All of us at the ranch are students of life. We focus on growing as leaders, we support each other through different stages of relationships, and many of us lean on each other as we grow while raising our children. Of course, with horses and horsemanship being a fundamental part of the ranch, over the years many of us have studied and practiced our understanding of those principles. What is interesting is to recognize that these are relationships we are all working on and to notice the similarities in the lessons we learn. We do not claim to be experts in any of this and have taken the best tips from others, but here are some aspects of horsemanship that we focus on at the ranch that might apply to other areas of your life.
What language are you speaking?
One of the guiding principles of horsemanship is to speak the language the horse understands. Just as you would not give direction to an employee in advanced technical terms when they are just learning the ropes, do not try to communicate to your horse with body language and words they do not understand. Study how they communicate with each other and then utilize that language to communicate with them. So, when you are frustrated in a relationship, ask yourself if you are speaking the right language for the other party to understand?
How do you direct?
We utilize the principles of “ask, tell, demand” as we train our horses, and we ask our guests to ride with the same approach. Have you ever had a boss that screamed and ranted at you to do something? It sure doesn’t make for a pleasant work environment. Similarly, a horse isn’t going to be as content if a rider yanks the reins every time they want them to make a turn. Instead, when you first request something from your horse, you ask gently. Maybe just raising your energy up to get them to walk off. Then, if there is no reaction from that ask, you tell them. That might mean giving a gentle squeeze. Still nothing from the tell? Then it is time to demand. I asked you gently, you did not respond, now I am demanding this happens. This does not mean jabbing spurs and cracking whips, but it may mean a more direct kick to wake the horse up to the fact that you need them to do something. If you are consistent with this, you end up with a horse that responds easily to subtle pressure, and that makes for an enjoyable ride and a willing horse.
Pressure and Release
Horses work in a world of pressure and release. Pressure means a reaction is needed; release means thank you, we are good now. That pressure may come from your body position, your legs, or the reins, for example. When you squeeze your legs onto your horse to tell them to move forward, you continue to squeeze until the horse walks off as you requested. Then you release that pressure. Are you that parent who asks your teen to take out the trash and then after asking 3 times you finally give up and do it yourself? If that is how you ride your horse, what does that teach them? Their takeaway is, if I ignore the request, eventually they will give up and I do not have to do it. And you end up with a dull horse who does not respond to anything. Kind of the same as your teenager, isn’t it? There is a saying that horses reflect back on you all your stuff…..sit with that one for a minute, but don’t beat yourself up. These are also the ways horses make us better.
Do you understand how to communicate what you are asking your horse? Do you have a clear plan each time you ask them for something? Take a breath to think through what you want them to do and how you are going to ask them before you charge down some muddled path of poor communication. Have you ever asked an employee to do something for you only to end up frustrated that they went a totally different direction with it? Did you have a plan of action you wanted them to execute? How clear was your communication? Did you present it in a way they could understand? Was it crystal clear what you wanted for the outcome? Hmm…there is that reflection again. Sigh, at least it is good to know we are all imperfect and working on our stuff.
It is no fun to be around a person who is rigid and set in their ways. On the other hand, it is nice to work for someone from whom you always know what to expect. As a leader of your horse, you need to be consistent. Horses tend to tune out leaders who expect one thing one day, but not the next. After a while, they decide it is not worth listening to that leader. If you want your horse (insert employees, kids, etc…) to ignore your leadership, then go ahead and be inconsistent. If you want your horse to follow your lead each time, then you always need to ask the same way and expect the same result. It is like the line in the sand. If you want your horse to respect your space and not crowd you when you are on the ground, then you need to ask them each time to be respectful of your space bubble. Do not make an exception and let them come in and get up all in your business one day, and then expect the next day they will not step on your feet and push you around. People like consistency in a leader, and so do horses.
Leave your emotions at the door
Have you ever seen someone beat on a horse? They are mad, and they are going to take it out on the horse. Now, have you ever seen a horse kick at another horse who gets into his space? It is different. That horse who is setting the boundary typically lines up, fires away, and then moves on once the other horse moves away. He does not stew on it, he does not work himself up, he just sets his boundary and once all is good, he lets it go. As leaders, there are times one needs to be firm and rigorous. But when we attach heightened emotion to it, that is when it changes the game and often becomes unfair. I remember reading the Love and Logic books when my children were young. If you have read that, you can relate to the “Ahhh bummer, that’s too bad your toy broke because you didn’t put it away” type of parenting they recommend. Do not get wrapped up in their stuff, do not get emotional about it, but be empathic and understanding, and then move on. Horses will treat you fairly if you treat them fairly and without the heat of emotions.
So why do we spend so much time on all this if you are just riding a horse for a week?
Well, for many reasons. We want you to have the best riding experience possible. And how we do that is to teach you to be able to communicate with our horses the way we communicate with them. When you grasp those concepts and come on board to the way we ride our horses, then you reinforce all the training we have put into your horse. And guess what? They become a better trained horse. In fact, the more you follow our lead in how we ride our horses, the better your horse will be for the next rider. And that continues until you come back next visit to ride your horse again. Let your horse walk all over you, and the next guest gets a project. What really drives us, though, is that there might be some lessons you take from this riding experience and bring home, just as all of us have seen them play out in our own lives. Maybe you become a better leader for your employees. Maybe you become a better parent. How about a better spouse, friend, community member? The list can go on. Following the basic principles of horsemanship and letting your horse reflect your stuff back on you can help you become a better person in the world. No, you did not sign up for a self-help retreat, but wouldn’t it be cool if through enjoying time riding your horse on vacation you return home a better person?
Please note that we hope our guests are intrigued and enjoy this process, but if all you want to do is sit on your horse and have them take you down the trail to enjoy the views, our horses will willingly follow the horse in front of them and show you some beautiful country! Your kids on the other hand…..that we cannot say.