Engaging versus Training

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I was recently teaching at “Banyandah”, Jane Reid’s beautiful property at Howlong, NSW. On the first morning of the course we had our usual introductions and Jane shared with the group about a change she had had in her thinking about the word “training” horses. What she said really sounded right to me, I could feel my energy bubbling as she spoke, a sign for me that there was a deep truth being spoken. I asked Jane to write about it so that I could share it. Here is what she wrote:-

“Many will agree that humanity and horsemanship are moving towards a new paradigm now, so it seems appropriate to take a closer look at some of the language we have formerly used around horses. One such word for me has been in the “training” of my horse.

 “Training” has an implication that here we know everything and the horse knows zip and that it’s a fairly one way conversation. Not a good foundation to begin with. It occurred to me to ask the horses directly if they could offer up a word that would be more appropriate and to their liking. A few days ago I went out to the Herd, greeted each one individually and asked each the same question – what word would you like used instead of the word “training”? I am not aware of any one horse replying but before leaving their paddock I definitely received the answer! The new word is “engage”.

 I love this word!  “Engage” suggests a conversation which is dynamic, equal and with a high level of interest and presence. I have already taken this word with me when I have played with the young horse I am starting and can see how when changing my language to now “engage” with her, I change intent and thus the experience and the outcome is changed. In effect she is still learning, however, it now happens more harmoniously and I am more respectful of her contribution in the exchange.

 I am reminded of the saying-
 “Watch your thought as they become your words,
Watch your words as they become your actions,
Watch your actions as they become your reality.”

 As one friend of mine says “we need to stop talking around our horses as if they are coma victims!”  Contrary to what some would think, our horses are actually deeply aware to our thoughts, words and actions. When we accept this truth and choose to engage with them, the outcome can only be a mutually enjoyable dance. “ –  Jane Reid

Mel’s thoughts :
To me the essence of all this is the point that we are allowing and inviting the horse to be interactive and have input into how things go and treating them as an equal rather than expecting them to be subordinate to us.

I will be the first to agree that finding the balance between being a leader and directing and guiding the horse and listening to them as an equal partner is sometimes hard, especially when people are just learning skills in how to interact with horses.  I have learned to think of it similarly to how I teach students in my courses. Whilst I lead the courses and have the knowledge, a plan and know the step ladder to get to where we want to go, my courses are very interactive with students. The students get to have a lot of input into what happens and what content is taught and how it is taught and the tasks that each person are given are individualized to meet the needs of that horse or human.

Sometimes the input from the student is via them verbally requesting things or asking questions and other times it is via what physically or emotionally shows up in the horses or the humans once we get started with some tasks.  I often see the students experiment with something or offer another perspective or be creative and imaginative or take their time more or be more progressive with something than I might and if they get good results, I learn from that. I also like to allow them freedom to add in their individualness to things.  As the teacher I am always learning from my students, I often say with every course I teach I probably learn just as much if not more than anyone there. With everything, I believe there is a reciprocal relationship – in this case the students learns from the teacher but the teacher also learns from the student and the human learns from the horse and the horse learns from the human.

This reciprocal relationship is how I think things should be with the horses, allowing the horses to have their say, listening and then responding appropriately. There are different levels at which we can listen, sitting or just being still with the horses as Jane did and picking up things energetically or reading their body language which ultimately also means accurately reading their minds and emotions. Just as we can get a sense of peoples mental and emotional states via their body language and posture we need to be able to do the same for the horses. Tension or a lack of tension in the muscles and joints of the body and reading the expression on their faces will give you some of the clearest feedback on how they are feeling.

It does surprise me how lacking many horse people are in this area and how misunderstood many horses are. If we were to think of horses more like people, which is different than being anthropomorphic meaning putting human values or ideals onto animals, I think that people would understand horses better and therefore get on with them much better. Thinking about horses more like humans in this sense, just means recognizing that animals and can have all the same thoughts and emotions that humans do. Animals can feel happy, sad, depressed, angry, playful, anxious, bored, excited, guilty, anxious, fearful or joyful as a few examples, so we need to be clear about what emotional place they are in to know how to respond and engage with them appropriately.

Here is how the word engage is described in the dictionary:-

Engage

  1. occupy or attract (someone’s interest or attention).
  1. participate or become involved in.

“organizations engage in a variety of activities”

              synonyms: participate in, take part in, join in, become involved in, go in for, partake in/of, occupy oneself with, throw oneself into;

share in, play a part in, play a role in, be a participant in, be associated with, have a hand in, be a party to, enter into, undertake, embark on, set about, launch into

“they like to engage in active sports”

Lots of food for thought when we start to be aware of the words we use and the energy and meaning that they carry.

Go well,
Mel

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