How many times have you heard the expression, The straw that broke the camel’s back? Maybe you’ve had a problem at work, at home, in the barn and suddenly that’s the final straw. Whether it’s a tantrum or a meltdown waiting to happen, the results usually won’t be pretty. But we all know, if we’re being honest, that the incident in question isn’t really the problem; it’s the whole set of events leading up to this one. In other words, it’s not really the straw that broke the camel’s back, it’s the load he’s carrying. Have you ever been in a situation with your horse where the pressure builds and builds until the explosion finally happens? It’s certainly not much fun to ride in that situation. Maybe you’re going to a horse show, tense and nervous, and you just can’t understand why your horse, who normally walks straight up the ramp, refuses to load. Or you go out on your first hunt, and the tension builds with the dogs, the field, the surroundings, until your horse explodes. You’ve taken him out every week, all summer without a problem. It’s not the surroundings; it is not the crowd; it is not the situation, it is the pressure caused by the situation that causes the problem.
So how can you learn to deal with pressure so that it doesn’t have such a negative impact? How can you teach your horse to do the same? Remember that your horse is a prey animal, so it is naturally inclined to freeze, flee or fight when a stressful situation arises. In our last issue, we talked about a new mindset that will help you (and your horse) deal with these issues: the alpha mindset. This mindset of How can I help you? will be much more beneficial to both of you when you learn to use it when a stressful situation arises; but first you have to learn to push past your pressure threshold (the amount of pressure you can handle before the explosion happens). On any given day, your threshold for what you can handle can change, depending on the circumstances. For example, if you’ve had a rough day at work, you might blow up or melt down much faster than you would in the same situation on a good day. Your horse is the same; depending on the situation, his pressure threshold can change. To raise your threshold to a higher level, and give you a better ride under stressful circumstances, you may need to take your training back to basics.
We use the safe environment of the round pen as a classroom. The training that takes place here will be transferred to the outside world so that the tools you learn will help you with your reactions. First, remember that there is nothing wrong with the round pen. If you truly use the alpha mindset, you will consider failure as an opportunity. It’s hard not to try to get it right or to get upset if your horse isn’t working with you to get it right, no matter what. We are all programmed, in a way, to do our best; to try to reach the goal. But in this case, it’s actually better for the horse to make a mistake (in other words, he’s using the bully mindset) so you can teach him consequences. The pressure to be perfect or get it right is your pressure problem to deal with in the round pen. If the horse doesn’t get it, how do you deal with it? Can you build your threshold so that you really hope for failure to have a teaching moment? This is the perfect place to practice that mindset, because in the round pen it’s not about the destination, it’s not even about the journey; it’s about the mindset needed for the journey.
Now about the pressure you put on your horse: how should you use it? There are many tools available for you to use; lariats, lunging whips, etc. But perhaps the best tools are the ones that are always with you: your body and your voice. If you’ve ever worked with a horse without anything attached, you may already realize that you don’t need the accessory, although it does come in handy in certain situations; a lariat can be an extension of your arm so you don’t have to get too close or get into an unsafe situation. In fact, you’d be surprised how quickly most horses will move if you just start a set of jumping jacks! An important part of the Nature’s View system of horsemanship is using your body to apply pressure and to communicate with the horse; your position and body language may actually tell him to slow down, stop or even turn; if you use the alpha mindset, you will work with the horse and let it tell you what to do and how to do it, depending on which of the three you want to achieve. What a great way to practice the mental tools of problem solving, timing, etc.! Now, the other important part of the equation is your voice. If you’re really going to apply your new thinking beyond the round pen after you finish the classroom lesson, your voice will be the best tool of all. Do you remember your mother when she caught you with her hand in the cookie jar? That “ah ah ah” that you heard back then still works wonders. If you use it, along with the pressure you use with your body or other tools, the horse will associate it with the consequences that follow. Therefore, when presented with press situations on the outside, your voice can help him remember to keep his how can I help you attitude intact. The noise pressure can be difficult for some to apply. In fact, a misconception is that the tyrant (opposite of alpha) mindset is one where you always apply too much pressure. In fact, someone who does not apply enough pressure is also a tyrant: in either case, too much or too little pressure, the person does not listen to the horse to let him tell them what to do.
So, to get the most out of your classroom time in the round pen, the pressure you apply will help you increase your own pressure threshold and allow you to learn more about your horse’s reactions to pressure. This can help you gauge how much pressure he can handle and increase his pressure threshold as well so he moves from the negative to the positive side of the pendulum.
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