Positivity – The Ultimate Holiday Gift ~ November 2014

Positivity – The Ultimate Holiday Gift

One sure fire idea I have learned over the years is the idea of staying positive while working with your horse. Positivity is powerful in many ways, and is a very under used tool when working with any animal. We all know that horses, cattle, dogs, and other animals as well as people, definitely respond to the energy of others. If you didn’t know this, now you do. Energy flows from us freely to those around us, just as it does from us to a horse or to another pet. So, knowing that energy is flowing directly from you to those horses and people around you, you better make sure it’s the energy that you want them to absorb and grow from. I’ve met so many people on planes over the years of traveling. I tell them what I do and they all have a similar story, “I rode a horse once, and he ran me into a tree, I think he knew I was scared of him”. The truth is that the horse didn’t know anything of the sort, but the horse sure responded to the nervous and anxious energy that the rider was emitting. Be sure your energy is positive rather than negative.

THEORY: Why is positivity important? Training young horses, just as teaching children; is about ideas, emotions, attitude and energy just as much as it is about the turning, stopping, math or reading. They have to learn to focus on good things to end up good. A child, just like a horse, will not learn correctly when consistently scared, mad, or in a bad mood. They must be in a teachable mentality in order to actually learn something. That trainable frame of mind that we want them to be in, first has to start with us as the trainer/teacher. If the teacher scolds the class before each subject matter, the chances of actual learning drops tremendously. If you get your horse out each day and start off by spanking him around and you get after him for each maneuver that he’s struggling with, it won’t be long until he quits trying. Even if you get him “trained”, he will not be a horse you can count on and trust consistently. Instilling fear in a horse or a child is never a good thing. We have to learn to use positive energy rather than negative to train our horses. We must embrace the philosophy of helping our horses rather than correcting them. Focus on what you want instead of what you’re getting. Tell them what to do, rather than what not to do. Direction NOT Correction.

APPLICATION: So how do you make sure your energy is positive? There’s a lifetime of knowledge to be gained on this subject but there is one simple thing you can do that will really get you on the right path; Think Positive Thoughts and Say Positive Statements!  Really? That’s it? Yes, really. Tell yourself and those around you that you have a good horse and he tries hard. When you get on your horse expect that he will be good, give him the benefit of the doubt. Each time he struggles then improves, forgive him in your head without holding a grudge. If you expect the worst, you will definitely get it. Saying positive statements to others will help you stay in a good positive mood. Too often I hear people tell me about some stupid horse that always does this wrong and that wrong and never gets better. Wake up, you are getting what you expect.  A good teacher will never say how stupid a child is. A good teacher might say a child is struggling with a subject, then will find a way to help them through it. Remember, in each situation, to find a direction to give your horse, rather than a correction. Always focus on what you want your horse to do, instead of what you want them not to do. It’s no different than good positive teaching of a child. Instead of saying “No” to everything that they’re doing wrong and then ignoring them when they’re good, try ignoring them when they’re bad, and then giving them attention as praise when they are good. What they really want is positive attention or none at all. Sometimes the only attention a child gets is when they do something wrong, so they naturally keep doing it. This is no different than a horse. Sometimes a horse keeps jumping right because each time he does you kick him with your right leg, and it’s that struggle/attention that
he keeps looking for. Do not wait for them to act up so you can correct them. Instead, keep asking for what you want, then reward them when you get it. The key is to remember to keep a good attitude and think positive thoughts as often as possible.

EXAMPLE: People, Dogs, Horses. Remember when working with children the word “NO” alone, should only be used as an answer to a question. The statement “NO” has no meaning otherwise. When a child is doing something you don’t want them doing like picking up your cell phone, rather than yelling “No!”, just tell them what you want them to do, like “Put that down, please.” or “Walk back over here to me”, then thank them politely and let it go at that. When a dog is performing an unwanted behavior like jumping up on you, instead of saying “No!”, use already understood direction words like “lay down” or “kennel”, and then reward him for completing the task; or simply move him into the next room then give him a chew toy or a treat once he is there. When you’re standing next to your horse and she starts to paw or bite at your clothing or rub her head on you as if you were a scratching post, instead of whacking her as a correction (as if saying No!), just tell her to move her feet by applying firm but kind pressure to her halter, face, etc, then release as a reward when she moves her feet. She is merely asking you what to do by trying these different unwanted behaviors, so tell her what to do, instead of just telling her to stop. Never focus on the negative behavior. Never imagine the worst case scenario or expect a battle. There are times a discussion is necessary, but a fight is never a good choice. Sometimes a horse, as well as a child, may be expecting a fight or even looking for a fight. It’s your job to not give him one. I always teach at my clinics that It takes two animals to fight. If your horse wants to fight and you don’t, there will be no fight. Peter Campbell says “A horse cannot go through something bad and come out good.” Also remember, when an animal is frustrated, mad, scared, etc, back down a step, be sure to take a deep breath and control YOUR emotions first. Stay calm, move slowly and visualize the outcome that you are striving for. Just like a child, our animals learn to handle their emotions by the way we handle OUR emotions, as well as by the way we handle theirs. In short, keep your energy positive

If you’re like me, money is tight this time of year, and sharing a gift with everyone I know would be great, but a little impractical. If only there was something I could share with all of my family and friends, as well as my animals, that didn’t cost much and would help keep me as well as everyone around me in a great mood, and would last longer than any other gift; something that isn’t full of calories, something that makes a great impact and is easily passed on again and again. Oh wait, I’ve got an idea……. how about positivity? Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Until next time, ride smarter, not harder. Email your questions to cal@calmiddleton.com.