We live in a fast pace society. Rarely do we take the time to stop and smell the roses. For most of us, our urgency begins the minute we roll out of bed and feel our feet hit the ground.
There are some people who have incorporated some form of daily meditation into their lives that allows for moments of stillness, quieting of the mind and the opportunity for their senses to take in the magic around them.
This technique is a great way to start the day and be in the present moment. When we are mindful of the chatter in our minds and can filter out that which is just noise, we can lower stress levels and enhance our ability to focus on setting up a more pleasant and successful day.
It is my belief that one of the reasons so many of us love to spend time with horses is because they seem to make time stand still for us and our life worries seem to fade away.
Horses have an innate ability to assist us in being in the present moment and help us to quiet the noise in our minds. They will do what they need to do, positive or negative, in order to get our full attention, and bring us back to the present.
Horses are the ones that have taught me the Power of the Pause. I first observed this behavior while gentling wild mustangs. I have watched other trainers and horse owners use the technique where they make horses move their feet and then get them going. Some of these individuals only allow for a break when the horse would turn and face them. Even then, the break they’re given would last for only a few seconds or a minute at the most. Then they’d return to moving the horse’s feet around again. Sometimes this technique might work, and at other times the mustang can begin to fear the person or build resentment because they saw no value in what was being done. More importantly, they had no time to process the lessons they might have gleamed while going through the exercise.
What I’ve discovered is: that if I kept the energy in the pen low and calm, and allowed for both myself and my participating mustang to remain in the present moment, I had a better chance of keeping the horse willing to engage with me.
Time after time, if I could influence the horse to move himself in a way he hadn’t intended to move, the horse would raise their head in surprise, and sometimes move away; as if startled by their involuntary reaction movements.
If I remained calm, present and energetically connected to them throughout the process, the horses would pause, and show signs of processing, such as: licking their lips, blinking their eyes, or yawning. Then they would turn their attention back on me as if to say, “That was cool, what’s next?”
Understanding how horses learn is essential to having success in the training of horses, along with teaching people how to become a good leader for their horse. Learning to read their body language is crucial in succeeding in building the foundation of trust and respect between horse and owner. Knowing when a horse is engaged with you and trying to do what is being asked of them takes time, commitment, and above all, patience.
For many, this does not come easy. For all of us, we have good days when we are deeply connected and able to feel and read the horse with ease. Then on other days, we just can’t seem to gain that connection. Other times, the horse might be having a bad day and can’t, for whatever reason, connect with their human.
When we ask a horse to do something, either on the ground or in the saddle, there is a moment of pause that takes place after the request. The time spent in the pause varies depending on the horse’s level of education or training, or if they are being taught something new.
The pause is when the message leaves you. It travels down the lead rope, the reins, your seat, or your legs, into the horse’s body. The message reaches his brain where the request is processed, then the horse sends the message to the appropriate body part to initiate the requested action.
If we are teaching a young horse, or a recently gentled mustang, the fundamentals of their foundation, the pause is going to be longer than if we were working with a more educated horse. However, there is always a pause. It may be just a second or two, unnoticeable to most observers, or even a rider may be unconscious of the pause.
If there is no pause and a rider is continuously giving the horse cues, this is how we can begin to see horses that start becoming heavy in the bit, dull to the legs, and mentally tuned out from their rider. They are being taught this behavior. This is referred to as Learned Helplessness.
Basically, it means you have taught your horse to stop thinking for themselves. They are no longer the partner you desired them to be.
However, when you allow for the pause, you allow your horse the opportunity they need to find the solution on their own. When they offer up their response, if it is correct, you flow onto to the next request. If it is not, you ask again, then pause, allowing them to try again.
This process is what creates confident, problem-solving horse partners. It also creates patient amazing horsemen. Horsemen who recognize the power and the value in pausing.
The Power of the Pause is not just in those moments of when requesting something of your horse. It is also powerful when things get too fast or out of control.
It is common for people to get tight and tense up while trying to regain control of an out of control situation amid chaos. Even our personal and professional relationships can take on new levels of connection, respect and understanding when we are willing to pause, and allow each person to have a moment to breathe and remain in the present moment. Hearing each other and responding, instead of reacting, is how we feel honored and help others to feel honored.
Remembering to pause and take a deep breath when dealing with our horses, helps us obtain a less reactive frame of mind. It allows us to calm down, slow down, then redirect the horse’s body by getting them to move, which engages their mind, and then their emotions.
The Power of the Pause takes practice for it to become natural. However, I promise you this. If you can pause, breath, be in the present moment, and connected with your horse, your horse will in return, view you as their leader and worthy of their trust.
When you have the trust of a horse you have a partner for life, and they will give you both their heart and their soul.
My hope is for all horses to have their humans take the time to learn and embrace the Power of the Pause.