Patience is a skill that needs to be practiced in order to improve it, it doesn’t just happen because we decide we want to be more patient. We have to intentionally work on it.
We talk a lot about emotional regulation in horses, but often the missing link in training is the person’s lack of ability to regulate their own emotions. We can’t expect our horses to feel relaxed during training when we become flustered as soon as things aren’t going well. 😵💫
There can be so much pressure on us when we feel we are being watched and judged by others that it is a completely normal, human reaction to become stressed and frustrated when our horses aren’t responding how we want them to, it can feel embarrassing. Learning to not let what others think affect how you are with your horses takes a lot of emotional fortitude.
It is also common to feel angry and stressed when we are worried about being hurt, believe me I have felt the rage bubble up when my horse has accidentally hurt me. It has taken intentional work on myself to step away and not react in that moment. I think at times it becomes a way to mask nerves, people growling and screaming at horses just in case they decide to spook or stop at a jump. This is unfair on the horse and is actually going to make the horse even more anxious, while they may comply, you’ve made it an unpleasant experience.
I used to ride a lot of horses every day and was expected to improve them quickly, I felt frustrated if the horses gave me anything but exactly what I wanted and I really do not like the person I was around them. Getting angry and pulling the reins a bit harder when they resisted or thumping them in the sides, even though I knew I shouldn’t, I couldn’t seem to stop myself, then I’d feel awful about it afterwards.
One of the hardest things for many of my clients when they first start training with me is to learn to stand still, leave the horse alone and just hold space. We have been pressured and conditioned into micro-managing and fixing every small mistake with an “ah ah ah” or “no stop it!” as if either of these things mean anything to a horse, they just create a bit of a frantic energy. We can be firm and clear without being sharp about it.
The first step is to reframe how we view our horse’s behaviour, this is the key to taking the frustration away. If I feel that he’s deliberately being obstinate I’m going to feel angry, but if I realise that he is actually having a hard time and is dealing with his own stress/fear/discomfort then I’m going to empathise and try to help rather than try to dominate or “win”.
Horses are so tuned into your energy they can feel the anxiety and frustration in you even if you think you’re being quiet. If you feel yourself getting wound up, pause for a minute, take a deep breath and regroup. There are still times when I feel my emotions getting the better of me and I will come back to walk, drop the reins and not let it escalate, it just isn’t worth it.
If you want your horse to feel relaxed around you and be able to come out of his shell then you need to also work on yourself. Finding the right trainer who understands behavioural science to help you, looking at horses through a different lens and finding a support network of like-minded people can completely transform your relationship. Take the pressure off and learn to just spend time with your horse without all of that expectation, I promise there’s a better way. 🐴