Seems like a contradiction, and it is to most of our culture, based solely on more! More knowledge, more intellectual evidence, more to do, more money, more recognition, more likes on social media, more results with your horse.
Yet always more and always less do not have to be contradictory. In our equine world of competition, training, learning, more knowledge to be better, we lose track of the ‘less’. This is a sad and damaging truth that is fast affecting not just an industry, but our noble horses. I could talk of the genetic changes, interbreeding, new fangled gadgets and training moves to get more, quicker, but I am not speaking to this right now. I am speaking the ‘more’ that drives each person each day.
We are all on a quest to learn and gather more data yes, but within that quest have you ever noticed your mind? Have you noticed that if you hear something that has perhaps contradicted your methodology, or something you were taught years ago, that there is a moment of either denial to the new information, ego response that blames you for doing it wrong all these years if indeed the new information is correct, or confusion with how it fits or even perhaps complete resistance to something that contradicts a previous learning or instruction by a master or teacher.
If we are living in an ‘always more’ space, it may be that some of those emotions may present themselves. Yet it is highly beneficial to our horse to come from always less. Why?
There will always be new truths emerging from science and research with great teachers and trainers sharing that information, but the main teacher is your horse and the main truth comes from your horse! You could gather a tool box of functional exercise, which I am not opposed to and indeed I teach, but are they appropriate every moment? And how do you know when they are applicable? For the average horse person it can be a challenge to feel the needs of the horse, so the preference is a list of ‘things’ to do. The danger of that is you are following someone elses ‘list’ and using ingredients that you have, (your tool box) relative to that list. But what if those ingredients may not be the correct ones for the recipe (horse) you have today. If you don’t have the recipe to read, what do you do? Do you just pull the ingredients from someone else's list without considering what the recipe is (where you horse is today). But what if the recipe and the ingredients were right there in front of you?
Your horse will always provide you the ingredients to use for the recipe he needs in each given moment. Can you listen though, and when you do listen can you hear?
This is the art of mindfulness training. This is having 100 functional and effective exercises to do with your horse, but instead of jumping in to start or feeling you have to do something to finish, you actually do nothing, and allow the horse to guide you, which to the horse equates to more.
This requires you to bring your mind home, to bring your mind to a state of calm presence. Releasing the need for the next thing to grasp and learn and instead watch your every movement, thought and focus. Not putting attention on ‘the doing’ but focus on your hand and arm as you lift it to take contact with a lead rope. Watch your foot as it lifts off the ground and connects again to the ground. Experience the change in sensation between your foot in flight and your foot on the ground. No don’t think it, experience it. If you can bring your mind home while you are ‘working’ with your horse, you WILL know what to do. You will notice that today walking over a pole is not what that horse needs for perhaps a multitude of reasons. You will notice that lowering his head while lifting out of the base of his neck may not be an option. You will notice that going lateral or working with a yield in the rib cage is not available today.
Knowing when and where, how and why is only confusing to our mind when the brain has an agenda or is grasping for an outcome. Yet bringing the mind home enters you fully in to the heart of whatever you are doing with your horse. Then you are inspired not just by performing a task, but by the realization of the nature of that horse and you in that moment. With your mindfulness and awareness you are moved, not in the doing but in being via your focus on the subtleties of movement within yourself and therefore an increased observation of the signals, signs and movements of your horse. Is he saying no or yes?. You won’t have to intellectualize the moment or the answer, you will know because your mind is operating at a different level. Not bombarded by the CEO of your brain and ego that can only source from a previous narrative that stored the information in the library of your consciousness. Instead you are free of any conceptual reference with an awareness of the emptiness of anything other than human and horse.
From there you know.
As soon as you start questioning or wondering if it is right or wrong, you are back in the activity of the mind that is declaring restlessness. Uncertainty is restlessness, restlessness is like a cloud moving across the sky, hiding the view of the perfect blue above it. When you bring your mind home you are the sky, limitless without a cloud disturbing the truth. It is only the activity of the cloud, your restlessness, that removes your ability to feel the truth.
The truth can make or break your horse. If you listen to your horse's truth it can make him. If you listen to your analytical mind you could break him.
Horse: “No I cannot do that today because my stifle hurts”.
Human: “ You did it yesterday what is wrong with you”
Horse: “Nothing is wrong with me. I will try again. No, sorry it is uncomfortable, but I will compensate if you make me do it”.
Human: No don’t compensate, then there is another problem. What am I doing wrong? I am so stupid I need to learn more because this isn’t working.”
Horse: “No you actually don’t need to learn more because then you will have more expectations of me without building a platform of understanding. Don’t focus only on my ability, but on my [our] communication.”
Here is a different scenario, one of a higher truth of mindful consciousness.
Human: Focusing on the gentle lifting of the arm to invite a backward movement.
Horse: “No I cannot do that today because my back is sore.”
Human: I feel this is not available today I don’t need to know why in this moment. Human focusing on the foot step they just took in feel, breathing into the mind coming home. Recognizing the subtleties of something other than the stifle. Observing how the horse gently shifted his head to the outside and offered a footstep. “Oh ok is this what you need, alright let’s go for a walk then.”
Horse: Breath. “Thank you, that is what I need right now. Thank you for dropping your preoccupation of what you think I should do so we can dance together.”
Human: Awareness of footsteps, breath, awareness of fingers around the rope, breathe, mindfulness and presence, breathe, mind coming home.”
None of us can ever know it all, we are not supposed to. Perhaps you are an amazing bio mechanist but you are not so knowledgeable of the equine mind and emotional system, you may miss some emotional subtleties. Are you wrong, no, just as long as you don’t force your horse. Perhaps you are a super rider but don’t have the awareness of movement that you might have so you may miss some mechanical aspects of your ride. Are you wrong no, just as long as you do not force your horse.
We defer to the knowledge we have. Maybe honor that which you know from the library of knowledge you do have, but learn to source from something outside of yourself. From there you will invite your mind home to your heart where your belly can inform you that the sky is always blue, even if you only see the clouds today.