Emotional Fitness

Pat and I had an awesome weekend in lovely, sunny Sydney – Share Parelli on Saturday and Savvy Summit on Sunday both went superbly! More on that to come, but first I wanted to share some thoughts I wrote down before the show about emotional fitness, such a critical aspect of good horsemanship:

On the flight to Australia, as we flew over Noumea, the air got pretty bumpy… some of the worst turbulence we’ve experienced in the last 20 years of flying all over the world.  Some years ago this would have scared me pretty badly but as I sat there bumping around for a good 30 minutes and more, it suddenly dawned on me that I was fine!

Why was I fine?  How did I suddenly get so emotionally fit in an airplane?  I trained my brain.

It’s all about what you focus on… and I have learned that I have a choice.  I can focus on fear and death, or I can focus on something else!

Because we humans have a frontal lobe on our brain we are capable of reason.  It also means that we can think about the future and can attach feelings to all kinds of things.  Animals are not like this, their brains are reptilian and mammalian.  Horses learn from the past but are 100% present.  Humans are not always “present”. We live in the past, we dream of the future… or to put it less productively, we bring baggage from the past and we scare ourselves by thinking “what if…?” in the future!  The way I cured myself of my flying phobias is that I stopped thinking of what could happen and I found a way to focus one hundred percent in the present… reading something intensely does it for me.

Emotional fitness is so important to our horsemanship.  And this is not just about fear of getting hurt by a horse, it’s about being conscious of how our feelings affect our horse.  Horses are such sentient beings, they are incredibly perceptive, they pick up and respond on feelings which is a large part of how they survive because in a herd they operate almost as if they have one nervous system.  Have you ever noticed how immediately the reaction of one horse spreads to the next, and within nanoseconds the whole herd is in flight?

As our horse’s leader, being in control of our feelings is critical because of the effect it can have.  And you can’t fake it, you really have to get more emotionally self-controlled!  Knowledge is confidence, but there’s a point at which you really have to work on yourself and discover ways to reorganize your own subconscious mind and emotional way of thinking.  There are some brilliant ways to do this and two of my favorites are NLP (Richard Bandler’s work on neuro-linguistic programming, the science of training your own brain) and the work of Anthony Robbins.  No matter what it is you want to change or overcome about how you operate, there is a way to do it and I know these work.

So think about this in terms of your horse.  Your horse will plug in to your emotions and if he is not attached enough to you, he will plug in to the other horse’s emotions… like at a show, a group trail ride, when the vet arrives, when you bring your horse to the Parelli Center… etc. etc!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “my horse is never like this at home!” But what would your horse say?  “My human is never like this at home!  I wonder why they are so keyed up?” ;)

Why don’t you make this next week all about observing your emotional fitness?  Don’t change anything just observe.  Become conscious of the emotional reactions you have to things that go on around you… and think about how that fuels your behavior.  And then please share what you discover.

Yours naturally,


Filed under Horsemanship, Philosophy, Recommendations & Reviews

42 responses to “Emotional Fitness

  1. Your thoughts on Emotional Fitness and horsemanship are of great interest to me. I run the Emotional Fitness Institute in Canada – and have developed the whole process here and in the UK. Recently one of the EFit Instructors I trained is an avid horseman and worked with a group of horse lovers recently. They too found that the tools of Emotional Fitness are highly desirable in communicating with horses. I have used these unique set of tools over the past thirty years and you might find them of interest. Have a browse around the web site: http://www.EFitInstitute.com and see what you connect with.
    All the best from Eastern Canada.

  2. Pattie OBrien

    Emotional Fitness is something I am learning in studying & practicing Parelli, yesterday I had an experience that would have in pre Parelli days sent me into a angry spin. My one mare bolted from the paddock when I took the other mare out and boom down I went to the ground. First feeling was “d—n horse”, then in a flash I thought “it wasn’t her fault” she was RB and I put myself in a vulnerable position. So after tieing the one mare up I calmly got the RB mare’s halter, walked ever so slowly up to where she now was grazing, stroked her neck, got permission to halter her and then led her to another pen, stroked her a couple more times and released her to go play with her buddy.
    Funny how everything and situation in my life now is seen and delt with in a calm manner. MMM how interesting.

  3. Thanks Linda, for the knowledge you share and spread and for such interesting exercises! I’ve read some of Tony’s work and also ‘Frogs into Princes’ (just once) … it is thrilling for me that all these dots connect through Parelli. There is a lot to learn, but right here, a whole world opened up for me especially Frogs Into Princes was revelationary, I am so happy I found that sooner rather than later.

    ‘Perception is reality’ Pat often says. Suddenly, this fit so neatly with your blog which I’d been thinking about. That we can choose, even create and direct, our own perceptions, our emotional perceptions, is so empowering. We humans are unique we can train our own brain. We can literally shape our reality. For horses, we help them perceive us as partners, we teach them some positive pathways (habits).

    Though it will take time to learn, reinforce and someday master these methods to train the brain (lots of ‘perfect practice..’), I feel that just knowing about these methods, knowing they exist and are possible (that many varied pathways are possible) already sparks the change so that my emotional perception, then, does not always have to be just one thing – the same old response to the same stimulus, for example. This liberates and empowers, much like the iPod can!, and then from THAT state all my behavior is likely to be affected – likely to be, in fact, positive, progressive and natural in every interaction, rather than reactionary or non-constructive. In the same way your saying “Observe your emotional fitness” made me observe, and sometimes just the observation was enough to open up alternatives (think, feel, act..), cause a change (play a game instead!), and save the day.

    A lot more training the brain has to be done (and train it out of it’s laziness, too!!) A ways to go, but I see glimpses of how the rewards can come! As always, thanks.

  4. Rhonda Klick

    This is oddly timely — how did Linda know? I just, this weekend, added a post-it note to the inside of my tack locker — “Find Emotional Collection and Focus” — not for my horse, of course, but for me! I am playing with adjusting my former racing/roping quarterhorse’s idea of cantering – it doesn’t have to mean, “let’s go really fast” – and, since I am fairly new to horses and riding, it can be a bit adrenaline producing. Since adrenaline interferes with clear thinking, in horses and in humans, I can tend to lose my focus (“follow the rail” can easily end up being “thank goodness we have a fenced riding arena”). On the other hand, since we are talking about a LBI, walking is slower than slow, and can be frustrating for a inherently direct-line-thinking, goal-driven human like myself. Bottom line – without emotional fitness you cannot find focus. If you can find focus, your horse will feel that focus and realize that you have a plan, and helping you implement that plan will help him be more inclined toward his own emotional fitness. Amazing how this stuff works.

    Also, a comment on the comment from Julie Georges, about using an IPod. I would think that, the reason that works for her is that it helps her stop thinking so much. Thinking too much can be a challenge, but, to paraphrase Ray Hunt, I try to “feel” when I am with my horse, and only “think” when I am on my own time. Horses naturally respond more to feeling than thinking – anyway, that’s just what I have experienced.

    Thanks, Linda, for “thinking” lots, and helping us to “feel” what counts.

  5. Jill Trossen

    Linda – Thanks for the timely reminder about emotional fitness. I’d like to share this with you:

    I’ve been preoccupied with my adult tap class this week – we are dancing in a recital this weekend, last night and again tonight – very bothersome mentally for me, and then we had dress rehearsal Thurs. night and I totally screwed up the last part of it I was so nervous – my knees were shakey and weak and I didn’t think I could move my feet! What was I doing here?! I started the class in Dec. I have never had a dance class in my life and have never performed with the exception of two piano recitals long ago and I was experiencing the same anxiety I had then. Talk about pushing myself out of my comfort zone – I couldn’t even find my threshold, and now I felt “trapped” because I had committed to doing this (and I did feel like fleeing). Then I read your blog yesterday morning and slapped my RBE/I self in the face. I focused (isolating, separating and recombining), practiced a few times yesterday (quitting each time with a progressive success), and last night went out on stage with my butterflies flying in formation, smiled and had a blast. What I was dreading was actually fun.

    Some might ask “what’s this got to do with horsemanship”? EVERYTHING! Thank you for all your time and efforts to make this program what it is… and, of course, a huge thanks to Pat.

  6. Pattie OBrien

    Linda – Until just about 6 months ago I raced around “twirling” as my friend Steffy calls it and after watching Liberty and Horse Behavior as well as revisiting all of the 2008 Savvy Club DVD’s I suddenly started to get IT.
    Yesterday I spent a lovely 20 minutes sitting (just sitting) in my RBE corral. This is a horse that paces and has been emotionally unstable (just as I have) for the past 2 yrs. Interestingly enough Vista came over, sniffed at me, then positioned herself directly in frong of me and stepped closer and closer until she was standing pretty much over me. She put her nostril up to my nose and we both blew into each other’s nostrils as I’ve seen mares do with their foals. It was a most wonderful experience.
    And there we were, she standing still for 20 minutes and me sitting still for 20 minutes. It was like we both gave each other permission to be quiet and still, calm.
    Thank you so much for your insights on all the Levels DVD’s and all the educational material and thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings on this blog.
    You and Pat are such an inspiration and have helped change so many lives in such positive ways.


  7. This must be true. I bought my 1st horse 8 months ago. We started off fine but just 2 months ago my horse became more and more angry and difficulty to handle and I more and more frustrated (or the other way around?) I felt in my heart that were well on the wrong track and the only way to resolve it was to fight for him to be able to be outside more often as well as take a break and start fresh from the ground. I stopped riding him, started doing games games with him and sometimes just sat outside with him. When my mind started to relax, so did his. We are very close again and I am determined to stay focussed on our postive times and start every day fresh with him. No past (problems) no worries about the future. It was really nice to read your blog just now… as this is eactly the stuff I have been thinking about os much lately. :-) xx

  8. Kali

    It is my belief that the goal of improving and maintaining emotional fitness is the pathway to true happiness and contentment. Not only does it liberate us from being the captive of our own emotions, but also from the responsibility for other people’s emotional health. This realisation has come to me through my studies of the Parelli programme and related reading. I wish I had found these things earlier in my life! But when the student is ready . . etc etc . . . Thank you so much Pat and Linda for making all this information accessible and for dedicating your time and energy to my continuing education.

    E F has made all the difference in the world to my relationships with my horses, my family and friends.

    [Post edited by moderator]

  9. Amanda

    One thing that intrigues me is that I can hear/learn something in the programme which I get intellectually without any difficulty but sometimes it can take forever for me to be able to convert that into reality. For example I’ve talked about the difference slowing down made to my horsemanship but I knew and understood that long before I was able to actually do it and then reap the rewards. I think I now understand that one of the reasons I haven’t been able to convert directly from understanding to real time…..is my lack of emotional fitness.

    Over the last few days I have been having twice daily very short play sessions with my horse. This came about because I organised an online/liberty play session with two many new things in it and my horse lost confidence and became very introverted and couldn’t even approach the jump I’d set up let alone jump over it.

    Having recognised the mistake I’d made I then wondered if I should do the opposite and have very regular but much shorter sessions. My horse has really appreciated this method and has made excellent progress as a result but there is another ingredient which ties in very well with this thread. In the very long trailer loading segment in the LHB course in a box Linda talks about how she could pull the horse on to the bridge but then it wouldn’t be his idea. She’d be micro-managing the horse and not giving him a choice. I knew this was important intellectually so this stuck in my mind or rather in my brain. But I can honestly say that I have only just put it into practise and I think the reason for this is that I wasn’t EMOTIONALLY fit enough to NOT micro-manage. I could talk the talk, but not walk the walk!?!

    Here’s what happened. During my very short sessions I was addressing a couple of tasks using the pedestal and a jump. My horse will walk right on to tarps etc but could only put his front feet on the pedestal. It was too much to put all four on so he started not wanting to put two on either. I had slowed this right down and didn’t think I was putting loads of pressure on him but my tendancy no matter how subtle, was to stop him from avoiding the pedestal by putting a small amount of feel on the line and he is sensitive enough to feel only a small amount, thereby not allowing him to have a choice. I wasn’t emotionally fit enough to let him have the choice, to not micro-manage and also to accept that it was actually OK if he wasn’t able to do it. The sense of liberation I felt when I was finally able to let him walk right round if that’s what he’d rather do was quite astounding, and of course you will know that he then walked right on to the pedesal when it was his own idea. Then right after that he put so much effort into the jump whereas before he froze and couldn’t even look at me.

    Not surprisingly this has also had a very good impact on our liberty!

    So emotional fitness isn’t just about overcoming fear, though obviously that is a big issue, but then maybe there is an element of fear involved in letting go of control……..hmmm, how interesting!

    • Right on Amanda. I think you make a very powerful point about being emotionally fit enough not to micromanage. That’s such a big part of edging the remnants of the lurking predator out of us! We start to realize that things like control or impatience are also part of not being emotionally fit.
      That never ending self improvement is such a big piece because as we grow, we discover these missing bits and get to put them in.
      Thanks for your story, it’s wonderful.

  10. Julie Georges

    Has anyone else tried an iPod?

    5 months ago I had just the emotional challenges you described with my young Hanoverian.
    This may sound silly but I discovered that if I put an iPod in my ears when playing with him, not only did I have “fun” energy to share , but it took me to an emotionally neutral zone. I found myself smiling alot (because I felt silly, or the song made me smile) which made him lick and chew alot. If he got really confused or worried about something I was asking I took an “intermission” and used my carrot stick as a “microphone” or air guitar while he got a “time out”. Nothing “predator like” there:0) ….just bopping to the music in my head!

    It also increased my patience exponentially! Trailer loading truly became a (fun) game because I was SOOOO neutral that he progressed in leaps and bounds.

    Probably someone will suggest that it is somehow unsafe – but for us it was the safest possible choice and now we are reaping the rewards tenfold.

    Oh, and I am 48 years old and had to learn HOW to use an iPod in order to try this experiment! Now my horse and I BOTH run to the gate to meet each other:0) Thanks for all you do!!!
    julie georges

    • Julie, this is great. I totally approve of things that help you achieve the state you seek… and one day you’ll be able to do it without the crutch. It’s a bit like using cookies and treats from LBI’s… one day you finally become more interesting than the treat!
      Your last line made my day: “Now my horse and I BOTH run to the gate to meet each other”. That’s what it’s ALL about.



  11. kallista

    Hi Linda
    Reading your comments about managing your emotions on the plane by what you focus on I thought to myself “I wonder if she had studied with Tony Robins before??” as of course he teaches the keys to managing state are focus, physiology and language…and I regularly hear you say things in the clips in the vault and feel you may have been positively influenced by Robbins….which is very cool for me as I am a huge Tony Robbins fan.

    My husband and I have spent the last 3 years doing most of his programs and I reflect on my learnings throughout every day as I conduct myself and I believe his work esp. on managing “state” has helped me become tremendously more emotionally fit and more effective with my horses.

    You prob know that Robbins also teaches you that if you want to master something – find the best Master at it and then copy what they did to achieve mastery… and you and Pat have made that 100% possible with the program. Thanks Linda !!

    • Yes I do! Not as intensely as I would like to… yet.
      We had the great good fortune to meet Tony last year when he came and spent a couple of hours with us at our Florida center. He loved what he saw and Pat actually coached him to play with Casper at liberty!
      He invited us to ‘drop in’ on his course in Orlando, and we got to spend a whole day there, it was fantastic… so on message with our work, but of course he takes the personal development part a lot deeper.
      We are great admirers if Tony and his work, and have recommended his courses for the past 20 years, especially to our instructors.
      I bought his new series recently and look forward to going through it.
      Glad to hear that you have had such success with Tony Robbins.

  12. Whip

    Dear Linda,
    Thanks for the post. Your attitude towards horses and life is a road we can all follow.

  13. Jill

    Hi Linda

    I was so sad I couldnt attend your tour in sydney, due to a work comittment. but as we say thing happen for a reason and the course I attended was almost amazing as attending the celebration in sydney last year. The funny thing was we discussed NLP and they have advised us to study all we can on this subject. I have recently gone full time in Bowen Therapy and this was a course on a different version of this natural healing called Emmett technique, I dont know if you have ever heard about these. They fall very close to yours and Pat ways of Natural healing and with your help and Bowens my life has become incredible, and I know it is only the being!

    Thank you so much for your wonderful programme, my horse and I are enjoying our time together so my because of your wonderfull ways, and it is all through you dvd and books, it is truly a fantastic progame.

    all my appreciation to you and Pat and hopefully I will get to see you again soon!

    Love Jill

  14. Thanks Linda, all the things I am learning with the Parelli program has way more than exceeded anything I imagined. I have learnt that I am very “teachable” so having the Savvy Club Vault and all the DVD’s has really advanced not just my horse-man-ship but also my personal and worklife. I fully intend now to add the Abraham/Hicks material to my teachings. Who would have thought that following a program designed for educating humans about horses would be so rich and deep on such personal and emotional level. I just love the attention to detail in Everything you do. PS. The segments at the end of the DVD’s which include the footage of students and Pat, Casper and Magic never fail to uplift me.

  15. Well, you and I are thinking about similar things! :) I am really focusing these days on where ‘I’ am at with my horse. I have noticed lately that she’s seemed more worried, less confident. There have been a lot of changes lately, both for her and for me, so I’m looking at how these changes are affecting ME and how my emotional field has shifted. It’s been pretty amazing, really, to work on this level and to see the way changing my emotional state immediately affects my horse’s behavior. I have done a lot of work on myself for a good many years, and one of the benefits has been that I can get conscious of where I’m at emotionally and mentally, and I can often (not always!) shift to a different state. You are right, it can’t just be a surface thing. That’s what makes it challenging! I can’t just say to myself, feel this way or that. I have to be able to change my state, my emotional and mental orientation in a total way.

    I did some NLP workshops with Tony Robbins many years ago. I found it helpful. But I found my intensive personal work and study of yoga more helpful for me personally. It gave me the ability to step back from the immediacy of what is happening emotionally or in my environment and choose to react in a different way. I have learned to know what is ‘me’ and what is ‘not me,’ as well as giving me mental cues to access different internal states.

    Anyway, not sure if this makes sense, but I really like your post and how you described emotional fitness. It takes work, but cultivating this in yourself will serve you in all parts of your life. Like flying in turbulence. Definitely NOT my favorite thing.

    I love how the horses in our lives teach us these things if we let them! I am continuing to learn just how subtle it can get with these amazing creatures! And I love where they invite me to go in myself!

  16. Lisa Payne

    Linda: My husband is a pilot and I’m a chopit. He piles it and I chop it! Ha! (Old pilot’s wife joke). Anyway, I could relate to the flight fear you mentioned. I also had to find a way to deal with it since it’s been a common occurrence for me and my family for decades now.

    I finally had a little talk with myself and said, “Look, IF your plane is going to crash what can you do about it? Absolutely Nothing! So, you can either do tremendous (unnecessary) wear and tear on your mind and body while you’re waiting to crash, OR you can relax and enjoy the time before the crash.” I decided I did not want my last minutes to be tense. So, anytime I feel myself gripping the seat handles, I just remember this decision I made years ago. I let go, close my eyes, take a deep breath and get myself as relaxed as I can. Yep, that old frontal lobe can work for us instead of against us. We just have to train it. And did I mention, I love my horse! Thanks again, Linda.

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