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.”
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!
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:
Warwick Schiller: How to Avoid a Freak Accident with Horses.
To learn more about developing your own reaction time and building your own skill set, check out upcoming workshops at: andreadatz.com