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For the Happy Equestrian Pt 1

Discover the Mystery Ingredients Within YOU to Deepen Your Bond with Your Horse

My best friend called me one day, crying. I instantly felt alarmed, wondering what was wrong with her. "It's Dynamite", she said and I was already afraid that something had happened to her beloved horse.

She told me that she and Dynamite had just attended a showjumping lesson with her trainer, and they had been doing gridwork over a corridor of jumps. I liken gridwork to gymnastic exercises for the horse where they jump usually up to 6 fences one after another with no strides, one stride, or two strides in between.

Since Dynamite was an experienced showjumper, I thought something really serious must have happened for my friend to be so upset. I mean, as his name suggests, Dynamite is a barrel of explosion waiting to go off, unless my friend is able to maintain a kind and patient connection with him.

I asked my friend: "what's happened?" She told me that she had been taking lessons with this trainer for about 6 months to improve her own seat over jumps. When I thought about it, she had mentioned the sessions from time to time, but whenever she mentioned them, we didn't talk about them in detail. But I do remember thinking something doesn't feel right about this, but I trusted my friend - a professional equestrian - to make the best decisions for her and Dynamite.

She continued: "The session started well, the warm-up was good, but when it came time to start the gridwork, it all started going wrong. The trainer made the jumps higher faster than I was comfortable with. It felt like the exercise got too hard, too quickly. As a result, Dynamite started getting hot. He started sweating, became high-headed, and started trashing through the grid. The trainer's answer to Dynamite's difficulty was to get a martingale so that he couldn't get his head up."

As I was listening to this, I remembered my friend saying that their jumping had not got better since they started working with the trainer, but the trainer had simply put it down as teething problems. I said that to her, and she agreed.

My friend was upset because her trainer didn't allow Dynamite to relax into the exercise. He had been very pushy about forcing Dynamite to "do the right thing". Instead of listening to the horse, he kept putting the fences higher and higher, making the grid too complex and big for his aging body and overwhelmed mind.

Next, Dynamite started rearing up, refusing to even get a straight line toward the grid. The trainer got more and more aggressive and told my friend to beat Dynamite. My friend was too scared to say no, and she smacked Dynamite, knowing straght away it wasn't what she wanted to do. As the trainer started marching toward the rearing Dynamite, my friend's beloved horse fell over with her on his back.

While laying on the ground with a broken leg, the trainer began yelling my friend "Get rid of that nag and get a proper horse! Stop wasting my time!". As I was hearing this, first I got sad, and then got angry. I felt like crawling through the phone lines and strangle the trainer, or at least give him some of his own medicine.

Amid my own frustration I realized this is not about me. What does my friend need? While it was understandable that I was upset and angry, my dear friend had reached out to me for something, and it was my job to find out what that was, and if I could give it to her.

My friend and I didn't always have the same approaches, her horsemanship was more traditional with an embrace toward natural techniques, whereas my approach was based purely on horse psychology and natural horsemanship. But this was not the time for me to get on my high horse. This was my time to support her.

I asked her: "where are you at right now? What would be helpful for you right now? What I'm hearing is that you have a lot of problems." She said: "I can't understand how we ended up here. I can't understand why I would behave toward Dynamite in that way, or how it's possible that I was talked into hitting him.

Her challenges were

  1. She didn't understand her horse's behaviour and where it was originating from.

  2. She didn't know how she had contributed to her horse's behavior.

  3. She was being dismissed by the person who was supposed to help her. At her most vulnerable, her trainer had let her down, and even contributed to the dangerous situation.

I remember thinking each one of these problems alone were big. Never mind that she had all three. It was a 360 issue that needed some solid solutions.

Imagine if she had had some solutions. What if...

  1. She had understood her horse's reaciton and personality, and how to treat both with care and grace.

  2. She had known her own blindspots thart were contributing to the problems, as well as her strengths that she could have used to fix the issue.

  3. She had had a supportive coach and community around her.

...How would her situation have been different?

So, we talked some more... As my friend unfolded more of the situation, she started to calm down. I validated her by telling her that she should never had been pushed to do something she did not feel comfortable doing. I reminded her that if this kind of thing happens again, that she's on horseback, and she can just leave. Is the trainer going to run after her? I doubt it! I said this to comfort her and reminder her that she had a choice. That there's always a choice, even if it doesn't feel like it.

Sometimes when we feel cornered, we can forget that we have the power to change the situation. A part of our brain shuts down, and we can't think creatively. When we realize that we always have a choice (no matter what anyone else says), we can begin to learn new ways of doing things and come up with new, more useful strategies.

I didn't want to start talking about solutions before she was in a more open frame of mind, so I asked her: "Are you open to some questions from me?" and she said "Yes." I asked her: "Are you aware of the How to Talk Horse Curriculum and the 4 Behaviors -model by Linda Parelli? It's the one where you identify a pushy or a tense horse, and discover if your horse is a mover or a stopper?"

"No, but I have heard you talk about it over the years", she responded. So I showed her the 4 Behaviors Diagram, and she thought it would be a great starting point for her and Dynamite. Good on her for wanting to discover more about her horse rather than doing what is most normal: blame the horse for everything that goes wrong.

She told me that she was so used to Dynamite being fast and tense, that she didn't think think anything of it. But seeing the diagram she realized that she could recognize when things started to go wrong with her and Dynamite, and not wait for him to become high-headed and wound-up.

I told her that I thought Dynamite was a high-spirited horse, but that certainly I thought she was on the right track. I encouraged her to go to and find out more about this model, and maybe even check out the How to Talk Horse full curriculum. She was grateful for the resources I shared with her, but she wanted to talk more, because she was still upset about how she had shown up in this situation.

I asked her: "I know that you have all kinds of feelings happening right now like shame and guilt, but do you also recognize that you have all the power to change this situation for a better future?"

She said: "Yes. I want to understand better what I am bringing into the situation". She has known for years that I am called "the Personality Decoder", and while we have been talking about what I do, we've never discussed it in any detail, because I know that people will ask for my help when they actually want it. She asked for my help to decode her incident with Dynamite. I put on my decoding hat and we got to work.

Discover the overview of the Happy Equestrian in the blogpost "For the Happy Equestrian Pt 2"


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