Hello, my friends. I feel leadership is often used in horse and dog training.
The word leadership is loaded on so many levels. Often, it is associated with dominance. Being told you're not a leader or have to take leadership can induce shame.
I mean the list goes on.
I want to shed light on a different part of leadership.
So, the other day, I led a horse out of a barn. To do that, I had to open a sliding door and ask the horse to step outside, which he did. And while I pushed the sliding door back close, the horse took the opportunity to dive into a juicy patch of grass. I got pulled to the right while moving the door to the left.
What I describe is an everyday occurrence at most barns.
Horses live in small paddocks and stalls. Horses like grass. Horses need grass. They like to forage; it makes their belly feel good.
Horses also like leadership. They want to be directed as long as the one directing has a good and fair reason to direct them.
The same is true for dogs. They like leadership if it is consistent and fair.
So, back to that little scene near the grass patch. I didn't like how I handled it. For two reasons. First, my back didn't like the herky-jerky. And second, I didn't like that the horse and I were so disconnected at that moment.
I didn't set us up to be connected, I left the door open for him - pun intended - to do what he likes best: eat grass.
When I hear horse people talk about needing to be a leader, I often joke that a horse lives 22 hours without us, and in the two hours we see the horse, it hands over the power to a distracted pea brain like us. You have seen the visual I use to make the point: a person walking next to animals with a thought bubble above the head, mind full.
For a horse to accept us as a leader like another horse, we must get present enough to direct their feet consistently.
Think about it. Another horse would have never left that door wide open - pun again intended. With horses, they know who directs whom. Always.
With humans, it's always a guessing game. Sometimes, we are in charge, for example, walking down the aisle and not letting the horse sniff the other horses in the barn. But the next moment, we wrestle the sliding door and leave the horse in charge of himself without direction.
That's why humans being leaders is a gamble for the horse. When we lead or direct, we are a leader, but the moment we drop our attention and intention, we leave our horse leaderless.
Our horse, or dog for that matter, can only give 100% of him to us if we give him 100% of our connection, consistency, and clarity. That's what animals do for one another.
But, since we are humanly incapable of offering that type of presence of mind, body, and spirit, we may leave leadership behind and find a new way to describe an ideal relationship with our horse.
How about a conscious connection?
That just came to me while I shared my story of doing the herky-jerky.
Conscious Connection … that's what a mindful connection is.
Hmmm … when I opened and closed the sliding door, the horse and I had an unconscious connection. We were only connected by a lead rope.
How could I turn this moment into a mindful connection? By being conscious.
OK, I will give myself a do-over here and take you along.
Being more conscious, I imagine myself beside this horse leaving the arena. I see the closed sliding door across the way as we enter the barn aisle. Our exit.
I exhale, look at the horse, and say, "We're gonna go out that way," pointing my left arm and hand forward."
When at the door, I exhale again to initiate the stop. Then I turn to the horse and say, "I am going to slide this open, then ask you to step outside and face me so I can close the door. After that, you can graze."
Then I breathe, slide the door open, and ask the horse to step out and around so he faces me. I thank him, then say, "Give me a moment," slide the door, and then exhale again as I release the lead rope so the horse can bring the muzzle to the grass.
That is a conscious connection. I stayed aware of our situation and what needed to get done and prepared us both for the steps. Easy. And with ease.
Well, as you know, I didn't do this. Only did it in my do-over version.
In reality, that herky-jerky moment made me aware of my lack of preparation. Yes.
It made me aware that our horses are tuned in to directions. They often like directions and follow them. But when none are provided, they take the lead.
From the horse's point of view, it feels a lot like on/off - on/off.
I am on and expect the horse's total attention, and then I am off, and the horse needs to figure out the next move on his own. Then I am back on with some new directions and again off after a few moments, and the horse is on his own again.
Wow …. that … exhale … is intense.
How do they put up with us?
How can we get better?
How can we become better partners?
By being conscious.
And that means present.
… wait …
I know that word is so overused it is falling apart at its seams.
But hear me out. Imagine you are present to be with the horse and also present enough to release the horse - conscious uncoupling - when you are about to take your attention away.
By releasing the horse consciously to the grass, you stay consciously connected.
OMG, that is actually genius. I think.
I will create a whole new reality here right now so we can feel what a conscious connection feels like.
Imagine you took a breath as you approached your horse's paddock, then said, 'Hello.'
Next, you ask your horse to put his nose into the halter, which he does. Then, you take a deep breath before you exit the paddock and begin your walk down the path to the barn.
You feel me here, right? You have been doing all the mindful things and are consciously connected, walking in sync down the path.
Then you see the barn manager ahead. And you have a question for her.
Staying connected, you say to your horse, "Ah, there is Sandy. I am gonna stop to chat with her, and you can eat grass."
And when you connect with Sandy, you consciously release your horse to eat grass. You already prepared him by telling him, and now you released him. No herky-jerky. Your connection is preserved. And you are still present. You are simply present with something or, in this case, someone else, Sandy.
I can promise you, when you consciously connect like this, you will consciously and automatically feel down the leadline into your horse while talking with Sandy. You will feel so much more connected to your horse because the connection is not broken.
And, when Sandy moseys on to do some chores, and you are ready to continue your walk, you turn to your horse and say, "OK, I am ready to get going. One more bite, and then please pick up your head." And then you give him a chance to take one more bite while you exhale, and on your inhale, you bring up your energy, and your horse's head comes up with ease, and you two march on.
Does that always happen? Maybe not.
Does that ease of interaction increase as you stay more consciously connected?
Everything I teach in my clinics and talks is about staying connected. Making decisions together.
Offer your horse three brushes and let him decide which one he wants you to start brushing him with. Take your dog to the pet shop, hold out two collars, and let him choose which one he wants to wear.
As conscious as I am and as conscious as I want to be, animals always reveal another layer of awareness. This horse today showed us when we are present and prepared, our connection with our horses grows exponentially.
And he also showed us it is OK for us to be present with something else but to announce that ... for clarity.
That way, there is much less herky-jerky.
And more easy-peasy.
OK, my friends, this episode wrote itself while I was speaking with you. Might be one worth listening to a few times to catch all the layers.
Have a good time consciously connecting with your four and two-legged friends. Until next time. Goodbye and Auf Wiedersehen!