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Step 9 – Creating Connection Through Change In Focus

Step Nine
Creating Connection Through Change In Focus

We hope that you will continue to bring the tools of awareness and regulation with you to your interactions with your horse.

Now we are going to start showing your horse how aware you are and we are also going to start teaching them something as well.

You might have heard before that we like to do things that mean something, and we’re a bit lazy, so when we introduce something to the horse, it usually has multiple layers held within it.  This exercise is one of those. It teaches so much to both you and your horse.

Firstly, this is where they learn to look towards the flag.   We want to be able to draw their thoughts with the flag and this is a crucial step for a lot of things that come later.   However, this is also the place where you get to start showing your horse how aware you are of them and of their change in focus.

When you start showing them that you notice when their focus changes, this helps them feel safer than they had in your presence.

On, this, the first day that you are going to go out and try the exercise, it’s more important that you practice getting the changes of focus than it is that they follow you around.   They will learn more in the process of repetition than they will in the following you around.  So, the more times that you can get their attention with the flag and then show them that you saw their change in focus, that is the goal for today.  Not following you around.

Remember, this is just the “next thing” in the process, don’t worry about the “Days” anymore.  You are on your timeline…not ours.  

Remember how to navigate this course? Just click on the topics below under Lesson Content. Then at the bottom of each topic, there will be a button to move you to the next topic. If you click on Next Lesson at the bottom of this page without going through all the topics, you will feel lost! LESSONS = STEPS and the TOPICS = What we want you to learn about during that step.

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This is so much fun!

Hi Warwick, I have a question I need clarifying. So I am sure in this video on here or some video on the subject matter; you suggested the space should be at least 75 mtrs. Could you clarify for me please, as the maximum space I have is a ménage/arena sized 20×40 mtr. Unfortunately the field isn’t an option because I am on livery and others horses will be in the field. Thanks

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) December 20, 2023 at 10:44 am

The maximum distance would be eyesight distance. Your 20 x 40 will work fine

I have one more question! I wanted to start tomorrow (I only have a limited window of opportunity due to being at a livery yard which is primarily a riding school but there are no lessons over Christmas/NY break and so have been waiting for this particular time), but it’s a weather forecast of heavy rain and gusty winds of about 40-45 mph. Does that matter? I am thinking not. I mean she is used to being out in a field in these conditions albeit with her herd. I just wondered if the gusty winds may make it more challenging and more of a distraction for my mare?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) December 26, 2023 at 1:31 pm

With the rain she will tend to only want to face in one direction.

Thanks, I appreciate you getting back on this. I was wondering about that too as I know their tendency is to face out of the direction of rain and the wind will make that more forceful probably. Thank you. I will await till a better weather moment. May have to be next week? Who knows? We will get the moment.

I feel like the best spot for me to practice this is in a very large fenced forested area outside of a pasture, so I have my horse outside of the pasture where there are other horses. There is some forage though and when we practiced today, besides him being focused on his pals, he was also focused on eating. I got lots of chances to show my awareness of his change in focus though, so I don’t think the eating is issue, it’s just different than your videos which are in an arena. Would you agree?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) December 30, 2023 at 11:33 am

Yes, theres a video on this

Found it, thanks! I thought I was really connected to my horse and that we would sail through this exercise, boy was I wrong. We’ll be staying here till we get it sorted, but not too sorted just mostly sorted. :)

Would you even try this if you only had a paddock with grass? I’ve tried but they pretty quickly return to eating grass/

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) December 31, 2023 at 12:02 pm

Yes. Watch “being effective with creating connection through change in focus, even if its on grass”

Carola Anderhofstadt avatar Carola Anderhofstadt January 2, 2024 at 11:36 am

I’m currently practicing the flag exercise and my horse notices that I notice the ear and the eye. She is relaxed, but it takes her less than an hour to an hour and a half to move her leg. That means it’s still a long way from coming straight to me. How long do you have to do the exercise? I thought that if you tried to practice her regularly that the horse would come towards you relatively soon but that’s not the case, I always wait and wait, she is extremely focused on everything that is around her. And I think she is bored from the flag. What can I do better ?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) January 3, 2024 at 11:29 am

Id watch the video on “being effective”.
id also ensure you are arcing in such a way that draws her feet.

Is it ok to talk to your horse during the change in focus exercise or should it be done in mostly silence?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) January 8, 2024 at 11:44 am

Is it OK?

That depends on your emotional state while saying what you are say.

Are you saying “the clouds are very fluffy today”, or are you saying “please please come over here, I want you so badly to come over here”?

Each one of those has a different energy, and what enrgy you bring will determine the outcome.

I understand that what you say has different energy, and realize that you talk the whole time on the video bc you’re teaching us. But I wasn’t sure if it was important to stay quiet. My horse approaches me more consistently if I do talk “how’s it going”etc…. general questions that don’t have meaning other than to just talk. My horse has a very shut down personality toward the flag. Blocks it out most times. But if I talk while I do it, he many times will turn and face me or approach me more often than when I’m silent.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) January 9, 2024 at 11:04 am

Does your horse ignore it, or block it out?
Ignoring it is just not interested, blocking it out their eyes will turn slightly away.

His ears are cocked back and he seems to go internal. Eyes might look away slightly but are mostly glazed over…

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) January 15, 2024 at 4:22 pm

Ok, the forget the CCTCHIF, and work on the scratching for connection

This exercise is a lot more complex than it seems. LOL I’ve watched these videos twice before going out with my horse, Han. He used to be very shut down like Sherlock. But we’ve been following your methods regularly for the past 6 months and now he’s a much more relaxed horse. In fact, I was surprised I couldn’t get him to stop paying attention to me. His gaze rarely left me and he came up to me multiple times during the exercise to engage. Maybe he’s the kind of horse (now) that doesn’t do well in this exercise. Is that possible?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) January 19, 2024 at 11:44 am

Its sounds like he did the exercise perfectly, then you are asking if hes the kind of horse that doesnt do well with this exercise?
Is that correct?

Yes, I’m asking if he’s the kind who doesn’t need this kind of work. He’s not a pushy, run-you-over type though. Maybe it was just the horse I had that day.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) January 20, 2024 at 11:15 am

“Maybe it was just the horse I had that day”
I dont ever base my thoughts on what a horse does once, I base it on what they do consistently.

I recently bought an OTTB / ex-polo horse, and while letting him adjust in his new environment as a livery horse for the last 2 months, he changed his demeanour from shut down and withdrawn to showing high sensitivity and anxiousness. I think it’s great he is coming more to the outside instead of keeping it all in, but I also realise I need to take it a lot slower than I originally thought. He has made friendship with 2 other horses, which is great, but separation anxiety has also kicked in.
So what I am doing now instead of taking him out alone to the paddock is visiting him in the stable, where his friends are next to him, opening the low gate, and allowing him to make a choice if he wants to step out or not. Sometimes he comes, then we walk outside, we graze a bit, then turn back in when he gives the signal. Sometimes he doesn’t, but usually comes with his muzzle.
I also realise when I sit on the wall he really tenses up, and that speaks well to his mounting issue (when I bought him 2 grooms were holding his head for getting on, something I didn’t think much about before finding your videos).
So, I am really grateful I found this site and all your wisdom and experience! I hope I can help him relax and undo the damage done to him, if at all possible.

I tried this yesterday. I’m wondering if I should continue doing this or move to a different exercise, because I’ve done some desensitizing exercises and some clicker training with my OTTB mare, so she sees the ‘flag’ (I used a plastic bag, because I didn’t have a flag.) as a treat bag and either totally ignored it or came to see what may be in it. I got her attention for a while and she would come to me…, but once she realized there were no treats in the bag, she started losing focus, so I started making more ‘noise’ with the bag, which scared the horses in her paddock and caused them to run. She was in a small arena near the paddock. She trotted a little because they were running, but not because of me and the bag. Is this further evidence that I need to keep working on this, (because she paid more attention to them than me), or should I move to something different? I think I know the answer, but I would appreciate your guidance. Maybe I’ll try a different “bag” or flag today. Thank you! I love the podcasts, by the way. They make my 1 hour commute to work every day enjoyable and thought provoking.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) March 5, 2024 at 7:57 pm

Id keep working ion it, If this basic exercise doesnt work, neither will the rest of them.
“I got her attention for a while ”
Remember, its not about keeping her attention, its about how many times can you communicate that you are aware of her change in focus.

Would you do this exercise with a horse that is pushy? I understand that I have been the issue with our relationship with shrinking back and puffing up, etc, and now trying to be very careful to do neither. He is a large horse that carries a lot of tension physically, pushes on fences, other horses, etc., and I haven’t been attuned to his bids for connection or when that changes into pushiness, and I would describe him as being a bit defensive/sour now. So figured this would be a good way to start rebuilding things for us. I have done the hanging out on the other side of the fence, and that has gone well.

We have spent about 6 sessions, currently about an hour each. From the beginning, he will always have an ear on you and watch you out of the corner of his eye, but that little movement of softening his neck to turn his head has been difficult to get. I have had to move to being effective a lot in the first couple of tries, as he is normally munching on a bit of dried grass on the edge of the arena and blocks you out. I acknowledge the change and then walk back to the center of the area. Currently, you still have to be pretty close to him to get a change. If you have to get close, do you always walk back to the center of the arena? Then, after a while of me acknowledging his changes, he will come up and engage, which is great. But what starts out as a bid for connection/chomping quickly turns into pushiness, and the flag doesn’t work to get him to step back, so I just walk quickly past him with some energy. He leaves, and we start over.

Suggestions? I feel as though I must not be communicating something correctly with him. I have been working through this with my other 2 horses, and both have a passing grade on the exercise, so I feel like I do pretty good with them. Just not sure what I am missing.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) March 5, 2024 at 8:12 pm

I think you are handling things perfectly is all the situations with this horse. Keep up the great work, and fovus on the process, dont worry about the outcome.

Gena Welch-Booher avatar Gena Welch-Booher March 11, 2024 at 8:26 pm

So, I came back to this step after discovering just how much the mare I’ve had for all but two of her 21 years is able to ignore me. I saddled her yesterday, and she was as she always is.. sweet, willing, picky about being asked ‘softly’, expecting me to read HER small gestures while ridden, just as she reads mine (Unless it’s time I should listen to hers) On the ground… she was tolerating me. Willing and turned toward me to be haltered… same with bridling… quiet while being saddled (Ok.. perhaps a bit ‘away’ inside herself) but not wanting to engage as I led her to the mounting block and climbed aboard.

SO… today did the change of focus to create engagement… and she was a tough cookie to get engaged, compared to Ruby Jewel the Mu-elle… FINALLY saw some changes, consistent ones, her following etc. So then began stillness and quiet on the lead rope.

THANK YOU for advising another person to go right to ‘scratching for engagement’ because she BLOSSOMED with that one!

FWIW… she used to be difficult to catch, until… before becoming a subscriber, I watched a video you’d done on engagement, in terms of haltering. It makes so much sense to wait for her to engage with me and move her muzzle toward the halter. Now, she’s only hard to catch if she needs to relieve herself. Once that’s done, she’s ready to engage. Unless I’m working on “change of focus to create engagement’ with a flag.

Of course, it was also her usual nap time (10 AM) might that have been a factor?

Heya there Warwick. How might I adapt this to a horse who is opposite? My horse is more pushy than aloof. When he sees me approaching he is as close to the fence/gate as possible. When I go in he does move away and makes space for me to enter easily. However once I am in there he will move his shoulder/chest into me with his head turned away. This seems to have been something I have reinforced overtime as a way of engaging as this is one of his nice itchy spots. He will move in for scratches. Or point to spots he would like scratched. Currently, I am practicing stopping my approach to his paddock when he is staring at me with his ears pricked forward, I then advance again if he looks away or drops his head down. Once in, I would just create energy if he comes in with his shoulder or walk away. Im unsure if this is creating connection though. Or maybe just while in front of him slowly move myself and then slowly raise the flag until he looks at it? Thank you for your time =)

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) March 18, 2024 at 10:08 am

I would stand outside the fence, wait until he leaves, then you leave. Id do this every time until he doesnt approach the fence when you arrive. Once you get that part, when you walk in, when he walks up to you do what I show in the “what to do if your horse wants to engage too much” video

I couldn’t find that video specifically you mentioned, however I did find one later on in this 30 day jump start in the Common problems for the flowchart area about standing too close, creating energy. I also found one on youtube called Horses That Push Into You On The Ground where you just walked to his hind end not engaging in the pushy behavior. Are those around what you suggest to be doing with him?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) March 28, 2024 at 11:07 am

What issue are you having?

I’m looking for the video you suggested to watch. What to do when your horse wants to engage too much. I’m having problems doing the creating connection through change in focus because he tends to be more pushy than aloof.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) March 29, 2024 at 9:43 am

Just do a search for that title, it should pop up

Yep, When I type that title in the search bar it does not show up. A web cast q&a pops up but it doesn’t speak on that topic. And the other thing that pops up is

(Acidentally pressed enter) “Horses that come in too close”, a video that come up later in the jump start in the common problems area or the flow chart. Thank you for your help

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) March 30, 2024 at 10:34 am

I just saw there is a spelling miske in the title. It’s called “What to donwhen your horse wants to engage too much”, or just put “engage” in the search bar and it will come up.

Hi from Australia, Warwick and Robyn : ),

Just a note to say a massive thank you for making your knowledge accessible, I’m extremely grateful and can see massive changes in myself and my horse, after starting to work on Creating Connection Through Change in Focus (for only 3 days so far!).

Back story if you’re interested/have time – I bought my mare about 18 months ago. She’s very obedient, but as I created/perceived over time, also very shut down – she goes inside her head a lot. Because she is obedient, I took her for granted and just started going out with her to clinics, trail rides, cutting and ranch sorting training/events etc. I didn’t know about creating connection. I thought because I wasn’t hurting her and I was caring for her, that she should trust me. Over time, I kept noticing her ears back, her tail swishing, her shutting down. My instructors didn’t care about it, but I realised I was not doing right by her. I stopped riding her and started looking for help. It’s taken me 8 months to find you. In that time, all I’ve done is tried to love on her, and trim her (I’m a student of David Landreville). She continued blocking me out, or tolerating me at best. Until I started your 30 Day Jumpstart.

So far we’ve done 3 days of Creating Connection Through Change in Focus. She spent days 1 and 2 pretty much blocking me out, walking away, or hiding in a corner. I had to touch her with the flag a couple of times, to get her to notice me at all. I just kept on acknowledging her noticing me. Today, I walked in to the opposite side of her paddock and she looked up brightly, so I turned away and waited. When I turned back, she was three quarters of the paddock closer to me. I then started an arc around her and she bent, stepped, then came straight up and said hello. It would have been within 5 minutes of me being in the paddock. From there, she stayed with me while I walked around a bit, this way and that. We ended the session with some scratches and then I left her at the gate, after which she followed me along the fence…….unbelievable.

I’m really excited about how I can do better for her, and my other horses. I’m using all of your techniques for self regulation at all sorts of times, including while I’m trimming. I’m trying to be aware of, and then stop, any sense of judgement or expectation. I can feel that I’m lighter and less tense.

So – so much gratitude to you and Robyn, from Indigo and I. I cannot thank you enough!
Tracey : )
Mareeba, Far North Queensland

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) April 3, 2024 at 10:31 am

Great work Tracey

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