We all know that when we work on specific long-term goals with our horses, the best way to reach these goals is by creating many small steps that build slowly towards the bigger goal.
However, we often feel the pressure of deadlines. We push progress because a show coming up, or we believe that a horse having a certain age, should be able to perform specific tasks. Giving into these perceived time pressures, we tend to hurry and push, trying to make the change happen sooner rather than later. This often leads to impatient humans and stressed horses, making the learning less effective.
The secret to progress is to slow down. To most of us, that feels counter-intuitive. In my coaching sessions I often hear, “How can I slow down if I am already behind?” The answer is that if you keep working with your horse in a state of stress, or fear of running out of time, you create an ineffective, slow learning environment. If you slow down, find calmness within yourself, and concentrate on the next step in front of you, you provide a learning environment where you and your horse can connect and communicate clearly with each other.
Here are some tips on how to slow down to arrive sooner:
Set the tone for your time together
Take the time to stand by your horse’s side and breathe together to set the tone for your time together. Let go of the outside, connect and get in sync with your horse. Tune in to your body and find calmness, confidence and focus. Allow this to radiate through you and your horse. This sets the tone for your time together, creating connection and flow right from the beginning.
Focus on present moment
Letting go of the future and focusing on the present moment is one of the most powerful gifts you can bring to your partnership with your horse. It allows both of you to enter with ease into the partnership dance: you ask your horse to do something and your horse gives you an answer. If the answer is not what you want, you keep asking calmly until the magic moment arrives when your horse asks you, “Is this what you want?” and you say, “Yes.”
In a state of stress and pushing, we miss these magic moments and create confusion. The horse keeps trying to answer our request and we keep missing the correct answer, or recognize it too late. The result is irritation or anger in our space and confusion or shutting down in the horse’s space. This makes for really slow learning and is no fun.
Magic happens when we slow down and focus on the present moment, allowing our horse to find the right answer.
Be flexible and creative
When we slow down, we become more flexible and creative. We adjust to the horse’s pace of learning. We don’t mind repeating an old exercise to help the horse prepare for the next step. We step away from our original training plan of the day, if either the horse or human are not in the frame of mind for the work. There is no push — just flow, calmness, respect and connection.
Bring a flexible, fit, and coordinated body
Our own body is a major player in the communication with our horse. Many times our horse cannot follow our request, because unconsciously we prevent the movement with a stiff body part, don’t have the strength to continue a signal until the horse finds the right answer, or we get out of breath and have to stop an exercise. Going slow here means to take time daily to create a flexible, subtle, and coordinated body. A toned, flexible body can follow the movement of a horse smoothly and communicate signals clearly. It is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our horses and to ourselves.
We dismiss most of these opportunities because we believe that we are behind and don’t have time. However, what we perceive as slowing us down in the moment, is getting us to our goals much sooner in the long term.
This is also true in our daily life. The more we slow down and focus on the task in the present moment, the more clearly we can perceive what is needed, communicate clearly what we want, and find efficient ways to do our tasks. Consider how often in your life you have tried to accomplish tasks by speeding up or multitasking. How often did you make mistakes and had to redo the tasks? How often did you finish them on time, completely exhausted? Why not try something different? Slow down for a change. Your horse will love it and you might find that you accomplish more in your daily life.