It is not what you do, but how you do it…
Maybe this seems obvious to some, but yet many of us have a tendency to forget that the true difference lies in not what we do, but how we do it. Often when I am teaching, people are looking for very specific exercises. They have seen some of my work online and are now searching for ways to be able to do the same. That of course is absolutely possible, but most certainly not if they expect to be able to do it because of a few exercises.
The big secret in what we do with our horses and our relationship with them does not lie in a handful of exercises. The secret lies in the way you are with your horse. It lies in your mind, in your intentions and in your approach to what you do. From where I see it it doesn’t matter if you do natural horsemanship, dressage, jumping, driving or something entirely else. What matters is how you do it. You could do any kind of training and mess it up by being impatient, unfair, demanding and harsh. Yet I also believe you could likewise succeed in any kind of training and have an amazing relationship with your horse with patience, kindness, understanding and partnership.
That is also what forms the difficult task of teaching. It would be way easier to simply have a final collection of things you need to do to improve the relationship and teamwork, but instead we are in a situation where the things we do does not rank the top on the things of biggest importance. That gives us, as trainers to our horses or teachers of other people, a much bigger responsibility because we need to not only be aware of what we do, but be even MORE aware of how we do it. We need to communicate a new way of meeting our horses in which we can’t call ourselves saints just because we do natural horsemanship or whatever it might be. We need to rethink the whole system and figure out how to do what we do with focus on the HOW rather than the WHAT instead of the opposite way around.
To make it even more clear for you I want to share a little example from my own life…
The past few months I have started looking more and more into the importance of energy, mindset and feeling in the training of horses. Even more than I did before. One of the exercises I am playing with is walking with my horse and stopping again. That sounds quite simple doesn’t it? Now remember that the importance is not the exact exercise, but how it is performed. What I do is that I stand side by side with my horse in complete silence. I focus on my breathing, on relaxing my body and my mind as well. I do not give any cues to make my horse move forward, but I have the idea with me in my mind without expectations. The longer we stand there in silence the more tensions I localize in my body and try to loosen up. Then the magic happens. When I am calm and relaxed in mind and body my horse all of a sudden takes the initiative of walking and we are then able to take our first step together because I make the space for movement in my mind and body without forcing it through.
A much easier way to perform the mentioned exercise would be to simply give a verbal cue, shake a little with my whip or start walking myself to make my horse follow. Yet the difference I see in the result of the two approaches is amazing. It suddenly goes from an order to walk to a mutual decision to move forward together. Of course I also walk with my horses in a more ‘normal’ way, but every time I succeed with the mutual decision instead of giving an order it simply makes the whole situation feel different. It gives a feeling of unity and connectedness and every time I see a more relaxed attitude in my horse. I see initiative, willingness and understanding in the task as well as a horse who shows me when we are ready to act together.
Some kind of belief has arose in certain parts of the horse world that you are only good to your horse if you use less equipment, no bits, no saddles, does not take part in competitions and so on. But is that really what makes the difference? In the long run? I don’t think so. I think what makes the difference is how you approach the tasks. Everything can be done in a bad way. That including a training approach with extreme abstinence of equipment as well as the opposite. What we as trainers, riders and friends to our horses need to consider is not what equipment is used, what exercises we do or what we strive for, but HOW we use the equipment, HOW we approach the exercise and HOW we aim for our future goal. What is the point of using less equipment if the horse still feels trapped in the task or feels like he still has no voice or saying?
I truly believe that you can do almost anything with your horse and have an amazing relationship as long as what you do is done the right way and with the right mindset.
It is not what you do, but how you do it.