In the second part of this series, I want to discuss more than specific sessions – both in riding and groundwork – to focus on where we spend the most of our time with our horses: the barn.
How many hours have we spent in the barn? Leading horses, cleaning stalls, feeding, or generally hanging around? Working in the barn and around horses is a significant portion of what we do as equestrians – it’s where most of the relationship we have with our horses is built. How can we help that relationship grow?
I want to challenge myself and others to work on recognizing our general presence around the barn and horses. Sometimes, I’m guilty of focusing too much on my “to-do” list, and not enough on the task at hand. It’s difficult, when there seem to be 500 things that need attention at once, but it’s critical to work on our mindfulness since how we work around the barn has a big influence on our horses, too.
Recognizing the effect of your presence can encourage clear and consistent interactions, allowing for happy and comfortable horses!
I want to try to be more aware of my energy and body language throughout the day. I want to be aware of subtle changes and cues that my horse might give. I want to be aware enough to think three steps ahead to identify the safest, easiest, clearest and smoothest way to ask my horse a question. And I want to be consistent in how I show up for my horse.
This growth in awareness and presence can take many forms, from checking in with myself and my emotions, finding a few extra moments to recharge (my energy, patience, or focus) before interacting with my horse, developing more consistent and clearer boundaries in how I, or other handlers, work around my horse, or focusing on the signals my horse is giving me throughout our day, from the look in her eye, to any signs of tension in her nostril, muzzle, or body.
I’ll challenge myself to grow by asking questions like:
Am I in a space where I can direct my attention and focus to my horse?
How does my horse approach me in the field?
Do I take the moment to greet the horse before putting on the halter?
How do I want to shape behavior towards something more desirable (such as not pawing in the cross ties)?
What, if any, signs of tension can I see in my horse?
Working to develop my relationship with my horse requires clear, consistent, and focused work in, and out, of the saddle. With so much time spent working to care for our horses from the ground, we can develop our awareness of and focus on the messages we’re sending to show up as better partners. Through emphasizing groundwork – both in specific sessions and in general work around the barn – I’m excited to see how my relationship with my horses continues to grow.