It’s not about the…

Yesterday I went to visit with the two week class here in Florida, and it’s always fun and enlightening for me.  This time especially because the course is about confidence and it’s my favorite subject!  Overcoming fear is something I love helping horses and people to do.

So as we were talking, the phrase “It’s not about the…” came up.  So I asked, “What is it about then?”  The answer came back quickly – “It’s about the relationship”.  So in that sense, it’s about what your horse needs given the situation, its horsenality, especially.  So we talked a bit more and then I said “but you know it’s actually not even about the relationship as much as it is about YOU.”  That’s why we hear so many wonderful comments about how this has changed their life, how you use it in your business and family life too.

Now what do you do with that?  You can’t just get around your horse and keep thinking ‘it’s about me, what should I be doing?, etc.”, because that’s the underlying element that will come through.  So here’s my advice:  Put your horse’s needs FIRST.  You put them before what YOU want to do or accomplish, but you start by asking your horse to do something because that is what leads to the conversation or recognizing that you have to attend to your horse’s need.  Know also that those needs are usually of an emotional nature – fear, trust issues, boredom, etc.

Let me give you an example.  Let’s say you are working on your Figure 8 Pattern for Level 3 and your horse suddenly hesitates, loses willingness or getes focused on a buddy or the barn.  In that moment you would recognize the need and address it instead of doggedly trying to get your Fig. 8 accomplished at the canter.

If the horse hesitated, you would hesitate then wait to see what their next move was.  If they just took a breath and then continued, you’re fine.  But they might back up or start thinking about home, in which case you would play with that as a threshold – head towards home a lot or a little, then come back to the pattern, playing with all the thresholds that will most likely appear on your way back!

Taking the time to do this will have an amazing effect on your relationship because your horse will feel that you made his feelings important.  The next time it will be way better – everything will be better actually because your horse’s trust, confidence, respect for and belief in you will improve.  And if it’s not better, it may mean you have to do it a few times before your horse believes you, especially if there is a long standing pattern of arguing with your horse.

So that’s how it comes back to you.  It is YOU that will need to overcome your judgement about your horse’s action, your impatience, your direct line thinking and making your agenda more important than your horse’s needs.  When you learn to do that consistently and without having to fight your own emotions, the changes in you will be felt by your horse… and you’ll make it up the next rung on the ladder of becoming the kind of leader your horse deserves.  It will also increase your confidence because the more a horse trusts you, the more trustworthy he becomes too.

Take a moment and think about what happens to you in this light sometimes.  How do you feel when you are practicing something and all of a sudden your horse doesn’t want to do it?  And if you’ve learned about putting the horse’s needs first, why don’t you share a few words that might encourage others to do what it takes to take care of the horse’s needs first.



Filed under Horsemanship, Teaching

30 responses to “It’s not about the…

  1. RhondaK

    What these posts bring to my mind is that waiting is sometimes the hardest part — we working, city people only have a certain amount of time with our horses, especially during the work week. We get to the barn very un-fresh from a hectic work day, our heads full of thoughts and pressures, and what is to be done the next day. We have spent the entire day making decisions and attempting to control the business world of which we are a part. Then, we show up at the barn, and run into the most contrary creature imaginable. We try to get a simple task accomplished, but this creature just won’t follow directions or, like my LBI, will do what you ask, but as slowly as possible. Infuriating, really. Somewhere along the line we, hopefully, realize that we are the ones bringing the unproductive energy to the situation. Pushing, in the interests of saving time, does not result in a happy horse or a contented person — it only results in more frustration. Waiting, and learning not just tolerance, but actual patience and the power of peace and a neutral mind, is key. There is great power in the peace of the moment — I take a deep breath and let it out, and my horse mirrors me and does the same — amazing.

  2. Clare

    Hi Linda –

    This post really got me thinking..

    I totally agree with you that in any particular moment, the horse’s needs must be addressed first in order to be an effective leader.

    The two-cents that I’d like to add is about when the horse’s needs are consistently and long-term undermining the needs of the human, leading to Pat’s 6 Fs: fear, frustration, feeling like a failure, lack of fun therefore lack of funds!

    When this starts to happen, it is important for the human to seek out alternate ways of meeting their own needs (such as for fun, safety, progress, success) or risk leaving horses for good.

    It is ok to form additional horse-human relationships – it isn’t “cheating on” or “abandoning” your own horse! And, it often leads indirectly to greater success with the original horse. :-)

    • I basically agree with you Clare. Sometimes a horse is way above our ability and we have to make a decision about what kind of learning curve we want to be on. But there are also lots of problems caused by us putting more emphasis on our own agenda and missing the horse’s needs.
      And Principle #7 of Pat’s Eight Principles is “Horses teach humans and humans teach horses”, so for sure other horses can help you learn. But the savvy in that is about playing with a horse who knows more than you :)

      • Clare

        Thanks for responding, Linda!

        My comments are based on the experiences of several friends and I who were stuck in L2 “limbo” for an average of *5 years.* We each kept trying to push through with the horse that originally brought us to PNH, and the 6 Fs were becoming a real danger..

        About a year or so ago, we gave ourselves permission to seek out new partners (taking the pressure off of the older guys).

        I can’t believe the changes in my life that a change in partner has brought. I can’t wait to go out to play with him each day!! I even post a blog about our experiences, starting with the first day that I got him:

        My older partner (RBI) is greatly relieved that the pressure is off of him, and is now offering much more when I play with him.

        Our needs are being me all the way around. :-)

  3. Amanda

    What a great set of comments – fascinating reading!

    I can really identify with the quote that I once read about Pat when one of his mentors said; “Your best suit is your ambition, your worst suit…….is your ambition”. I took a developing relationship with my horse and took it sharply downhill, not because I was necessarily doing the wrong things from a technique point of view but I was way of the mark in terms of the disconnect between my brain/ego/desire for progress and my ability to be in the moment with my horse and read him accurately. The thing was I didn’t think I was being tough or aggressive on my horse but in my head I was hungry for progress and for my horse that felt like being in a pressure cooker! It took two weeks at the LHB course in Colorado (and that was without my horse as I flew in from the UK) for me to simply slow down and give him time. The way he instantly changed his opinion of me was so humbling that it still makes me emotional to think that they have such a capacity for forgiveness.

    Today I am dealing with not only my horse’s confidence but mine too (riding). We’ve come a long way but the challenge is always there and indeed a thrilling part of the journey. If my horse suddenly changes (eg recently after getting to the stage of trotting to me in the field, he then wouldn’t be caught), I can usually look back and identify the things I have done, situations through which I have rushed him (even a tiny bit!)that have eroded that fragile advantage I had.

    Hallelujah that I can look back and identify them, my challenge now is to not even go there!

    What a journey!!

  4. Holli

    I’ve been working on my first On-Line Audition with my LBI horse who is always asking “Do you really want me to do this? Really….?” and after he is sure that I am sure then he complies. I believe it could be considered along the lines of passive resistance in showing his dominance. It’s hard to balance his needs with appropriate expectations on my part, keeping in mind that if I don’t expect enough we’ll never get anywhere. After videoing several sessions this week for the first time, and looking at them in the evening with an eye as to what was really going on compared to what I thought had been happening we had a breakthrough on our last attempt at the On-Line Audition. This breakthrough didn’t come with what happened in meeting the Audition requirements but in my being able to raise my expectations in the right amount (and effectively convey them to him) and him meeting them. I knew this had happened when for the first time, after putting him back in his box, he saw me and let out the longest, loudest whinny he had ever greeted me with, holding his head high in the air (usually he is never vocal and only on a rare occasion has he offered a low, short mumble). Guess it is the horse who lets you know when you get it right!

  5. sheila

    I just read this by chance and had a light-bulb moment – about playing with thresholds – this is exactly what I need to do to turn those frustrating situations into a positive experience. Thanks Linda for a timely reminder!

  6. Tina

    It sounds so logical and simple but it is the hardest thing to do. I sometimes get so wrapped up in the task that I forget that it is not about the task but all about assessing his confidence and needs while asking him to do the task.

    When I approach it that way, I get wonderful results and wonder why I don’t always approach it that way. I am getting better. I just make a conscience note that I am assessing the task not doing the task. If he looks confident then I move on to the next thing. If not, then I stop and work on his confidence or try to explain better what I am asking by breaking it down.

    Thanks, Linda for reminding us that it is not “about the…”

  7. Suzane

    I love what you said Linda. It is all about “ME” and how I react to my horse’s needs. It too me many years to learn that because I was a new horse owner and wanted things my way. Then it becomes a battle between me and the horse. Not fun for either one of us. I have a horse that I have owned for 11 years. He was so aggressive and in pain from a club foot. Most people wanted to write him off, put him down, put him out to pasture. He was aggressive because he was misunderstood and had pain. I finally figured it out and changed my relationship with him. I did the 7 games along with clicker training. He is a completely different horse, it is quite amazing. I was told 3 years ago I would never ride him again by a vet and we still ride. He can go out in the field and buck and run just as hard at the rest of them at 19 years old. I am so glad I stayed committed to him and found something that worked. I still try to get my way with my 4 horses but I always have to come back to balance and relationship.

  8. Deb and Jake

    Your horse does’t care how much you know until he knows how much you care!!..This is True but!…to be able to show your horse how much you care you need to be able to show him how much you know too! need SAVVY to do the right thing at the right time to PROVE to him that you understand him!…This is SO powerful for our relationship!!
    You can care a LOT and without Savvy still do the wrong thing!..Showing your horse how much you know eg. Savvy!..can show him how much you care!
    eg. if Jake gets distracted or worried!..RBI!..and I MISS it and put MORE pressure(just by not stopping!)..I will VERY quickly be dealing with RBE!..and then have to help him with this!..but if you are ALWAYS dealing with RBE instead of hesitating and using this opportunity to build TRUST then it doesn’t get better!!..I really need to be helping with RBI!.. NOT RBE!!…to help Jake!..
    I look for Jake to re-connect and offer a feel and reward this!..It’s So fantastic when your his comfort!..he needs me to be his safe place!..always! a RBI can get to love his pedestal!..but if it’s you thats got to be nicer!!…
    Jake is a LBE!!.. so it’s also VERY important also to know asap!!.. when he’s confident again!..
    It’s so important to know how to play with the horse that shows up!!….just LOVE it!!..

    • Right on Deb. That’s why Parelli is about Love, Language and Leadership, not love, love, love or language, language, language, or leadership, leadership, leadership! That balance is critical, it’s what real horsemanship is about.

  9. Pat Marzoline

    I did make comments on here, they disappeared. I know it’s not about the trailer and it’s me that needs to change to get the whole equation, (Love, Language, and Leadership) not just part of it.

    Now, a couple weeks ago I was playing with my horse Gem around the horse trailer because I found that when ever the truck is attached to the trailer she would do a 180. (Any other time, she would go right in.)Go to the far end of her pen and upon entering run around like crazy as if she were saying “You can’t catch me!” So instead, I say “Let me help you run!” Because normally there is no drive to do anything but a crawl. So we do this until she asks to stop and walks up to me to halter. Then we proceed to go out and mosey around the yard, stand on the pedestal, go over logs on the ground, and go around the rig and she bolts. I do not like to get rope burns so I let go and all she is doing is running to one corner of the yard. Half way to her, she turns and comes back to me. I send her off to run some more. Once she has quieted down we approach and stop, walk away, approach closer, stop walk away. Then we get to the trailer opening, I sit down on the floor of the trailer, until she’s relaxed just standing there, because I know she’s not afraid of the trailer. She is not giving me the respect to follow my lead. Then I get up and ask her in and up she goes. My neighbors were watching all of this and saying she won didn’t she? I said, “I don’t believe so, she did go in the trailer calmly and that is what I wanted to achieve.”

  10. Gaye

    Julie, I think I will use your quote as my reminder!
    ” Becoming a good horseman is a journey in personal development”. Thanks everyone! I am new to all this and learning every day. It is so fascinating and rewarding.

  11. The hardest part for me is to just slow down… not get in a hurry.My girl wants to look out the arena door if anyone happens by. Instead of jerking her, I clear my throat and she turns to me like “oh yeah, I forgot” and comes to me. then we continue on. I found out if I hurry her… and she gets irritated, then I start to lose my confidence and she jumps on that immediately like “ah-ha! I am the leader now”. After a year, our relationship really is, love language and leadership… and we are still growing together. When I goof, I just stop, give her a rub, and we start again – hopefully the right way and end on a good note. That is when the problem becomes ” she doesn’t want to go back to the herd”. ha ha

  12. So often you see people NOT knowing what the horse needs at that moment and pushing them through only to make it harder the next time. You see the horse loose confidence in the person and it becomes doing some TO the horse. So many times I have watched my RBE/I need me to recognise he needs something and when he knows I am looking out for him he always gives me more. Often and faster than I expect. All because I paid attention to what he needed and honored it. Last year at the end of riding season, we were playing a new game. He wasn’t really focused so we did what could bring him to focus and left it at that. The first time I tried that game with him this spring, figuring it was going to be teaching it all over again( that’s fine) he gave me exactly what I was looking for right away. It’s not about the……. is very similar to recognizing and respecting thresholds. At least for my RBE/I.

  13. My favorite qoute” who says you get to work where you want that day” The horse tells us where they need the practice, not the other way ’round. The better one is at addressing horse needs first the farther one gets towards ones own goals. a challengeing but worth while lesson!

  14. It used to drive me crazy. But I have learned to look at it all differently. There are moments when I lose sight of being present in the moment and giving all I have to the horse. Yet truly what we are after is about being able to help draw a horses focus and steer the tracks not of their outward behavior but about what they think about. We can begin to shape their thoughts and direct their feelings the more we are in tune with what they are thinking and feeling and why. As this happens it is easier and easier to anticipate and ask for what the horse will most easily offer in a given moment. We can begin to develop what we want instead of reacting and correcting what we don’t want.
    Ultimately we need to be able to see a horse as a horse. We need to not have our ego wrapped up in their response to our requests. Ego is detrimental to trust because it causes us to do things not based upon the horse’s best interest but to gratify ourselves.

    • Brandi

      “We need to not have our ego wrapped up in their response to our requests.” This is painful to hear but the words ring so true. I am so much closer to this statement than I am to recognizing and appropriately responding to the need in my horse. I can do many level 3 tasks, but emotionally I am nowhere near it.
      The words everyone writes helps me inch ever-closer to the other side.
      Now off to the barn to chip away at ingrained responses….

  15. Sandra

    Oh, the persistence, the consistency demanded of me to always “take the time it takes” sometimes feels impossible to completely achieve! I came to PNH late in life with the purchase of an extreme RBE horse who is super skeptical, unconfident, claustrophobic, etc., etc. Obviously, there was much in my “type A” personality that still needed transformed, so God gave me this extreme RBE horse to accomplish it! Is he worth all the frustration and effort? You bet! I love him for every baby step forward, every sign of increased trust or new-found confidence that he gives me. Our journey may be a bumpy one, but it’s a trip that I wouldn’t trade for the world. My heartfelt gratitude to Linda and Pat for the passport.

  16. Truthfully, it’s maddening! Because there are times when I feel we’re at such a good place and everything is going well and then it suddenly collapses like a house of cards.

    But when I can find those moments of savvy and emotional collection and leadership, I am truly awed by how free my horse becomes. I once wrote, “It is my leadership – or lack thereof – that gives her time and space to offer all that she is and all that she can do. If she does not offer what I know she has then my leadership has not created the space for her to feel safe and free.”

    When things are rough – as they are right now – I need to remember my own words.

    • Karen

      wow, I love that quote, Lisa!
      “It is my leadership – or lack thereof – that gives her time and space to offer all that she is and all that she can do. If she does not offer what I know she has then my leadership has not created the space for her to feel safe and free.”
      I may use that as my mantra! My biggest challenge is my direct-line thinking. When I let that go and let my horse(s) dictate the schedule, magic happens. I am looking forward to the day that this becomes unconscious for me. Right now it is something I have to step back and remind myself of constantly (especially when things go wrong!).

      • Wow, this is so much like working with children!
        Interacting with horses in this way is the future of our horse-human relationships (thanks to the Parelli’s). :) Becoming a good horseman is a journey in personal development.

        • Kortnaa

          I have been in and out of PNH for awhile now and would do good then get frustrated at the time it takes( which is less if I would actualy of stuck with it) but am now in it for good and trying not to get discouraged when things don’t go as planned. One of the things that keeps me going is how it relates so much to human relationships that it helps you in every day life. Right now I don’t have kids yet but am excited about learning all this that will help when I do :)

    • Yes. Tony Robbins has a great way of saying it: You can know what to do, but you have to do what you know. Or something like that! Sorry Tony if I mashed your words of wisdom!

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