Creating Connection Through Change In Focus
2) Working With Petey
The Creating Connection Through Change In Focus Exercise is the first step in a series of exercises designed to assess where your horses mental state is at any given time. It also builds the relation between tool and horse, there is no use trying to train your horse with something (flag, stick, leadrope) unless they are connected to it. The big takeaway here: wherever a horse’s mind goes, their body follows. If we want to be able to effectively control our horse’s bodies we have to be able to get their mental focus first. This exercise can melt away adverse behaviors by invoking the horses natural curiosity and getting them to be in the same place both mentally and physically. It is a simple, yet transformational exercise when done correctly.
Is My Horse Connected To Me?
It’s a question we often forget to ask ourselves when working with our horses. We usually head into a training session looking to get something out of it, progressing to the next tier or exercise. In doing this, we overlook one of the most important factors of horse training: our horse’s mental state.
The main point of this exercise is to invoke your horse’s curiosity and focus, it is not to demand their attention. The horse does not have to follow you, the goal is simply to see how easily you can get them to connect with you, following you is a by-product but not the objective. Eventually, your horse will be able to connect with you with less effort and it will become easier to get their attention.
This exercise will also give you a good introduction to being present within yourself, practicing non-judgment and having no expectations. The exercise itself is simple, however, controlling your thoughts and staying patient is often more difficult. Timing is also crucial, as soon as your horse notices your presence or the flag you want to reward them by removing all external pressure. For this exercise that will mean turning and walking away from your horse.
Additionally, you will want to start very small. To begin we are only asking for the flick of an ear or a brief glance. After a while of rewarding these responses, you will be able to get them quicker with less effort. Eventually you will be able to keep asking for their attention and remove pressure only after they have turned their head and looked at you. This is by no means a race. Start slow and have no expectation for how long it will take to reach the next level.
The most challenging part of this exercise: Leaving your expectations behind.
- Turn them loose in a big arena (or maybe they are already loose in a big area like a pasture). Let them wander away as far as possible, give them time to settle and begin noticing where they are focused.
- Enter the arena or pasture on the opposite side of where your horse is. Slowly begin to walk in an arc towards them (not directly at them) followed by your flag gently waving.
- If their ears are fixated on something, work on getting an ear with the flag. Subtly is key, we want to slowly increase pressure but it is best to start small.
- If their ears are not fixated on something, do the same thing but work on getting their eye to turn toward you.
- If they flick their ear or look at you, immediately stop waving the flag and turn around slowly.
- Wait a minute or so and re-assess the situation. Notice where their attention is at, it’s a slow process and all you are doing is rewarding the change in focus from external stimuli to you.
- Repeat over and over, waiting and resetting between each attempt. When you can easily get ears, and eyes, wait until they swing their head around and look at you directly, eventually their feet will follow their bodies. They may even come over and engage with you.
- If they leave, let them get all the way away from you before attempting to get their attention again.