make their horse worse or mess up the horse's existing training. Usually this is followed by them telling me that it is still falling apart!
Usually I keep the advice I give out to individual encounters, because it's hard to give specific suggestions that will apply in any situation. But I think I can break that rule when it comes to this issue. I think it is important to go for it. To try. To take risks and to think outside your comfort zone. Be careful with your physical safety, but not with your strategy. Just because you haven't seen me or your trainer do it, or you aren't sure you can execute the idea perfectly, doesn't mean you shouldn't give it a go. I do new things everything I go to work. That is how you grow, stay inspired, and become better and produce better horses.
It is important though that two things happen when you are trying something new or uncomfortable. Firstly, you must ensure that what you are trying to do is true to your philosophical ideas about horsemanship. For me, this means that it is true to what the horse needs in that moment. That it is clear to the horse and in their interest. What I'm doing may need to be firm, just as it may be quiet, but either way it must be asking for the horse to try, think and be responsible. I should not be carrying a horses weight, physically or mentally, and should not be forcing a physical change without also asking for a mental one.
Secondly, in being true to your conceptual goals, you must be accountable for your decisions. Every time I work a horse, I try to do it as though someone I respect is watching. It is so easy to cut corners when no one is watching, which is one of the reasons it is so common for people to tell me that what I'm seeing in a lesson isn't common at home. Because at home, no one is holding them accountable for what they are doing. That is the difference that I see between people who make rapid, consistent changes at home, and those people who continue to struggle making a big jump. It doesn't have anything to do with technical skill or riding ability. It has everything to do with the person's ability to make decisions that reflect the sort of horse person they want to be rather than getting frustrated or in a rush and regressing back to what is comfortable for them (and probably not comfortable for the horse!).
This certainly doesn't mean things will be anywhere near perfect! It just means that you are moving forward and pushing yourself rather than staying still. And with this, you must be sure to be confident and sure in your decisions, rather than worrying if it will work. It definitely won't work if you aren't going for it with all of your ability! Sometimes in clinics or when people are watching me work at home I try to remember to mention if I'm doing something that I've never done before or that I'm not sure if it will work. The truth is, that's all the time! If it weren't all the time, I would be the same horse person I was five years ago, and I certainly am not that.
That being said, if I try something new, at that moment I am sure that it will work. If it doesn't, I usually feel that pretty quickly and am not afraid to move on to something else. Most of the time, though, it does work, and I don't think that's in any small part to the fact that I'm following all of this advice. I'm confident it will work, and that the horse can come through, and before even starting I've evaluated if I'm being true to myself and my horse, and working as if someone I respect is watching.
As a teacher, I would absolutely rather see someone come for a lesson trying new things and trying hard, even if I have to change their direction some, than someone who is paralyzed because they are afraid to fail. So, give yourself permission to mess up! Why not? It takes a long time to get good at anything, and you have to put yourself out there for big rewards. If things get worse before they get better, so what? Treat your horsemanship like a journey and an exercise in self growth, not a competition, and you will find things inside yourself you didn't know where there, and your horses will thank you.