This sweet, old mare has approached me several times. She lives in the high desert, in Northern Nevada. She always notices my presence before I see her. She kinds of sneak up on me. She always carefully, very slowly walks closer and closer, until she is about 20-40ft away (which is very close, for a wild horse.) If I remain very still, she hangs out nearby until I leave.
Old mares are very interesting. I find that they often seek my company, and enjoy sharing silent moments. I like intelligent horses (and people..) sharing a moment with one is a valuable gift. Every single encounter of that kind has a special place in my heart.
How Did You Make Your Horse Feel?
By Franklin Levinson
“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
Carl W. Buechner
I was immediately struck by the relevance of this quote to successful training and handling of horses. Because, truly, it is all about how you make the horse feel when it is with you. How a horse “feels” when it is with us is the primary and most important responsibility we have with our horses. Does it feel fearful or does it feel safe? This is the big question.
Those of you who read my essays on equine related philosophies in the various media that publish them know very well that I am always emphasizing the importance of how a horse feels when it is with you, no matter what the activity. Whether you are training in hand and being active on the ground with the horse, schooling under saddle, or just hanging out with the horse, how it feels when it is with you is the last thing it will remember when you end that time together and leave it. If the session had particularly good feelings created between you and the horse, it may have even learned specific things you wanted to teach it more effectively. Additionally, it will be glad to see you when you join with the horse for the next session. Please know that it will remember how it felt when you ended the session.
It is the same with humans, too. Let’s say you are having a meeting with your boss and professional colleagues. You may make notes on the meeting to refer to at a later date so you don’t forget the specifics presented. But what really stays with you during the meeting, and from the moment you leave the meeting, is how it all felt. The emotional content of the experience is what you will feel and remember immediately and most strongly. If it felt good, safe, and perhaps even uplifting, chances are you will remember specific details much better. You might even remember word-for-word some of what was said without having taken notes. I can guarantee you that if this meeting prompted negative, fearful, angry, frustrating, or any such “bad” feelings (emotions), your mind may want to dismiss the experience entirely, and you will not remember much. Or, your mind may hook into the negativity you felt, and these negative feelings will begin to take over your thoughts and responses. Just as the good feelings produced will permeate throughout what happens after the meeting, so will the negative feelings result in a negative or bad attitude towards experiences that come directly after that uncomfortable meeting.
It is absolutely no different when you are working with horses.
When the experiences we have in life produce good feelings (resulting from our good attitude and thoughts), these emotions support us in being happier, healthier and even feeling more alive. When the emotional content of our experiences is negative, depressing, fearful and the like, we can become so depressed and feel so negative, as to even become dysfunctional and withdraw from the experience of life altogether. Again, this is how it is for our horses.
My goal here is to endeavor to motivate all who read this article to give up training techniques that produce fear within the horse. I hope for you to be willing to let go of judging the animal as “bad” and blaming the horse for resisting a request because it has been made afraid by our inability to communicate properly what it is we want. Or perhaps we have overlooked something that is scaring the animal. I am hoping to motivate humans to stop training horses by making the animal afraid of receiving pain and punishment.
A young friend of mine, recently arriving here in Greece as an apprentice, described to me how a trainer at the equine college he had attended in America punished an unruly (I call fearful) horse. This supposed professional snubbed (tied short) the horse so it could not lie down nor move its head to even scratch itself. The animal was left like that overnight. This was to punish the animal to make it behave. Here in Greece I saw a pony tied the same way in a manure-filled shed, without water or food, in order to punish the animal for some misdeed or unwanted behavior. It could not even turn its head, as the head was tied very short and up against a wall. To me, these people should never own horses, never be allowed to work with horses, and should be prosecuted by the law for cruelty to animals and jailed for extended periods of time.
But the sad truth is, this sort of treatment of horses, and other animals too, is not uncommon throughout the world. Riding instructors need to teach not only equestrian skills and how to win trophies and awards, but also teach about the mind and psychology of the horse so as to have this sort of treatment of horses end. Riding instructors and teachers are role models for young riders and horse people and should teach by providing a very, very good example of humane, compassionate and proper treatment of horses. If you are an equine professional, I implore and beg you to give up abusive methods of training horses only in the name of winning awards and competitions. The excuse of “there is not enough time to use other methods, and, therefore, applying hefty pressure and using force is essential to getting the job done,” is simply an excuse and nothing more. It shows a lack of knowledge of horses along with a lack of compassion. Achieving “obedience” is not sufficient reason to abuse a horse and produce fear. There is never a good reason to make any animal your slave.
It is my belief that some teachers teaching so called “classical riding” need to evolve to a higher standard of horsemanship. Allowing youngsters to jump before they can even do a reasonable sitting trot without stirrups, or a straight, controlled canter is done simply to provide an exciting experience and “bragging rights” for that novice rider and their parents. It is true that learning the basics of anything can be tedious and perhaps boring (like practicing scales on an instrument as we are learning to play it, or the seemingly endless figure eights and circles when learning the basics of riding). The instructor’s motivation in this case may be to lock in the student to their particular lesson program. This is not teaching good horsemanship and sends a wrong message to students about putting the well-being of the horse first, as well as the importance of developing a solid foundation for equestrian pursuits. This is in opposition to the instructor who chooses to focus more on the basics first and lateral work or jumping later. Good lesson horses are quickly ruined by instructors allowing novice and young riders to jump them before the rider’s abilities have attained a solid level of proficiency. There will be plenty of time for exciting experiences, competitions and opportunities for these riders to show off during their life with horses, without bypassing the basics.
Putting students on a lunge line is basic to teaching how to develop a good seat on a horse. Many of the highest level classical riding schools in the world will not allow a rider to touch the reins until they have developed at least the beginnings of good abilities to ride from their seat without using their hands. In some schools these riders stay on the lunge for months. Sometimes Grand Prix and Olympic coaches put their riders on the lunge before competitions to assist their riders and horses in performing better. How so-called classical riding instructors can not put a student on the lunge and expect to teach how to develop a good seat on a horse is a mystery to me. But not all instructors use this efficient and effective technique and bypass it entirely. The horse and rider both suffer from this deficiency in a riding program, and this is not teaching classical riding which must include how to develop a proper seat as a basic component.
Every moment we are with a horse, everything we do with a horse, every move we make with a horse, every word we say to a horse, every time we touch a horse, everything produces specific feelings within the horse. Just like when we are with our children, our partners, our colleagues, and even with a station attendant when we get petrol, we are left with the feelings from the experience. We may not even realize we have been affected by the experience, but, in truth, we have. If the experience left us feeling good, we might tend to return to that petrol station, make more time for our children and partners, and have better relationships with our colleagues.
Likewise, when our experiences with our horses leave the horse with good feelings, we will have good feelings too and be happy to be with our horses the next time. They will look forward to our return as well. They will remember how you made them feel. It is not enough simply to be able to throw ropes around a horse, to get a horse used to plastic tarpaulins and plastic bags, umbrellas or other such potentially scary items. It is not enough to be able to ask a horse to move in a circle, stop, change direction or speed and get some effort from the animal. I think we need to actually live and embody the qualities that produce these good feelings, these good vibrations. This is beyond asking for compliance from the horse. It is actually living the good principles we wish to teach.
Great partnership does not happen merely with one or two decent feeling experiences. Or even a multitude of experiences where some are good and some not so good. Certainly life will offer us situations that will be either very positive or very negative, and how we respond or react to these occurrences is up to us. However, when the feelings of the experiences of our lives go up and down like yo-yos due to our inconsistency in thought, behaviors and actions, this indicates a problem. Perhaps the problem is that our integrity is not actually right on target. We may be saying one thing but thinking and/or doing another. Inconsistency produces uncertainty and fear. It does not develop trust, or feelings of safety and peace. This is why someone who can mostly function well in day-to-day life, but after work abuses drugs or alcohol, will never totally be able to provide consistent, positive experiences. They are not living honestly or with integrity. They may have glimpses of very good feelings and offer those feelings occasionally through their interactions with others. But ultimately, it most often falls apart somewhere down the line. Learning to have integrity can be a lifelong process and requires personal discipline. Horses possess this naturally, but unfortunately humans don’t. We humans need to work at it.
My intention here is to motivate all those who love, work with, or just admire horses, to become an advocate for consistently providing good feelings with horses and a higher level of instruction concerning training, riding, and all activities with them. If we support and promote humans providing good feelings (feelings of safety) during training or other activity with a horse, we offer great benefits to the horse and ourselves at the same time. Positive feelings and energies are contagious, just as negative feelings are too. One of the great benefits of good feelings for the horse is a much better and happier life in the world of humans. After all, horses are our captives, our prisoners actually. Isn’t leaving them feeling as good as possible from their experiences with us the very least we can do for them? They will remember how we made them feel.
Franklin Levinson can be reached through his website: www.WayoftheHorse.org.
I have collected some of my best photos of wild horses in an exclusive, fine art, weekly planner for 2015.
I started to make it for myself. I often find myself standing next to a future client, looking at my calendar, trying to find a time that works for both of us. I thought to myself, why not make something beautiful to look at, and at the same time show off some of my best work? Great idea, right? It turned out better than I imagined, therefor I decided to make it available for YOU!
Get organized, inspired, and motivated!
“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back.”
- Anais Nin
The planner comes in three different models; soft cover (like a pocket book,) dust jacket (regular book with a hard cover,) or with an image wrapped hard cover. All planners are made with thick hiqh quality paper for a luxurious touch. This is not your usual calender!
The photos are taken in Northern Nevada (Winnemucca, Virginia City, Reno, Sparks, Pyramid Lake and the surrounding deserts.)
This is the photo on the front cover, if you choose the image wrapped cover. The perfect gift to yourself, or a loved one!
“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
― Winston Churchill
Let the free spirit of wild horses guide you, and plan for the best year ever! Are you with me?
- Your Equine Photographer Maria Northcutt
PS. If you know someone who could benefit from some inspiration in their daily life, feel free to share!
PS 2. If you live outside the US, you can order it directly from me, and I will ship it to you.