Bloody Zen Horsemanship (a clicker training journey)

I recently had an email from one of my clients who had just had a frustrating session with her horse – one of THOSE days. We all have ups and downs with our horses and we are all emotionally attached, not only to our horses themselves, but also to our dreams and wishes which are tied up with them, too. A difficult day can get to us on so many levels that it’s good to have an outside eye to put it in perspective and pick us back up to try again.  
My reply to her brought my ‘bloody zen horsemanship’ approach to the foreground as I’ve been there and know how it feels – you desperately want to be the best owner for your horse, your horse to be happy and to achieve your dreams but it can be a bumpy road getting there!!! 🙂


Toby and I in the early days!

So often we are dragged unwillingly onto improving our horsemanship by a difficult horse we are unwilling to give up on. This is certainly true in my case and  I  called this ‘bloody zen horsemanship’ because  I had to find a different approach to make my horse happy. And until Toby was happy when working with me,  I couldn’t be happy. So I had to get to grips with my own failings (which is of course an ongoing journey…!) in order to be the human Toby needed. It’s ‘bloody’ because I didn’t want to go there. At the time, I  didn’t want to have to strip everything right down and build it up back up again (although I’m now so grateful I did!) The ‘zen’ comes in because I found I had to get to a place where the journey became more important than the goal. This developed because I wanted a relationship with Toby, not just to ride an unhappy horse who did my bidding resentfully.

Comparisons are a no-no.
It’s too easy to compare our horse to someone else’s, and we usually do this to our disadvantage – “why can’t my horse just…. stand for the farrier/be happy to hack on his own/load easily” etc etc. What other horses can do or what your horse should be doing is totally irrelevant. Your horse is who he is and as he is YOUR horse, by default this makes him THE BEST HORSE IN THE WORLD! He is where he is in each moment. The best way forward is to focus on what he CAN do right now and work from there.

Click Yourself!
Remember to praise and congratulate yourself on your hard work. Take a moment to remember the issues you have had with your horse in the past, which are now so much better. You changed that!
Karen Pryor tells the story of talking to a small girl who’s been clicker trained for her gymnastics. All the girls know exactly how many clicks they get for each session – “87” this girl said proudly. “Wow”, said Karen, “How many times have you been right 87 times in one day?” The girl smiled because it happens so rarely in real life of course.
How many times has your horse been right each session (how many clicks has he had?) and therefore how many times have you been right each session?  On reflection, maybe you now agree that you’ve earned a glass of wine and a bar of chocolate today after all 🙂

Toby and I in more recent days!

Go slower to get there faster
Horses are slooooooowww. This is something humans have a lot of difficulty in accepting. “Go slower to get there faster” is my current motto because it’s so relevant and true. Breaking the behaviour down into small steps and progressing at your horse’s pace (however fast or slow or however many repetitions that is) is always the way to a solid behaviour and a happy horse. This can sometimes feel frustrating, especially when you feel like you are going backwards. Trust that you are not, you’re just going deeper and the results will be even more amazing when you get there. And my ‘there’, incidentally, (considering this is BZH and all about the journey!) is an amazing relationship with a trusting, willing horse who is happy to go anywhere and do anything with you.

Change yourself to change your horse (how zen can you get??!)
Horses are so responsive to our physical and emotional well-being and, even more than that, they appreciate being with people who make them feel good. Well, don’t we all? There are people who are warm, welcoming, non-judgmental and genuinely delighted to be there in that moment doing whatever it is. Humans appreciate it and horses love it. So remind yourself that you are clicker training!! It is the kindest way to train horses in the known world. You are doing your best to do your best and so is your horse. Feel good to be you. Make your horse feel good to be your horse. After all, he is YOUR horse and therefore THE BEST HORSE IN THE WORLD! 🙂

3 Responses to Bloody Zen Horsemanship (a clicker training journey)

  1. Dr Jane Perry says:

    It is also easy to compare oneself to other horse owners.. I think this is particularly the case when you are trying to regain your confidence with horses after being spooked and/or are gradually conquering a fear. You can sometimes feel stupid and even embarassed (in front of others). I have experienced these feelings even though I have accomplished so much (from both inside and out of the fence!!!).
    This another reason is why I love clicker training – it is ‘kind’ to everyone concerned (horse and owner alike).
    I also think a lot of people have visions of what they want their horse to be and are almost blined to anything else that is going on. I believe the most important things for any horse, is for it to feel safe, happy and confident..

  2. elainepickersgill says:

    Yes, bloody zen horsemanship, but if we weren’t thinking about it, we would miss all the signals showing us that our horses were unhappy/scared/frustrated/bored and so on. learned a lot today about where my horse Bill, is, and the challanges I have to face with him. Thanks Hannah and Helen for coming today and showing me a way of dealing with this.

  3. Gill says:

    I like this very much thank you. I know already that I have the best horses in the world.Thank God for clicker training or where would I be? (knitting?)
    Gill x

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