As human beings we are not always authentic or congruent. We are very good about putting up a front, slapping a smile on our face, and saying everything is fine, even though, our body language, the intonation of our voice, and our eyes tell a totally different story.
I have been married 28 years now, and I am a very outgoing, emotional extrovert who is not afraid of expressing my feelings, and I’m married to the most wonderful man, however, he is a total introvert, and doesn’t like talking about feelings. Early on in our relationship, when I knew he looked like something was bothering him, or he was upset, I would ask him, “What’s wrong, Honey?”
He would tighten his body, clench his fists, put a mask on his face, and say to me through clenched teeth, “Nothing is wrong, Honey.” It used to drive me crazy because there was no authenticity in that statement, nor congruency in his facial expression and his body language with what he was saying.
Then I started asking him, “Honey, which would you like me to believe, the words you are saying or the way your body is expressing them? Because they certainly tell a totally different story.”
I think riding horses requires us to be authentic and congruent all the time. You can fake it with a person, but you cannot fake it with a horse. Horses pick up on a discrepancy so quickly because it shows up as negative energy on their side of the fence, and instinctively they want to get away from that. There are so many horses out there who have learned to behave, go through the motions, and answer the questions in spite of being worried and upset about the rider’s lack of authenticity and congruency. In worst-case scenarios, I have seen horses resort to learned helplessness because no matter how hard they tried to give the right answer it was never recognized because the rider’s mind and intention was not in a place to let their body talk, or listen to the horse in a positive, relaxed, and soft way.
There is no way you can have a negative, frustrated, fearful, worried, or combative mindset and a relaxed and soft body at the same time. If you find yourself in any one of these places, you need to learn how to down-regulate yourself to homeostasis before you should start a conversation with your horse. As riders we need to show up with authenticity in order to truly connect to our horses.
If you cannot find that place of authenticity and your mind is someplace else, or if you are upset about your day or some relationship or argument you had, you might consider not riding at all or maybe just going on a trail ride. That will allow him to help you take a deep breath, relax, recenter and let go of your negative mindset. Once you find your place of authenticity and congruency again after the trail ride, then go back to training, but maybe stick with easy, simple exercises that your horse will be able to execute well, and which will leave you on an accomplished note.
Just like there is a small pause between inhale and exhale, allow yourself to have a pause between intake and output. In that small pause, you can choose how you want to show up. Will you let the combative nature of your colleague or friend draw you into a negative response, or can you use that pause to choose to stay neutral and maybe ask yourself why your colleague or friend felt like he needed to resort to that kind of behavior? Think about doing the same thing with your horse. Horses are completely in the moment, they have no capacity for abstract thinking so if they spook or their behavior is not what we want it to be, it is not a preconceived notion, but is always a response to internal or external stimuli. If you can take the time to listen to your horse and stay neutral and authentic, you will most likely find a better answer or a better way to ask the same question, and hopefully get the desired answer.
What the horses give us back is a mirror of how we show up. The horse can only show up at the mental place you have created with intention and intuition, and if that place is correct your physical dialog through your aids will be soft and well-understood by him. Next time when you are on your way to the barn, take that driving time to leave the day behind you, table everything that had you upset, do a few moments of deep, diaphragmatic breathing, reset your mind and body to that place of authenticity and congruency so when you arrive at the barn and you pick up that halter and walk towards your horse, he will see and feel your best self. This will allow him to show up with his best self so you can have a peaceful, calm and productive time together and both of you feel like you are being heard, felt and understood.