Emotions influence everything you think, and everything you do. For some, they are at the forefront, the driving force behind every response and action, for others emotions are in the background and are more of a guide. Every person and animal is subject to the influence of their emotional mind. So working in a way that enables the emotions to be balanced and calm, is optimum for reliability, safety, and learning. That said, emotions are often overlooked, not adequately appreciated, or dismissed entirely. This is particularly apparent when considering our equine friends.
There are always potential risks to being around animals, but the size and weight of horses is a substantial risk, before we consider anything else. Getting stood on, walked into or squashed against a wall by a horse is going to be somewhat more of an issue than if it were a dog. Although, living with a Great Dane can result in dead legs when he sits on your knee – at least the horses don't do that! Add to this that horses are a prey species, and however calm, they can all spook and flee before you've had chance to register what is happening. Therefore it makes sense to include their emotional state in your decisions when around them and in training and work situations.
What are the benefits to including emotions in how you interact, train and work with your horse?
Health & Safety
What you do with your horse should keep him healthy, and not cause injuries or illnesses, bruises, scrapes or anything else if it could be avoided. Horses do seem prone to scrapes and scratches, so it makes sense to check stables and fencing to minimise this possibility. The same goes for how your horse interacts with you. You should come away without squashed toes, fingers intact, and no bumps or bruises.
You should also set things up so that both of you are safe, and aside from accidents, you both remain so. This means that the horse is in an area where the ground is suitable for the activity you are doing. That he is not going to get caught up in loose wire, ropes, or anything else that horses are so good at getting wrapped around their legs. There are not sharp edges, or things sticking out to catch his skin. It also means that you are in an area where you can move away from the horse should you need to. The ground should also be suitable for you, so you will not get injured, or be compromised if you need to move quickly.
On the surface, none the above has anything to do with emotions, but the emotional state of the horse makes quite a difference. A healthy horse is one who is able to give his full attention when learning. A horse with an illness or injury, will also be a stressed horse, and the combination of these will mean he is less able to focus and concentrate.
Despite our best efforts, many horses do seem to be accident prone, and unusual incidents can happen when we think we've got everything covered. A horse who is emotionally balanced and calm, will be a far safer horse should something go wrong. If the worst happens and he is injured, a person is going to have to get close enough to help him at some stage. A necessary risk, but how much of a risk is down to how well the horse can manage his emotions and instincts.
Being on the ground in the same area as a horse also has its risks. If the horse spooks, or is frightened, he may not even register you are there if he is compelled to flee. Being ran into by a fleeing horse is not a good place to be. If he has an emotionally balanced mind, he is less likely to panic, and any response will be less intense than if he was in an emotionally unbalanced state. You can never be 100% sure of the response he will give, so your safety dictates that you should always be in a position relative to the horse where you can move out of the way if necessary.
Reliability and Predictability
This links in with health and safety. A more reliable horse is a safer horse. A horse with a mind that runs from one emotional extreme to another is not at all reliable. He is unpredictable, and his behaviours and responses will seem to happen out of the blue, with no warning. He is also less tolerant. A horse with a balanced mind is reliable and predictable in most situations. You will know what his responses will be, and how much or little he will act on them. There will be situations where he reacts in a way you did not anticipate, but it is easier and quicker to bring him back to a balanced state.
it is scientific fact that optimum learning conditions are achieved when the learner is in a balanced state of mind, engaged, and able to focus on learning. I don't see the point in working through difficulties that could be avoided. Train smart and your horses progress will be that much better.
All of the above things contribute to this. Athletes pay close attention to every aspect of their mind and body in order to be at their very best. Even those of you who don't compete will know that if you feel down or stressed it impairs your performance, as does being ill or injured.
There is no point in ignoring or pretending emotions don't exist or that they have no bearing on what you do, they are still there and influencing your horses behaviour, whether you want them to or not. Starting out with sound ethical principles and including the emotional aspect in your approach and methods will set you and your horse up to achieve great things.
© Copyright Kathie Gregory 2015