Emotionally Neutral Training
By Ron Meredith
Your first objective every time you are around a horse is to get yourself emotionally
neutral. When you approach a horse in an emotionally neutral state of mind,
the horse perceives you as a safe place to be. That helps him be emotionally neutral,
too. Then you can open up whatever line of horse-logical communication you want with him.
To find that neutral zone, you have to quiet your mind so that the only thing
you should be thinking about is what you and the horse are doing right now.
You are not thinking about what you did with your horse yesterday, or what you
plan to do after you get the saddle on, or what kind of pizza you want for lunch.
Now is all you have with your horse. So thatís what you focus on.
Then you have to remember that rhythm leads to relaxation and these two things
are the foundation of anything youíre going to do with your horse that day.
Make everything you do rhythmic in some way and pretty soon the horse will
pick up on the rhythm and youíll have his calm, relaxed attention.
You start by paying attention to your breathing so that you develop a rhythm
before you even get near the horse. Whether youíre going to get him out of a
stall or out of a field, stop wherever you are as soon as the horse notices you.
Check your breathing to make sure itís rhythmic, deep and slow.
The objective is to have control of yourself before you get into the horseís space.
So letís say your horse is in a stall with his butt to you. As soon as he
notices you in the aisle or at the stall door, you just stand there being neutral
and quiet, breathing deeply, hands low, giving no sign of being a ďhunterĒ in any way.
You donít stare at him or make any moves that put pressure on him.
When the horse takes his attention off of you, you move a little closer or
just bump the door a little or make a tiny noise. The idea is to interrupt
his looking away without doing anything that startles him or interrupts your breathing.
You just want to put his attention back on you because attention is a direct
opening to the horseís mind.
If you have to, you can repeat the bump or little fuss or noise. Eventually
the horse will turn around to see what your problem is. As he turns and approaches,
you back up just slightly without opening the door all the way. By backing up
just a little as he comes around to you, youíre taking some of the pressure off
his decision to move closer. You just donít give away as much as heís taking.
You want to make a slow, smooth move back a little, then stop and stand still.
Keep checking in with yourself to make sure your breathing is rhythmic and relaxed.
The horse will look at you, then heíll look over your head or he may even barely
move his eyes. But heíll take his attention off of you. So you make that little noise
or fuss again to bring his attention back to you.
If you get his attention when heís in a pasture and then he walks off,
you can follow quietly directly behind him at a distance that doesnít make
him feel heís being chased. You continue to stay emotionally neutral and you
walk in cadence with your breathing so you stay rhythmic and relaxed. To get
his attention back, you can move out just a little to one side until he moves
his head over to that side to see where youíve gone. Then, still quietly
following along, you move over to the other side just enough to get him to
swing his head to that side. Pretty soon heíll stop and turn around
to see what youíre up to. You stop and wait till he offers to shorten
then distance between you.
Over a series of repetitions, the horseís trust will grow and heíll start
to shorten the distance between you whether heís in a stall or in a field.
When he finally shortens it all the way and is standing there facing you,
you just sidle up beside his neck and start scratching, always in rhythm
with your breathing. Your rhythmic breathing keeps you from patting too fast
or doing anything that transmits nervousness.
So youíre in the stall or in the field and you go ahead and slip on the halter,
keeping you breathing rhythmic the whole time. If he turns and leaves when
you try to put the halter on, just go back to your emotionally neutral fussing
or following until he comes back. Once you have the halter and lead on him,
you step out in rhythm with your breathing and wait for him to walk in time
with your breathing. You donít want the lead tight. You want the horse to
pick up on the cadence of your breathing which should be in the same cadence
as your steps.
When you get to the arena or the round pen where youíre going to work,
you go out to the center with the horse and you continue breathing and scratching,
using your breathing as your timing mechanism. Feel the rhythm of your
breathing and feel what youíre getting back from the horse. When youíre
ready to let the horse go out away from you, just let the lead get longer
and longer and continue to concentrate on your breathing. If the horse tries
to take off, heíll catch his breath. You just keep on breathing rhymically.
You want the horse to learn to breathe as steadily and calmly as you are
breathing. A super athlete will run out of air unless heís taught to
breathe while heís working. So, right from the start, teach your horse
to breathe rhythmically. Then you change directions and do the whole
workout again in cadence with your breathing at a comfortable rate.
So you do a lot of days of repetitions of doing circles at the end of the
lead until thatís a familiar, comfortable shape for the horse and heís
working in a rhythmic and relaxed way. You can tell if the horse is feeling
rhythmic and relaxed by watching his breathing and how heís carrying his head.
If heís breathing steadily and lowering his head, heís feeling rhythmic and relaxed.
Any time his head is elevated, so is his excitement level.
So if anything you do raises the level of his head, youíre losing rhythm
and relaxation. Back up to the point where you had it, get the calmness back,
and try again. This is true whether you are working with green horses or older horses.
When you eventually send the horse out on the circle on his own, donít
make any sudden adjustments in your movements. Whenever anything changes,
do it in rhythm with your breathing while the horse is working in a familiar
shape. Donít breathe so deeply that you start to hyperventilate,
but concentrate on your breathing, especially when anything squirts out of control.
When you want the horse to stop, donít do anything abrupt.
If you do anything to make the horse stop that raises his head,
youíve raised his excitement level and lost that rhythm and relaxation.
If you start holding your breath or you canít keep from breathing in an excited way,
leave the arena or the round pen until you get your breathing under control.
Then go back and start over. Nothing can go wrong that can hurt the process
because the process is going to go on for a long time. Ultimately,
your breathing will give you the calmness you want whenever you walk up to a horse.
There arenít any exact training recipes you can apply to every horse.
You have to understand the basics and then teach yourself how to apply
them to a particular horse. The horse will help you as you study him to
understand whether what you are doing keeps him rhythmic and relaxes or
raises his excitement level. Your own comfort level will increase
as you figure out how to do what you want to do and that will increase
your own rhythm and relaxation. Which in turn will help the horse be
more rhythmic and relaxed and so on and so on.
In the old days, they used to strap a saddle on and send the horse out
to buck until it figured out the thing wasnít going to come off.
Now if a horse has a hissy fit about some new piece of equipment,
you know how to just go back to getting him calm using rhythm and
relaxation and familiar shapes he already understands. And you know
how to stay rhythmic and relaxed as you reintroduce it.
The real benefit to all this comes down the road when youíre jumping or
barrel racing and you have a horse that is completely tuned into and
trusting your every move. Everything becomes a lot more fun.
So no matter whatís going on with the horse or around the horse,
you just keep working on rhythm and relaxation, working on riding
every stride so that your mind is always in that emotionally neutral zone.
And you keep your mind right by just staying with the cadence of your breathing.
Good training is really boring to watch.