Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Two Heads Are Better

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.

-- Melissa


  1. Hi Melissa! What a nice and interesting post today. I got to thinking as I was reading, that I am blessed to have a friend with me most of the time when I interact with horses. And we constantly jabber about them, what they're doing, and why... and I never took stock of how lucky I am to have this! :) I have to admit, when I am alone with the horses, there is a different energy between us all. I rely on Sam's perception so much when we're together, yet when it's just me, there seems to be a closer, almost secretive connection with us. I feel like I'm in a special horse club and I have been welcomed as the only human! My connection is deeper and usually one horse will decide to be my shadow for a while. ( there are six horses so this gets quite interesting!). Also, I think I'm more apt to just relax and let the experience flow quietly, which is nice because I'm usually given a gift of closeness that I wouldn't normally have had I been quietly discussing with my human friend what we are observing.

  2. Brilliant post Melissa, this is exactly why I wanted you to write today! :-) It is so true that working with a friend gives you a whole new perspective on everything. When Melissa and I discussed Little Love's reaction (and then mine) to the "scary thing", it was interesting to hear how she viewed the situation. I am to the core a person who reacts with instinct, especially when things start happening quickly. In Finnish we say that with people like me the decisions are made in your spinal cord, rather than your brain, and this is very true. It's not until afterwards that I can analyze what happened. This makes it really hard to correct yourself, if you have a pattern you are trying to break. It is absolutely intriguing to hear how Melissa sees the situation and it is really helpful to talk about it in depth. Sometimes I do things I'm not even aware of myself.

    And Shelby, you have such a unique situation with Sam; you both have so much knowledge (yet each with a tad different approach - even better) and six incredible horses there to teach you more. I'm literally counting days to Christmas when I will see the herd again and get to spend time with you guys just observing and talking and learning and sharing!

  3. Fortunately I know someone like that :) I don't get to see her too often but she's helped me work through quite a few sticky situations. Sometimes two heads are better than one!