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May 31, 2022 6 Comments
"My horse made me feel... scared, angry, frustrated, etc."
Insert big buzzer sound indicating I got that wrong!
Did he make me feel that? Or did I go there? The truth is, if I remained in those negative emotions, I allowed myself to go there. Perhaps you grew up believing emotions were unguided reactions to circumstances and you didn't know you could control your reactions. I certainly believed that for quite some time. But now we know better. We know you can control our emotions. How do we know? Because that's exactly what horse training is. It's controlling and conditioning responses to stimulus. We can literally teach a horse to react in a positive way to a negative stimulus. Therefore, if we can do it with a horse... we can do with ourselves.
The truth is, nobody and nothing can make you feel something for any length of time. That doesn't mean people and things don't affect us. Of course, they do. We get triggered just like a horse gets spooked. But we need to avoid blaming the trigger for the unconscious choice to remain triggered, or to remain hurt, or frustrated, or nervous.
I played basketball as a teenager and we, meaning the whole team, were abused verbally by the coach. It hurt so bad, and I didn't understand yet about owning emotions, I held onto resentment for five years after graduating high school. I blamed my coach for all things negative in my life. I imagined a life with a better coach and assumed I'd be successful and happy. I compared my two lives at the time and remained resentful.
The point I'm making is I allowed the trigger to become the constant. Then... one day, fortunately for me, a dear friend invited me to study with an expert in human psychology and leadership. Guess what I learned? I am in control of my feelings. AND... I can learn to be in better control with awareness and practice.
I know a lot of people don't want to be cognitive about their reactions to life and horses. I get it. I didn't either. I was fueled in some perverse way when I was resentful. But I also was not healthy. There are those who say, "I am this way," and those who say, "I acted this way." The latter is a much more powerful tool for change.
Take all this context now in contrast to horse people. When a horse misbehaves, do you find yourself frustrated? Triggered? Fearful? If so, do you own that feeling as an action on your part, or do you blame the horse, or people, or circumstance, or life?
The big bay horse in my hand leapt up and kicked out with his hind legs over and over. I was on high alert. I couldn't let him hurt me or hurt himself as I patiently worked toward helping him enter the horse trailer. He wanted nothing to do with it from years of inadvertently learning to exit the trailer and quite literally running away. There were moments that I feared I'd lose him as he pulled hard on the line, and moments I thought I'd be crushed as he lunged forward through my personal space. In one single session, with little provocation from me except to gently guide him near the trailer, this horse reacted with enough vigor to scare even a seasoned horse trainer. And as a result, this horse triggered every emotion in me. Fear, frustration, sadness, excitement, and more. But none of those emotions stuck. I kept checking my breathing, checking my thoughts, checking my heart rate, checking my goals and diminishing the goals to support progress, always ensuring I could lead without holding negative emotion.
I could have gotten mad. We can imagine how that would have gone. This was a twenty two year old horse that knew how rear, kick, pull, and leap forward, like he'd been doing it his whole life. And in fact he had! Did I feel mad? Was I triggered at times? Yes. He nearly injured me many times. Did I remain mad? NO! The feeling never lasted more than three seconds because I owned my experience. That's always the key. Don't blame circumstance. Own the experience!
I could have gotten fearful? We can imagine how that would go too. He'd only reinforce his ability to take over and do what he wanted regardless of what's safe. I had to stand my ground. In fact I had to move to a safe place so I could stand my ground. I encourage all my students that encounter extreme horses to use the best spaces to demonstrate clearer leadership. Like teaching a dangerous horse to back with a fence between you. He learns, and you both stay safe until the skills are higher.
The point is... I kept checking my emotions. I try to notice my reaction to the experience I'm having. I own my emotional decisions. I do this with people too. If someone hurts me, I understand that's a trigger, but if I remain hurt, I understand that's a decision. My decision! Only when I own it do I have the ability to lead again. To be free again.
Some things sting more than others. For instance, if your horse bites you and draws blood. This will cause trepidation in your day to day exchanges. That's normal. Being hyper aware and on guard is normal and even important at times. But check your decisions. Do you blame the horse for how you feel, or do you own it, and find ways to change it. Either by guiding the horse to new behaviors or guiding yourself to healthier perspectives?
Thanks for reading dear friends. You inspire me to write! Comment below and share your experiences.
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