By Staci Grattan – Owner, Spirit Horse Center in Brainerd Minn.
*This article also published in the April edition of the Valley Equestrian News
I hear these things every day in my barn. I hear them from nice, kind people who love all horses and love their own horses to distraction. I have heard them at clinics, uttered by nationally recognized clinicians. I have heard them during lessons, schooling sessions, shows, trail rides, clinics and while just “hanging out” at the barn.
I hear words regularly that give me pause:
“He is lazy.”
“He’s just always so naughty.”
“He’s afraid of everything.”
“He’s high strung.”
“She’s a spoiled brat princess.”
“She’s too sensitive.”
“She’s just a nervous horse.”
“She doesn’t really like people.”
“Who are you using today for your lesson?”
“I’m going to go work my horse.”
“We have to work him through it!”
Overheard while auditing a clinic recently:
“When we ride a 1500 pound animal with a brain mass the size of a snapping turtle, we have to expect these things.”
“He’s not going to be able to do it but let’s see what we get.”
We “horse people” like to talk (a lot) about our horses, your horses, the horses across the road, horses on TV and horses on the internet. We love our horses. We love to talk to them and about them. But what are we really saying?
I imagine what many of you are thinking at this point is, “My horse IS lazy doggone it!” Or “My horse doesn’t understand what I am saying anyway!” I would ask you , is he lazy? Or is he merely living up to your oh-so-low standards?
I would point out that while horses may not understand words, they are excellent readers of body language, and what we say becomes what we think. What we think is how we act. Whether we know it or not, I would dare say our horses know exactly what we think of them.
A mentor of mine once asked the following question:
“Why are we working our horses? Why are we not instead working with them?“
To truly excel in horsemanship, I believe we must partner with our horses, like dance partners. One leads but both must be willing and have a voice. Horses DO NOT have to do the things we ask them to do. Most of us have seen terrible examples of horses that have decided they are NOT going to carry out the human agenda any longer. How can we truly connect in partnership with an individual we refer to as “lazy” or continually focus on his tendency to be “nervous” or talk about “working” or “using” him?
The giving capacity of the equine heart is so incredible that many horses will perform regardless of poor partnership or lack of positive support, or, in some horrible cases, even inadequate food and water. Think, however, of the amazing results and joy one could experience in true connection and partnership!
I challenge you to consider your relationship with your horse. Redefine it. Get some clarity. How are you talking about him and to him? What do your words communicate and set as an intention for your relationship? Is your negative vision impacting your relationship with your horse? Is it impacting your relationships with other humans?
Shifting your wording, and ultimately your perspective, may make all the difference. A few examples:
From: “He’s very lazy/naughty.”
To: “He’s very smart and laid back. It’s fun to think up new and different ways to motivate/challenge him!”
From: “He’s so high strung/nervous/afraid of everything.”
To: “When we work together I focus on being a good strong, grounded leader for him to feel safe with.”
From: “She’s spoiled/too sensitive.”
To: “I really love that she lets me know when something isn’t right so I can help her stay in optimal physical and mental health.”
From: “I’m going to go work my horse.”
To: “I’m going to go work/play WITH my horse.”
From: “Work him through it.”
To: “I’ve picked a clear direction and I’m just going to stay with it and see what happens.”
Words have power. A lot of power. They set intention. They communicate feelings, instructions and a whole host of other information. We use our words daily to communicate with each other and our animals. What we communicate is as important as how we communicate it. Words translate into results.
I offer these thoughts in the hope that you will consider your words and your perspective the next time you talk to or about your horse, or for that matter, your child, spouse or sibling. You just might find that a few little words make all the difference!
Staci Grattan and her husband Brion Fornshell co-own Spirit Horse Center in Brainerd, Minnesota. Staci enjoys using her focus on good solid horsemanship basics, true classical dressage and natural holistic horsemanship to assist horses and humans. Spirit Horse Center is located in North Central Minnesota and provides, boarding, training, lessons and regularly hosts clinics and events benefitting horse owners and horses. For more information on go to http://www.spirithorsecenterinc.com