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What we see depends mainly on what we look for.
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John Lubbock

LATEST THOUGHTS

Sample Chapter

The following Chapter is from the Horseman Within, The Principles of Horsemanship, to provide a feel of the work I do and as a sample of what you can expect from your ebook.

 

Introduction

 

I believe that we all have the ability to be better horsemen and to develop our relationships with our equine partners. We cannot all be the world’s best equine trainer, but we can all be the best horsemen we are capable of being. The principles on these pages are the ones I believe we need to master if we are to release the horseman within.

 

So many books or trainers try to give an “ABC” of horsemanship. My experience has been that the process of learning horsemanship is a unique and individual journey, and that one method cannot fit all people. There are as many relationships between equines and humans as there are equines.  Animals and humans bring their individual distinctiveness to the relationship, which means the possibilities for interaction are almost endless. A training method may be successful in the hands of its originator, but the unique perceptions and personalities of different people will change the application of the method, and the unique experiences and learning styles of the animals will result in different training. If two people apply the same method of training on two different animals, we see two different outcomes.

Listening with Your Eyes

 

One of the most important developments during our childhood is that we learn to communicate with other humans. It is interesting that in school we spend a great deal of time learning to talk correctly, we spend a huge amount of time learning to read and write, but we spend very little time at all learning to listen.

 

It is easy to feel that listening comes naturally. We are hopefully born with the ability to hear, just as we are born with the ability to smell, and we do not have to learn to smell do we? In our very noisy world, we have come to believe that we communicate predominately using sound. We talk to each other and we can share our deepest fears and emotions. We can work with other people because we can talk to them and share our thoughts in detail. This has perhaps led us to believe the opposite of talking is listening and therefore to listen all we need to do is to stop making noise ourselves.

 

We may be surprised to learn that even today, 57% of our active communication is through body language. When we hear a politician make a speech, often we believe them or not, based on what we see in their body language. We may not always be aware of the fact we are using body language to communicate, but we are. We have all experienced being told something but hearing a nagging voice that does not quite believe what we are told. Small children are particularly bad at lying because they have not learnt to control some of their body language.

 

Firstly, we must realise that listening is actually an activity not a passive skill. We have all had the experience of talking to someone, but feeling that they are not really listening to us. Perhaps we have even been the one who was supposed to have been listening, but have been caught out when questioned about what we have been told. To listen is hard work, we must concentrate very carefully, which is made difficult by the fact that our brain can process up to 850 words per minute, but speech is usually around 130 words per minute. This means we have capacity for 700 words that are not being used no wonder our brains begin to fill with distracting thoughts. When we really listen, we hear not only the words that are spoken, but read the emotions and true feelings of the speaker. Often the words we use are not at all what we mean, this is demonstrated when we men are caught out by hearing the words our partners say but miss what is really meant.

 

When we work with our animals, we want them to communicate with us, and we want to be able to communicate with them. We want to understand them and for them to understand us. We search for a method of training that will allow us to speak their language or help them to understand ours. Fortunately this language already exists, in the form of body language, even better we already know how to read it. I am not talking about the body language made popular by “horse whisperers,” the stylised movements based on negative reinforcement, but rather in this case I am referring to our ability to interpret movement.

 

If we walk into a stable and our horse is sweaty, restless and looking back at its stomach, the animals body language would instantly tell us to suspect colic. If we turn up to get our donkey in from the field and immediately notice it standing strangely, leaning back with their front legs stretched out straight and they did not come to greet us as normal, we would know to call the vet, as it is likely our donkey has laminitis. We are already very able to read body language and the more time we spend around equines, the easier it becomes for us to read. They do say if you want to learn a foreign language live in a foreign country.

 

To understand body language we have to learn to listen with our eyes. We must learn to see the movements of our animals that go to make up their behaviours. If we can think with the equine brain, we can easily learn to understand what our animals are telling us. One of my favourite demonstrations of this is to scratch an animal hard on the withers, as if we were mutually grooming. If the animal’s bottom lip begins to quiver, I can be pretty sure they are enjoying it. If they move away, they are obviously not enjoying it. If during scratching the animal steps forward, but does not move away, I can be pretty sure the animal is asking me to scratch a new spot instead. I have met many equines that have been trained to communicate when they would like their bottom scratched. It can be a little unnerving to have an unknown horse reversing towards you, demanding to be scratched.

 

We can clearly read body language, our problem seems to be that often we do not want to listen to what is being said. The horse that is difficult to catch is saying “I do not want to be with you, I would prefer to remain free.” Why they might make this choice could be for many reasons, but what they are saying is clear, I would rather not be with you. If we do not accept the true nature of equines, we might, to protect ourselves from the truth, label such an animal as difficult, stubborn or deliberately awkward. Our perception of what we see will determine whether we want to listen to what the animal has to say.  

 

Listening with our eyes requires concentration and effort to actively observe what the animal is doing and communicating though their actions. If an equine refuses to walk over a new object, such as, a plastic sheet or a pole, it is indicating that, it cannot or does not know how to deal with the situation. The animal that walks over plastic, but rushes forward to get over the object is conveying that it is not happy with this scary thing, and it wants to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. The fact the animal is saying this means it should be listened to. If we ignore what the animal has to say, we run the risk of over reaching them and that increases the risk of an accident.

 

When we listen with our eyes, we see what the animal tells us about a situation. How we behave, will depend on whether we really listen or just hear. Being able to see if the animal is afraid or nervous prevents us from labelling the animal as “pushy” or “disrespectful.”  When we really listen with our eyes it becomes easier for us to see the try made by the animal. We are able to see the small step forward as a huge challenge to the animal, and reward it accordingly.

 

When we want to know what our animals are telling us, all we need to do is to listen with our eyes and be prepared to accept what we see regardless of whether or not we like what we see. When we listen with our eyes we have to trust the animal, and as deceit has not been proven in equines, it is extremely unlikely that an equine is trying to trick us for their own pleasure.

 

If we do not know the reason for what we are seeing, we need to gently continue to work and keep listening. We will see more communication and from this, we can piece together the clues to help us understand what we are being told.

 

To improve our ability to listen with our eyes, first we must practise listening with our ears. Listening is hard work and to start with you should choose a person who is close to you and practise listening to them for one entire conversation. To do this you must concentrate fully on them, stop everything else and look at them. Let all your other worries and problems take a back seat for the duration of the talk, and be fully present with your friend. Then listen to the words of their body language and the tone of what is said. If you do not understand something, ask them to rephrase the misunderstanding. Confirm what you hear them say and do not interrupt. Before you speak allow a couple of seconds to pass to ensure your friend has said all they need to. Practising listening first helps you to understand how much work is involved in really listening but it will hopefully show you some of the benefits as well.

 

Secondly, watch as much equine behaviour as possible. Watch at shows, on the yard and around the stables. Watch animals in their herd, and on their own. Try to watch for the tiny signs and signals that are given off, which help you to understand what an animal is saying. See if having predicted what the animal is saying, is there anything to confirm you are correct? Do not judge other people or comment on their difficulties, simply watch and learn.

 

Thirdly, spend some time watching your own animal. A video recorder is great for this as it allows you to view behaviour repeatedly so you can take in what the animal is trying to communicate. Watch your own animal to learn how they communicate with their environment, and with other animals. Try to understand what the animal is saying by imagining what benefit the behaviour might have to the animal. How forceful are they with herd mates? What do they do before they roll, sleep, spook or gallop off?

 

Fourthly, resolve to trust your equine partner. Accept that they are telling you the truth, and learn that when you accept the true nature of equines you will believe what they communicate to us. Avoid too much anthropomorphism can be misleading and corrupts communication.

 

Finally, practise working with your animal and see just how subtle the clues of communication are. Practise listening to every movement and behaviour that your animal offers. You should be so focused that it is like meditating. Be totally engrossed in what they are telling you, good or bad. Be prepared to “hear” things that you do not want to, and do not take it personally. Accept honest communication, and delight in the fact you can understand what a different species is telling you.


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