Healthy Boundaries

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Huey making me laugh. He’s so gentle I feel completely comfortable letting him nuzzle my cheek but I also can feel his energy and intention and can move him away if necessary.

I love feeding my horses. There are sixteen of them here right now. Feeding is always entertaining. You never know what kind of mood the horses will be in. They change with the weather and the seasons. We know each other really well. For example, Wizard, though smaller in stature, definitely claims his food before Wayne, his gigantic warmblood buddy. Wayne often does what I refer to as his popcorn impersonation when it’s breakfast time – bouncing around with great enthusiasm! He can be intimidating! But I love that he and Wizard feel free to express themselves and show me their personalities. It sure makes it easy to tell when someone isn’t feeling well!

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The herd at feeding time.

Wizard waits at the gate and often backs up to his feed tub so as not to take his nose off the bucket in my hand. The look on his face when he eats is priceless. Wayne bobs around in the background knowing better than to snitch from Wizard (who has very clear boundaries around food). I don’t have to worry about Wayne and his energy, I just walk with a measured pace to his feed tub, standing tall and owning my space. He falls in a few feet away, prancing and dancing in perfect balance and never touches me once. I didn’t have to ‘teach’ him to keep out of my space, he instinctively recognizes and respects my boundaries, as I have respected his over our years together.

It’s this way will all my horses. We respect each other’s boundaries. We all pay attention and move with each other. There is a flow to feeding times that is a testament to our mutual respect. Part of the reason it flows is because I pay attention to how they line themselves up, and feed in the order they determine rather than trying to make up and enforce my own rules. We adapt to one another and find the flow. That flow often changes with the seasons. It also changes as herd members age or have health challenges. To me, it’s all information that informs dietary changes and things I might need to attend otherwise.

When people come to visit my herd, they always remark about how easy going and friendly they are. But what really amazes them is how calm they are. They wonder how I got my horses to respect my boundaries… I can think of a handful of times in all my years with horses where I felt I had to enforce a boundary in a physical way. Those were times when horses came to me with habits that put myself or the people helping me, in danger. Otherwise most of what we might consider boundary crossing behavior problems were symptoms of something else.

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Dillenger and Jean hanging out at a workshop

Jack, for example, developed a habit of biting people. He did it because he was in quite a lot of physical pain. Once the physical issues were managed it still took some time for him to let go of the habit of biting. I didn’t cure him of biting by punishing the behavior. He let go of the habit when the underlying issue was resolved. In the meantime, I knew his pattern and could find ways to work around him that allowed him to express himself without actually biting me.

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Jack getting body work with no  bite in site.

I think one of the worst things taught in some horsemanship circles is this idea that I should never let the horse move my feet or he’ll think he’s in charge. I’ve seen more people get hurt by standing in the horse’s flight path, refusing to budge when a horse is coming in hot. In my experience, none of my horses have ever taken advantage of me for moving with them instead of standing my ground.

It’s important for us to remember that we set the tone. Horses learn how to interact with people from people. I’ll never forget watching a client greet her horse she hadn’t seen for a while. She got right in his face, all snuggly, baby talking and feeding him carrots. She initiated the conversation by putting herself right in his mouth. As she led him to her tacking up area he reached over and touched her hand with his nose. She balled up her fist and punched him in the nose…..

Because he invaded her space and she had to set a boundary….

I’ve watched people stand beside their horse during feeding time typing away on their cell phone and then punishing their horse for coming into their space when the horse next to them charged them. Then they expect their horse to trust them and want to work with them. We almost always have a very small window in which to make decisions about to move or not to move. To enforce a boundary or step out of the way. If you miss that very small window the chances of successfully redirecting the horse’s physical energy are slim. Might as well just get out of the way and regroup.

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Group bodywork! We have these interactions safely because we are all paying attention and in tune with one another.

I get it. Horses are big. They have incredibly fast reaction times. They can easily hurt us. Healthy boundaries are established so naturally and easily with horses. If I expect my horse to honor my space then I feel it begins with me honoring his. I set the tone of the interactions between us. I can set us both up for success or I can create boundary issues by not being situationally aware. It’s my choice to interact with the horses, not theirs. So I begin by honoring their boundaries.

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Just Breathe

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Kastani at my back reminding me to be open to receiving.

Crumpled in a heap, spent, nothing left. Heaving sobs in the glow of the moonlight, interrupted by an explosive exhale. Kastani has come to investigate the crumpled human folded to the ground just outside his paddock. His calm presence draws me closer, peeling myself off the ground, moving inside the paddock to perch on the edge of the water tank.

He doesn’t come any closer, he doesn’t even look at me. Now I’m aware of how tight my shoulders are, how tired I am, and I hear him sigh as I let go of the tension. How masterfully he has me dropping out of my mental anguish and into my body. Shaking as the stress and grief pass through.

Kastani doesn’t move a muscle. So still and quiet, standing strong a few feet away. No sympathy here. No judgement. Just his quiet presence.

As my body and mind settle, I am aware he is asking me to pay attention. I look intently at his face, seeking a message there. Nothing. Scanning the rest of his body I notice his belly expanding as he inhales audibly. Long, slow exhale. Pause. Huge, big belly breath. Over and over.

“Just breathe.” He says in his wise way.

Matching his inhale, expanding my belly, breathing into my chest, my back, my sides. Matching his exhale, slow, and complete. Pause. Spontaneous full, nourishing inhale. Standing near each other in the moonlight we breathe together for some time. Quiet, deeply peaceful, breathing in steady rhythm until I am just as calm and relaxed as he is.

Sometimes life throws so many challenges our way it’s easy to forget this simple thing that makes all the difference. Just keep breathing. And no matter how hard it gets you can always find a friend to remind you how.

For those of you who are also struggling I share Kastani’s moonlight gift.

Just breathe.

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The Power of Belief

ANDREA RESOURCING

My body is not my friend.

I am not athletic.

I’m too old to do that.

I have an Aunt that used to say ‘what you think about, you bring about’. The power of belief can propel us toward our dreams with astonishing ease, or stop us dead in our tracks. The thoughts and beliefs that take root and grow like weeds are not always the ones that serve our best interests. These well rooted beliefs are insidious, so firmly woven into the fabric of who we are we don’t even know they exist. They lurk in the background creating the perception of limitations that may or may not be accurate.

Those first three sentences are beliefs I discovered rooted in my own subconscious in recent years. I’m too old showed up standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon looking down on the Bright Angel Trail on the cusp of my 50th birthday and realizing it was out of my reach. It was more than just a small pang of regret to realize I would never get to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back in this lifetime. My knees and feet wouldn’t hold up to a 2 mile hike up and down hills, let alone a hike as ambitious as the Grand.

kolb_brothers_grand_canyon_photography_6We did a tour of the Kolb Brother’s home while we were there. The home they built, literally on the canyon rim back in the 1800’s. The photography studio conveniently located so they could photograph the tourists riding the mules up the final stretch of trail after what was, no doubt, a grand adventure! Quickly developing the images, one of the brothers would be waiting to sell the tourists their photo keepsake. They explored every inch of that canyon in ways that completely blew my mind. An adventurous spirit led them to the Grand and their adaptability and ingenuity helped them forge a life there, filming movies of their canyon adventures that they charged admission for in the movie theater they built onto their home!

How many people do you know in this era that have this kind of adventurous spirit? I came home determined that I would go into my 50th year with a clear path toward getting stronger. No more downhill slide for me! And someday I’ll get back to the Grand and DO that hike! When I got home, I happened upon a video about elderly people doing Parkour in England. I have no idea what prompted me to watch that video, but this is what happens when we let go of a limiting belief and become determined to change. The things we need just show up! The entire philosophy of Parkour resonated so strongly with me that I decided to see if there was a gym in Grand Junction. There was. The owner, Vinnie, was game to take us on and Steve, though he thought I might have lost my mind, joined in!

That was the first mindset shift that began opening doors for me in ways I would never have imagined. I no longer believe I’m too old to do anything.

My body is not my friend and I’m not athletic were deeply embedded. My shoulders are pretty weak. Not really, just unstable because I haven’t known how to train properly to build strength and stability. A year ago, I started training for certification using MovNat principles to teach people over 50 the movements that are natural to the human species. It has been shocking to discover how many basic human movement aptitudes I no longer (possibly never did) have access to. It has been extremely frustrating to find things that I just can’t do. My shoulder and my feet/ankle just won’t support certain movements. There isn’t enough strength to hang, for example, or crawl on my hands and feet.

Did any of you notice what happened in that last paragraph? How many times I said ‘I can’t’ or ‘it won’t’?

This last weekend was my certification training weekend. I came knowing there were two movements I would not pass. I came with trepidation because I have always been among the weakest people in a group of athletes. In my imagination, all the other people in the class would be super fit and leave me in the dust. ‘My body is not my friend’, and’ I’m not athletic’, both showed up in spades on day one. We were sitting on the floor lifting our butts off the ground in preparation to walk on our hands and feet with our bellies up. The cue, lift one hand and one foot to test your stability, left me baffled. I could not un-glue both a hand and a foot from the floor at the same time.

My instructor reminded me that I was doing a very similar ground movement where I have to post on one hand and one leg to make the transition. How was this different? Bingo. All of a sudden, the movement was accessible. And with just a few technique tips I was rocking that inverted foot hand crawl with ease! I thought a lot about what was holding me back on being able to do that in the past. It was all tied up in the beliefs that I am not an athlete. That every time I try to get fit my body breaks down. For the rest of the weekend I let go of any limiting beliefs and opened my mind to the possibility that with the right coaching I was capable of anything.

Eight hours a day on Saturday and Sunday in motion, doing extremely physically demanding movements barefoot, while learning and being tested on our aptitude. Holy cow. Outside of week long back packing trips in my 20’s this is the most physically demanding thing I have ever done. We learned part way through the training that they really did not scale it back much for the over 50 folks because they weren’t sure what we’d be capable of, and they didn’t want to limit us. 18 women over 50 and we all did it! Not only that, but I held my own and was among the stronger people in the group in several areas. Handily busting all my own myths about myself and my body!

I did not pass the two areas I knew I wouldn’t. And I know exactly what I need to do to get there now. I have NO doubt that I’ll have my certification in the next few months. I can see it and I can feel it as though I’m holding that certificate in my hands right now.

It takes focus and determination to change to reach our goals. Can you imagine the things we believe and hold onto that limit the possibilities with our horses? I can’t wait to discover what beliefs I unearth about my horses and my ability to partner with them when I get home and apply all I’ve learned about myself and how to train!

What’s holding you back?

If you want to learn more about unlocking the potential of you and your horse please come join the conversation on my new page: The Tango with Horses Tribe – we’d love to see you there!

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There is no such thing as ‘bad’ behavior

Suspending tension in the neck stretch

Very nervous with a tendency to bolt. Found to have bone spurs throughout his neck that caused intense pain in certain positions. This was his favorite neck stretch.

Horses are masterful at finding ways to move that diminish pain while maintaining the appearance of soundness. A horse can look gorgeous and healthy, be well cared for, and still be compensating for undiagnosed pain. In a predator rich environment this would be part of their survival strategy. In our domesticated world, they work through pain because we ask them to. They will continue to compensate and work for us until something gives.

When something gives it might show up as a clinically diagnosable lameness. Our horse starts visibly limping, for example. It might show up as illness – recurring ulcers or metabolic syndrome can be caused by the stress of chronic pain. But, before lameness and illness there are often early warning signs that show up in the form of changes in behavior.

Some horses hide their discomfort so well that you might not think anything of it. The behaviors are easy to dismiss as something to be trained through. Common training issues can be an early warning sign of a physical issue: refusal to pick up the right lead in canter, difficulty transitioning from one gait to another, trouble standing still at the mounting block, or refusals to turn in one direction or the other, to name just a few. Some behaviors are easy to misinterpret, like the horse that bit at his chest and acted like he was itchy, when in reality he hurt all over.

This horse refused to pick up the right lead canter, would rear, or buck when asked. She charged and struck at people on the ground when asked to canter in a round pen. And she was extremely head shy. She was given a clean bill of health and passed a pre-purchase exam. Ultimately diagnosed: calcification in nuchal ligament near poll, mild navicular changes in one front, damage in right stifle, and a host of other small things that all added up to a lot of discomfort. Same horse on right after some therapeutic work and now, years later, she’s comfortably sound and ridden with understanding for her issues.

Every time I encounter a horse that is behaving ‘badly’, having trouble doing something that from a training perspective should be pretty straight forward, I ask the same question. Are you sure he/she is not in pain? The people that come to me care immensely about their horses. They have done their due diligence. Teeth have been checked, feet are well cared for, nutrition dialed in, tack meticulously fit. They have tried every solution available to them to no avail. Veterinarians and an array of alternative practitioners have weighed in to give the horse a clean bill of health.

These people show up on my doorstep because they still feel like something isn’t right. They know their horse is behaving ‘badly’, or struggling to perform what should be easy tasks, for a reason. They don’t want to ‘train’ through it, they want to know why their horse is struggling. Without fail, every time I encounter one of these horses, I find they are indeed in pain. This an alarming trend, the number of horses I see at clinics who are struggling because they have unrecognized physical issues that cause anything from nagging discomfort, to balance issues, to pain so intense they lash out.

So why is it that competent, well trained professionals are missing something that both the horse’s owner and myself can plainly see, feel, and work with?

I have a theory that we can trace the reason back to that instinctive drive to appear sound as a survival strategy. Any training methods, any palpation techniques, bodywork, or methods of evaluating for lameness that involve obedience, or cause the horse stress could trigger the release of chemicals that put the horse in fight or flight mode, flooding their nervous system with adrenaline and effectively masking pain to the degree sub-clinical lameness won’t be visible. I believe the reason we, as a horse’s primary care-giver might still think something is wrong is because there is a bond of trust that isn’t always there with others that come in to evaluate. Our horses show us things in those moments of trust that would otherwise remain invisible.

From my perspective the most humane and compassionate thing we can do is assume a behavior problem is valid rather than naughty, lazy or bad, and work our butts off to find the source of the horse’s physical, mental or emotional discomfort. Then we can focus our efforts toward movement practices that support the weak area to promote comfort, and ultimately soundness. If you feel your horse has an issue trust your gut and keep seeking answers until you find them. No one knows your horse better than you. And your horse likely doesn’t trust anyone else more than you!

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Constantly trying to bite people. He was overtly lame but had gone untreated for so long he could hardly stand to be touched and was very angry.

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During an osteopathy treatment where it was found he had internal adhesions that prevented him from standing straight behind. I can’t imagine how much that hurt.

Remember, horses are masters at not limping. A limping horse is predator bait. If a training method causes stress it’s releasing chemicals that help them mask pain. If the vet exam or body work causes pain in the course of diagnostics it’s releasing those same chemicals. Bottom line, if your horse is stressed it’s that much harder to pinpoint subtle sources of pain or discomfort. Your horse is far more likely to show you what’s bothering them than a total stranger because they know you are looking and they trust you. Don’t let him down. Keep seeking!

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Everyone said he was lazy. He had a severely pulled back muscle, insulin resistance and early stages of cushings.

If you’d like to know more about how to assess and address any issues your horse may be having check out my facebook group: The Tango with Horses Tribe, and look for upcoming trainings for horse owners to assess their own animals.

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You aren’t dancing with the fence post!

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That aha moment when Deb realized she wasn’t dancing with the fence post she was focused on, she was dancing with her horse!

Everyone knows, when you want to go somewhere with your horse, you look where you are going. We know how important it is to be focused when we work with a horse. I see people dutifully focused on the destination all the time. Their entire body and mind focused on that fence post, arena marker, cone, the other side of that twenty-meter circle with such determination to execute. It is what we are taught to do if we want our horses to follow our lead. It seems like a reasonable idea so we do it, and our horses dutifully follow along often enough to validate the theory.

I get it, but my horse is NOT already at that destination I focus on so intently that my entire body and mind are committed to THAT goal. My horse is right underneath me, behind me, or beside me. This strategy of looking to our destination works just great when our horse goes with us. But what if he doesn’t? That fragile thread that connects us breaks along with the harmony we, hopefully, seek. When we commit so fully to the destination we lose our ability to adapt to what our horse needs to move with us.

Determined focus on the destination takes us away from being right here, right now with our horse. To dance, we must go together. Do I need to be focused? Absolutely. Does it help to have a clear intention and destination in mind? Absolutely. But ultimately, it is not about the post, is it? It’s about the connection with my horse from one moment to the next. My focused attention and intention should primarily be my connection with my horse. My secondary focus is where we are going and how we are going to get there. Now I can use my focus on my destination with tact and subtly, ensuring that my horse is able to follow me there with ease and clarity.

We have to be careful what we focus on with our horses. Small things, like this bit of training wisdom to look where you are going and focus on the destination, can translate into an emotional tone that is intense and unforgiving. We might start to carry over all the stress and goal-oriented drive we have at work into the partnership with our horse. When we do that, we lose sight of the journey in favor of the destination. That rarely fosters harmonious relationships with anyone, let alone our horses, and can unintentionally cause the very ‘training issues’ or ‘behavior problems’ we think we need to fix.

Would you like to learn more with a growing group of great horse people who don’t just want to have conversations ABOUT horses, we want to have conversations WITH horses!

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Finding Harmony with Horses

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What if it could be easy?

These things we do with our horses…. What if we could just be at ease within ourselves and let our minds rest? Trust our horse to guide us down the perfect path for this moment. The path that supports both what they need and what we need. There’s always another day. Heck, there’s another minute! If it doesn’t work in this moment be open to the possibility it will work in the next.

The peaceful path is a choice. It’s a choice we have the opportunity to make from moment to moment. The peaceful path, the path of ease, doesn’t mean we become passive or complacent. Peaceful is a place in our heart and mind that is flexible, calm and adaptable. We can be strong and still be peaceful. We can have boundaries and still be peaceful.

Finding ease is a choice that fosters harmony in our interactions with our horses. Horses naturally seek harmony so when we find that place of peace and ease our horses happily join us there, both receptive and respectful.

Partnership evolves out of a sense of mutual trust and desire to do something together. We don’t enter into partnership with someone without getting to know them first. Horses are no different in that regard, they need to get to know us before they offer up partnership. We put an awful lot of pressure on our relationships with our horses, and that puts a lot of pressure on us to do it right, to be perfect, to succeed.

What if we found ease instead?

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You might have noticed I’ve been absent for a while from the blogging world. I’m sorry to have left you for so long! I’ve been so busy traveling to teach, and teaching in my online classes that I allowed myself to step back from the blog for a little while. But I’m back with a lot of new things in the works that I’m really excited about!

Thanks for coming back!

Andrea

 

Risk Reward

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Steve and I started Parkour lessons about two years ago. Just once a week for a bit under an hour. Even that small input allowed for steady improvement in my physical capability from week to week. Some of the things that were completely out of reach when we began became relatively easy to accomplish within a few weeks or months. Other things only just became attainable in the last few weeks. What I love about Parkour is how this activity puts me in situations where I have to be extremely focused, present in the moment, because there are consequences if I falter. Failure is going to hurt. Hopefully not badly, because we are in a relatively safe environment, but that sense of consequences sure puts me in the moment like nothing else.

When I tell people my age or older that we are doing Parkour I get one of two reactions: 1) “What is Parkour?” And 2) “Holy crap! Isn’t that that crazy thing young people do where they jump off of buildings?!” I think there is a perception that these ‘crazy young people’ are doing something really dangerous, even stupid risky. But hanging around these athletes I learned they are keenly aware of their own abilities and limitations. Any ‘trick’ they attempt is rehearsed and tested until they are confident they can do it. If they can’t find a way to be reasonably sure they’ll succeed they abort mission. Because there are real world consequences, they are acutely aware of and train their capabilities.

Our instructor, Vinnie, catches Steve now and again, eying some new challenge. He always chimes in with these wise words:

‘Risk, reward Steve. Risk, reward.’

Is the potential reward for what you are about to attempt worth the risk? Are you prepared well enough that the risk is minimal? Learning Parkour taught me how to take any new thing I wish to attempt and break it down into smaller steps that assure success when I finally take that leap.

The irony is not lost on me that the people who look at me like I have five eyes when I say I’m doing Parkour ride horses…

How many articles and stories do we see each week, heck, each day, about the latest horse related wreck? As Anna Blake quoted in a recent blog: Be Here Now: Focus on Safety (Helmets and Response Time):

“Most TBIs (traumatic brain injuries) happen when we’re riding but injuries on the ground are common enough. “Dismounted injuries require hospitalization approximately 42% of the time, while mounted injuries require hospitalization in only 30% of incidents,” according to Brainline.org.”

Risk, reward….

Horses have a reaction time that is seven times faster than humans. Honestly, I think it’s pretty easy for just about any being to have a faster reaction time than humans. What causes a horse to have such a fast response time? Survival. Instinct. Their brain is hardwired to act first and think later as a matter of survival. We get into trouble when we get complacent and forget that no amount of training can override that instinct given the right (or wrong) set of circumstances.

This guy went from that moment of startle you see in the first image in this post, to bolt, buck, kick and back to grazing in a matter of seconds… a great catch by Susan White!

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Training Parkour, I understand the level of complacency we experience as modern humans. Rarely do we engage in activities where there are serious consequences if we aren’t paying enough attention. We tend to be easily distracted. Our minds always on the next thing or checking our phone. We aren’t aware of ourselves, let alone the truck that’s about to hit us as we step blindly into the intersection. I cannot count how many times I’ve watched people get body slammed by a horse because they were nonchalantly standing in the horse’s flight path while chatting, texting, or surfing the web. We live in a world that does not require us to pay attention and react swiftly, or die. Our horses are still deeply connected to that world.

I think the missing link for us when it comes to safety around our horses lies in embracing more of what our horses have to share with us about safety and reaction time. Instead of trying to teach our horses to be less reactive perhaps we should spend a bit more time improving our own reaction time. Improve our ability to remain present, aware and responsive the entire time we are with our horses. Take a moment to consider the risk versus reward as we engage in our training sessions.

We have the ‘bigger’ brain, capable of taking a moment to pause and consider the risk, reward scenario. Let’s say I want to do something I’ve never done with my horse before. If I take a moment to consider risk, reward I have the opportunity to consider what could go wrong? If something goes wrong, do I have the relationship and trust with my horse that we can get through it? Do I have the skill set to support my horse through whatever comes up? Are there other people and horses in the vicinity I put at risk if said thing goes wrong? Am I putting my horse or my own welfare at stake by taking this risk?

Everything we do with our horses comes with the risk of something going wrong. Horses know this. They are always aware of what’s going on in their environment. They pay attention to everything and are ready to respond. When we put our horses in a position where they have no choice but to override their instinctive responses, we put them in a huge bind. Their only choice is to numb themselves to their environment and try not to react, or succumb to their instincts. Horses don’t really want to step on us, run over us, into us, etc. I see remorse in the eyes of horses who hurt humans. We can save everyone the trauma of a wreck simply by paying attention.

Weigh the risk versus the reward. Teach those new to horses the basics of safety. Know that horses, no matter how trustworthy one might be, are still horses. You just never know what might happen that overrides their desire to keep us safe. Do your due diligence. Be as fit and agile as you can be. Know your limitations and act accordingly. Practice good situational awareness and plan for those what ifs. Much like Parkour, there are real life consequences when we get complacent around our horses. The better we know a horse, the longer we work them, the easier it is to forget that they can always get triggered into fight or flight. We stay safe by avoiding the flight path and staying on our toes. We keep ourselves, our horses and those around us safe by maintaining good situational awareness and using that big brain of ours to think a few steps ahead. Don’t proceed if the risk outweighs the reward or if you realize you are unprepared for the possible outcomes.

Our response time may never be as fast as a horse, but we can sure use our mind and body to our best advantage by taking a moment to assess each situation and act accordingly.

For two excellent commentaries about safety around horses:

Anna Blake: Be Here Now: Focus on Safety (Helmets and Response Time):

Warwick Schiller: How to Avoid a Freak Accident with Horses.

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To learn more about developing your own reaction time and building your own skill set, check out upcoming workshops at: andreadatz.com