Saturday, January 17, 2009

Visualization Intention Confidence Expectation

I came up with a saying to help me remember what my readers have been teaching me: Fight VICEs with VICEs. In other words, fight bad horse habits through Visualization, Intention, Confidence, and Expectation.

Our talk in Let's Talk about spooking brought about a lot of great comments. Overall, everyone agreed that any breed of horse can spook, but some still felt that Arabians are more sensitive or reactive than other breeds and require special handling.

I'd like to transition this conversation into the topic of confidence. Many people have said to me that horses will behave if they trust you as their leader, if you have confidence in yourself and your horse, if you expect your horse to behave, if you have the intention to make things go the way you want them to go, and if you visualize a successful outcome with your horse.

I do believe that horses communicate telepathically to some extent. They occasionally use their voices, talk with their ears quite a bit, but I think they are capable of sending and receiving thoughts without any voice or body language as well. I like to talk to my horses out loud (when my neighbor isn't lurking around eavesdropping). I've had some pretty funny conversations with my horses, especially Bombay, who has a great sense of humor. He always gets a twinkle in his eye that warns me when he's about to play a practical joke on me.

This morning I was woken by one of the horses kicking the stall wall. I had to roll out of bed, open the side door and yell, "Cut that out!" The kicking stopped the second I opened the door, so I wasn't able to see who was doing it. A while later I was removing Bombay's blanket in his stall when I heard his stomach let out a loud growl. I said, "Wow! You're really hungry." He nodded his head up and down and then stopped.

"Is that why you were kicking the stall this morning?" I asked.

I'd swear he got this offended look on his face, and then he threw his head to the side repeatedly pointing in the direction of Lostine. I said, "Oh, it was Lostine who was kicking the stall, eh?"

Bombay nodded his head up and down. Up until that point I was just yammering on without really believing that he understood me. However, he did differentiate between nodding up and down like yes and throwing his head to the side like pointing in a direction. I decided to test him.

I said, "Who kicked the stall? Was it you?" He held his head still.

"Was it Lostine?" He throw his head to the side pointing at Lostine and followed it up by nodding up and down to say yes.

I then went into Lostine's stall and what did I find but fresh hoof marks on her wall.


Bombay's communication with me reminded me to communicate clearly what I expect from my horses. One of me least favorite parts of the day is getting Gabbrielle out of her stall for breakfast. She always runs back and forth between the door and her window and spins circles in her stall out of excitement. It's one thing dealing with a 30 or 40 pound dog that is spinning circles in excitement. It's another thing to deal with a 900 pound horse that is spinning circles in excitement. I did finally train her to stand still and face me as soon as I step into her stall. She's good about standing the entire time I remove her blanket, but if I don't halter her, she will still bust out the door as soon as I open it and take off for her food trough at a gallop.

So, I keep the halter on her and force her to walk beside me to her food trough. Still she pulls and throws her head around in an attempt to break free. The pulling hurts my arm, which is now graced with both an elbow brace and a wrist brace thanks to a chronic case of tennis elbow that has travelled between my two arms over the past two to three years. I say whoa and give the lead rope a yank each time she starts to pull, but it doesn't have much effect, and when I try to give her a chance to walk out of her stall without the halter, she still just busts out at a gallop.

This morning I decided to try something very different. Instead of leading her straight out from her stall to the food trough, removing her halter at the food trough, and then returning to the stall to close the door, I decided to lead her out and make her stand while I closed her stall door before leading her to the trough. It's a small change, but something that I knew would be a huge challenge for such a hungry, excited young horse. I decided to do this with the confidence and intention that she would stand still and wait patiently.

Before I walked her out I envisioned both of us stopping and her waiting while I closed the stall door. That way, if horses do pick up on thoughts telepathically, she would see what I wanted and would have her fair warning about what I was going to do. Normally, I would step out of the stall first and step to the side, then she would come out and start dragging me toward her food trough. However, after this visualization technique, she walked out slowly and turned to face me. Closing her door is no easy feat. I have to kick all the dirt out of the way along the runner and dig anything that gets stuck in the metal hook on the bottom of the door out with my finger. I usually have to push and pull several times before it will shut all the way and allow me to latch it.

Gabbrielle waited patiently, and then waited for me to cue her to walk, and she walked beside me. I then worked on expecting her to keep her head up while I removed the halter. I don't want her dipping her head down and eating while I'm trying to remove the halter. She fought me at first, but then I mentally thought in a firm tone, "You WILL keep your head up until I've removed your halter."

She popped her head up and looked at me wide-eyed, almost as if I had said that out loud in a demanding tone. She waited quietly until I removed the halter and even waited for me to tell her it was okay to eat. Wow! What a difference communicating my expectations can make. So often I forget to be mindful of my intentions, and I just go through the motions. That's when the horses take advantage. I have to BE HERE NOW. I have to be constantly putting the right thoughts into my horses' heads to see good results.


I'd like to hear more about what you think it takes to get to that point where you have total confidence in your horse and your horse has total confidence in you. I'd love to get to the point where I can load any of my horses up into the trailer on a whim, venture out to some location we've never been before, and have a great ride. I know a lot of others feel the same way and want to know what the secret is to having hassle-free horse activities. Here's the type of information I'm looking for:
  • How do you gain confidence?
  • Do you have any examples of when your confidence affected your horse in a positive way?
  • Do you have any examples of when your lack of confidence affected your horse in a negative way?
  • How do you regain control when things get out of control?
  • How firm do you have to be to get what you want out of your horse?
  • If your horse does view you as his/her all-knowing leader, what did you do to get to that point? Was it all about confidence? Or consistency? Firmness? Kindness? Communication? Calmness?
  • How do you calm yourself down when something happens to get your adrenaline pumping?
  • How do you calm your horse down when something gets its adrenaline pumping?
Thanks for all this input. Your comments help many who read this blog.


C-ingspots said...

A most excellent post!! Thanks!! This may take some careful thought, as you have expressed a lot of the ideas I conform to, or at least try to conform to. Habit/consistency is important. Believing or projecting the positive outcome before you ask is necessary. Breathing and remembering to ask deliberately - or I guess I mean, ask everything with authority; as if you expect/KNOW the result will be exactly what you asked for before you ask them - or, as you said to visualize. It is truly amazing how they communicate with us. If only we were better readers of them - or at least almost as good at reading them as they are at reading us. They're level of communication is so much more primitive than ours, and I agree with you. I do believe that somehow...they can read us - probably something in our body language than our minds. They're just so good at it that we think they're reading our minds. :) Wow!! You've some excellent insight and I love this post. Can't wait to hear what the others are going to say!! Thanks NM!!

Leah Fry said...

Compared to just about everyone else, I am a neophite. But this is what I have learned so far:

When I am confident, my horse is confident. If I'm not, he's a nervous nelly or he tries to take advantage of me. Pretty simple.

Poco is a dominant horse. I can't honestly say he "accepts" me as the leader. I have to prove/earn/demand it every darn day, and I am loving the challenge. I am learning he responds best to a quiet, firm mind, with a calm purpose or resolve. Most times, I just have to wait him out, with a relaxed attitude of purpose -- wear him down. I do carry a crop, but I have never had to do any more than tap him lightly on the butt just once.

If I'm ill-at-ease or he's nervous, I sing Christmas carols. "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" is a favorite.

To calm us both, I try to manage a lighthearted laugh, and tell him that whatever it was scared me too, but we're OK now. He listens when I speak quietly. Another tactic is to take 3-4 very deep, breaths, like cleansing breaths in yoga. Usually around the third one, he'll do it, too.

Our last ride out, I was feeling very calm and confident. We came to a shallow ravine that had running water. I wasn't intent on taking him thru the water, just near the water, to cross the ravine at a point where it was mostly dry. A little steep, the footing was good. I just wanted to see how he'd react to it. He was wary, but I just kept talking to him, telling him we were fine, and this was nothing, blah blah. And he did well, as my friend Nita about had a heart attack. She didn't think it was a good idea for us to do it. Jaz would have no part of it.

That's all I know.

C-ingspots said...

Oh, forgot to add one more important detail - you cracked me up with the fart comment the other day and your out of control laughing!!! Awesome - loved it :)

Mrs Mom said...

NM, THIS is an excellent, excellent post. It is so wonderful to see how things are really falling into place for you and your crew.

The questions you ask at the end, we could make into a series of posts between all of us equi-bloggers who love stopping in here!

(Actually, that might be a fun idea. What do you think?) And if you don't mind, I think doing a blog post to answer those questions would be a blast!!

Hearing (hehe... kinda a wittwle joke there...) how well the horses responded to you was fantastic. Some may shrug it off and say it is all in imagination/ the power of positive thinking/ or just plain insanity, but I for one think that you guys did fantastic. Bombay is a rip!

I really hope doing a post is OK with you- I know I get really, really wordy on some of these subjects ;)

manker said...

wow this doesnt just call to me it SCREAMS to me :) Awesome stuff.. I've found visualization to be an incredible tool when i was ultrarunning and now endurance riding. I've also found lately that I seem to be talking to my horses in such a way that it's almost like i'm communicating with another human.. they truly do understand and respond.

I'm also finding that ground work as much as I resist it (just wanna sit down and ride!) helps me more sometimes than my horse.. It flips that proactive switch on for me rather than reactive. And then it's a calm confidence... wish i could flip that switch on more often.

Thanx for sharing your vices
gp in montana :)

manker said...

PS to my first comment... Noticed on your blogroll.. you have our old "barn address" for Innstyle Montana :)
tis now

happy trails and great food for thought

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Leah - Singing and breathing deep are good ideas. In fact, just today I was purposefully changing my breathing while riding Lostine just to see how she would react. She definitely had her ears turned toward me.

C-ing Spots - I'm glad that comment got a laugh out of you. It seems most of my fart comments that I make in person tend to just draw disgusted expressions.

Mrs. Mom - I'd love to see some posts on this subject on your blog and other blogs. I mentioned in the "Let's Talk" post that if anyone couldn't fit what they had to say in a comment to go ahead and write an entire post, but forgot to mention it here.

Manker - Thanks for letting me know. I'll get that fixed.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

NM I love reading about your visualization and communication with Bombay and Gabbrielle. It almost gave me goosebumps.

This is so true about ALWAYS being in the moment and not letting your mind wander, when working with or around horses.

I believe that's one of the reasons why I fell of my mare. My mind was distracted just enough that I didn't feel or notice or see or hear what made my horse nervous. She probably felt my distraction and compensated by being the watch dog for the both of us instead and doing what she though would get us out of danger....jigging sideways.

Unfortunately I fell off because I was distracted and, because we were turning, I was off-balance.

Her look of surprise and confusion when she saw me on the ground made me realize that she didn't do what she did to lose me. And I also believe she was fearful of what might happen to her because she had managed to lose her rider. So she ran off.

When Val and I caught up with her back at the arena, the whites of her eyes were showing and she seemed relieved to see me, allowing us to easily halter her and lead her to the round pen so I could hop back on her to ride for a few minutes.

Everything you mentioned is so true AND always being in the moment with your horse.


Laughing Orca Ranch said...

ps, Like Leah I sing Christmas Carols when I'm not feeling as confidant as I should. HOw can anyone be nervous when singing Jingle Bells?
The first time I ever took Baby Doll out by myself on the trails, I started off quietly singing, and as my confidance grew, my singing became more relaxed, louder and my mare's head dropped and she was quietly listening and seemed to take her confidance from me.

Anytime that she was nervous while we rode, I sang...and she instantly calmed.
She also calms down from spooky noises, like when she heard someone using a buzz saw, or when a flock of birds shot out of a bush near us, when I just say calmly, "It's Ok,'s just '_____'" And then she noticiceably relaxes.


fernvalley01 said...

Great post ,It works .I always say when loadinfg a horse "walk right on and expect the horse to be right behind you" more often than not they are ,but if you hesitate and look back...
Ask for what you want ,don't tell them what you don't want

Victoria Cummings said...

Really good post, NM. It's taken me many years of following this path - sort of Buddhist in its approach - of awareness, patience, calmness and all the other things you mention - and I think it's a journey without end. I'll always believe that I can learn to do it better, but gradually I've seen the positive results with my horses. They are my greatest teachers. Some days, I'm an A student and some day, I just squeak by. That's when I have to learn to forgive myself and keep on trying.

Nor’dzin said...

Excellent post. There have been a few times when a ride has been just perfect with a real feeling of union between me and the horse. At these times I have been feeling calm and relaxed and trusting in my horse. I think consistency is also extremely important and that we can often confuse our horses by being inconsistent or unsure of what we are asking. Looking forward to reading the continuation of this thread.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Great post with a lot of good questions. It's kind of hard to answer all of them at once. Let me just say that in all dealing with horses, calmness and consistency seem to work the best for me.
You've been selected for a neat award, stop by when you can.

Jenn said...

Excellent post! As horse people we are always striving for that next level of understanding and communication, and the fun part is, it changes subtly with EVERY horse!

Gaining confidence comes with gaining knowledge and earning plenty of sweaty saddle pads. It also comes with positive learning experiences...for example, are you a little more confident with Gabbrielle at feeding time because you KNOW she CAN behave if you expect it? I'll bet you are, even if it's just a little more confidence than you had last week.

As far as firmness with my horses...they are all different and all require different levels and various tactics. Gabe can be pushy and likes to test his place in our little herd. I sometimes have to be pretty firm with him but it usually just involves my ugly boss mare face and a fast trip backwards across the paddock/riding arena. Once he figures out it's time to work and play time is over, he straightens up. Calypso becomes a quivering pile of horse flesh if you even look at her cross-eyed, so firmness is a feather's touch with her. Chief...well, he's a whole different animal. When my daughter rides him all she has to do when he's being naughty is say his name in a low, sharp voice and he's a perfect gentleman. When I ride him he tests and tests and tests me. I think he enjoys the challenge of seeing what he can get away with with me. It's a game for him so I don't get firm with him, I just make him work harder and he HATES to work hard.

The best thing a horse person can do in their relationship with horses is to be confident, predictable, fair and consistent. That's when everything falls into place and communication becomes a two-way street.

Andrea said...

Bombay sounds like a wonderful boy. Telling on the younger horses. It's so sweet how you have had him so long and you two can "communicate" the way you do.

I used to be an awesome rider. I would ride any horse. I would jump any horse. Ride off into the sunset with any horse. Then I got older, had kids, and now I am a nervous nelly!! I don't know what happened. But I have the hardest time riding my colt. It kills me because I know what to do, know how to do it, and I just can't.

I was getting on my kids' horse the other day and he was spooking and acting stupid. so, I rode in a smaller arean and called my husband to ride the old horse out in the arena!! I am such a dork. The horse is like 20 and I was scared to ride him in our arena!!! UHG!! It really makes me mad. I get nervous in a large arena, there is so much room for taking off, bucking, and being stupid. I guess my mind gets the better of me.

Maybe I need to do some breathing techniques. So, I am interested on what others say, because I need help in this department!!

Fantastyk Voyager said...

Excellent post, as always.

I always believe it's better to get mad than scared. By showing anger, I don't mean uncontrollable rage, I mean "being-in-charge", "you WILL do it my way" kind of anger that lets the horse know you are in charge. Notice how the alpha horse always pins his ears at the other one he's controlling? This, IMHO, gives an air of confidence and a "fight" attitude of standing and facing your fear, rather than the "flight" attitude which causes the shying response: wheeling, bolting, etc.
I hope this makes sense.

Also, whenever I am riding, I try to keep in tune to my horse through my sixth sense, at a subconscious level, because I want to take in the world around me. Many times I'll get caught along with my horse thinking, "What was that? Oh, it's nothing."

Lulu said...

I gain confidence by doing. It really is that simple for me. Sure, I may take a friend along for the first time or two, but then I head out alone.

I feel that my horses view me as their all-knowing leader because I am very firm. I am the alpha mare, and I make sure they understand that.

Mrs Mom said...

Hey NM!! This has gotten some really good discussion going here. Excellent!!

I put a post up a moment ago, with my answers. Hope it is a help to folks out here!!

Rising Rainbow said...

I must have missed the Lets Talk post, I'm going to have to look it up. And I'm going to try and do a post answering your questions too. Hopefully this weekend I can get something written up. I'll let you know when it's going to post.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Rising Rainbow - I was wondering if you would have comments since "Let's Talk" is about your favorite breed as well as mine. I have my own opinions, but wanted to see what others had to say since I get so many comments about Arabian horses being high-strung and difficult to handle. I was hoping that most of the comments would dispel that belief, and I think most did.

I often write about problems I have with handling my Arabian horses, but I attribute that more to the fact that they have had little professional training and I can only work with them on the weekends. If I owned any other breed, I'm sure the horses would be at the same level of development in their confidence as my Arabs are, because they'd have the same amount of exposure with me being their owner.