K and I went to the barn together today to hang out with Little Love and give her some exercise. We've been doing this at least once but sometimes twice a week pretty much since K and Little Love made the move to Finland. Sometimes we start talking about things other than the horse (which is usually when Little Love "makes a statement" and reminds us to include her in the conversation, too :-) ), but I have started to realize that this time is important to me to reflect on what I am doing with the horse through another set of eyes. If I spend a lot of time alone with Little Love, I know our relationship grows and I can work on things I want to improve, but I also believe it is really important to have someone you trust and respect, someone with a similar philosophy to your own, to work with and reflect off of. It can give you new perspectives on things you are doing that you may never reach on your own.
For example, our walk was pretty uneventful and peaceful today, but there was a point at which Little Love seemed to see or sense something in the forest that we were not aware of. She went from 0 to 10 on her excitability scale pretty quickly, and K had to act just as quickly to keep the situation from escalating. Two things were crucial here: first, that she did not force Little Love to go further into the situation, toward whatever it was that caused the reaction (especially since we had no idea what it was, it would have been unfair and possibly dangerous for any of us to continue in that direction); and second, that Little Love was not allowed to turn and take off in the opposite direction completely out of control and in a panic. And it was amazing to see, when the situation was handled with sensitivity, how quickly Little Love was able to calm herself once we were away from the scary area. My main point, however, is that this situation gave me a great opportunity to reflect on how I may have handled the situation and to make improvements in myself simply by observing. I would encourage everyone, if you haven't someone already, to find a friend like this that you can work with at least occasionally, even if it is via email or phone. Share your experiences with each other and challenge each other to think of things in different ways. I know I often get complacent in handling horses, doing things the same old way as always, and forget that I need continuous learning and development in this area as well.
In discussing this short incident today with K, I was also able to concretize some of the lessons I have learned with Little Love thus far: like knowing when giving her a food treat will calm her or simply reward her versus when it might actually cause too much excitement and get her into trouble; or like being able to read her mental and emotional state to know what level of communication is needed or appropriate so that I don't push her further into panic or frustration with my actions. One key I have learned from Little Love is that subtlety and nuance are so important in working with horses! :-)
Do many of you work often with friends (or even trainers, although I'm not talking about riding lessons) to reflect on how you are interacting with your horses? Please share your experiences or ways of working in the comments section. We would love to hear your thoughts on this and hopefully gain some new insight into our way of working together as well.