BY DON JESSOP
There is something so beautiful, almost magical, about a horse that looks off into the distance. You can help but wonder, "What are they thinking? Do they feel what I feel?" As humans who love horses, we connect deeply with the wild, free nature of a horse. Some people even say that in another life, they would like to be a horse. I feel it too sometimes. Can you imagine having all that power and speed and beauty and elegance, all available to you? Of course, there could be downsides. If you were going to be a horse you'd have to be free or at least have a fantastic human to live with. The kind of human who can see what you need and support you with first class service. The kind of human who can stay focused and connected, soft and rewarding. The kind of human who cares deeply about your state of mind. I know there are many people like that in the world and I'm grateful for that because horses deserve the best we have to offer. Afterall... they've given us everything.
Now coming back to the title of the story... I see lots of beautiful looking paintings and pictures everywhere I look with horses in their wild, free state of mind. I can't argue with anyone who posts pictures of distant looking horses online or on their living room walls. It shows how romantic the horse world really is. Horses are magnificent no matter how you see them.
Now... if you dare... let's dive a little deeper together, past the beautiful horse in the pictures and into the heart of relationships and the dynamic duo of conversation, where that same beautiful distant look... is also the kiss of death for successful communication. As I write this, I feel torn in two. I don't ever want to rob the horse of his own thoughts, but I also know that for communication to work he or she has to consider my thoughts and vice versa. We can't be off in la-la land, alone with our thoughts when our partner is trying to communicate. As the horse, being the follower in this dynamic duo, he or she must pay close attention to what we want. Both for safety and to advance through progressive exercises.
When a horse gives an "off in the distance" look, I call this the la-la land look. It becomes imperative to bring them back to the present moment quickly if you want to be effective. Contrary to what's been taught in natural horsemanship, horses don't live in the moment. They live more like we do, in a mind filled memories and feeling. We can even observe them thinking about or anticipating the near future around feeding time or training time. In fact, it's their ability to think about the near future that gives us the ability to train at all. They have to be able to anticipate and respond in order to show they've learned something. So when a horse gives that la-la land look it means he's not thinking about you anymore. It means he's no longer in that special moment, suspended between two partners trying to communicate.
It's okay for a horse to look off for a moment or two, but it's not okay for long periods of time to leave a horse in la-la land. As a professional, I can tell instantly whether or not a student understands the deeper levels of communication with horses. When I see a student leave a horse in la-la land, I know they either don't know their horse is mentally gone or they don't care. Either way, that relationship is limited to very simple tasks and only on good days. But when I see a student elegantly address a horse in la-la land with a simple suggestion to come back to reality and back to the moment, I instantly recognize that students potential to advance to more challenging situations safely and to higher-level tasks.
By the way... horses love riders or trainers who help them stay present. Especially if they do it in a kind and elegant fashion. If you reward your horse for being mentally, not just physically, connected to you, your horse will love being your true blue partner. And if you see when your horse is not connected and bring them back with a simple hand yield or voice cue, you will begin a journey of true connection that most people only dream of having when they look at a beautiful picture of a horse.
Last, but not least, as one final reminder, don't leave your horse, or yourself, in la-la land. Be present, both of you!
If you want to learn more about how to recognize a horse in la-la land and how to get them back watch this video.
It's short, it's sweet, you'll see it instantly, and then... I hope you share this article with your world. Share it with your friends and comment below. Thanks for reading!