Aware vs. Alert


“He doesn’t like the wind”, “birds bother him”, “she doesn’t like to cross water”, “he’s scared of cows”; these are all things we’ve either said, or heard in the horse world. There’s a common denominator in all of those things. A human that is alert because they may not have had the chance to get aware. There’s a dang good reason it is first in our Lifemanship mantra of Awareness, Empathy, and Presentation.

While these two words, (aware and alert) may seem nearly interchangeable, in Lifemanship, we define them quite differently. Awareness is borne of confidence, preparation, and trust; alertness implies readiness to react, and is directly related to uncertainty. In other words, you may be riding your horse, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Improving Awareness can take you into situations that others might approach with uncertainty, or that others may find themselves reacting to. When you have a plan of action (not reaction) that relies on that confidence, preparation, and trust you and your horse have with each other your awareness is what keeps you out of a wreck. 

In Part One of Awareness: “Owning Possibility” we contemplated awareness from the standpoint of introspection; and we learned that it’s important to start to project that Awareness outward and forward in time, lest we find ourselves concussed, stumbling towards our horse. The tools we use — flags, tarps, ropes, cattle, other horses, yes…even chickens — can be helpful in improving your ability to externalize your Awareness, once you get it right within yourself, and are there in the moments with your horse. As sure as I’m sitting here typing, there’ll be a plastic bag, or a snake, or a calf laying down, or one of our most famous invasive species, the Chinese Ringneck Pheasant, that may catch our horse-and us perhaps-unaware. If we’ve effectively used what we have at hand, and prepared our horses, we can fall back on our confidence and trust we’ve built with them and need not react.

Horses get get exposure to unexpected things everyday, and learn to be aware, but feel no need to be alert. Then we add our impact to the relationship. If we’re riding our horse, we’ve got to think of ourselves as the leader because they do. When we don’t bring Awareness to the relationship, what if something happens that we don’t expect, or we’re concerned about how our horse might react?  It could be that we haven’t taken the opportunity to prepare our horse, or maybe we don’t quite believe in our preparation. To our horse, that feels like uncertainty from the leader; and it could be what takes him from the flicker of an ear towards something, to feeling the need to preserve himself.

If we think about awareness as preparation, it’s easy to see how it can help us become confident in ourselves and in our ability to guide us through sticky situations with our horses.

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