“If you stay in the well worn rut, you’re going to go exactly where everyone else went before.”
The first quote comes from a fellow that was looking for an answer to every situation. He was always willing to give the horse the benefit of the doubt, and would adjust the things he was doing, without changing the way he was doing it. I think that distinction is important, and is the essence of the concept of “feel”; which we’ll delve into in the future. For now, we’ll focus on the second quote. We’re going to talk about the third and final piece of our Lifemanship foundation: Presentation.
Presentationis understanding that to change an outcome, you have to start by examining what you are doing and be willing to change the things you do.
Through improved Awareness we’ve gotten ourselves in the moment and in a good frame of mind. By engaging Empathy we are attentive to our situation, trying to understand where our partner is coming from. Ideally we’ve assumed the leadership role, since we’ve got the idea we’re trying to bring to fruition.
Leadership position or not though, we’re in this situation, and we should ask ourselves, “am I having the success I’m seeking?” Equally as important, “can I expect a different outcome if I am unwilling to change the way I am doing things?” Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that you have a 98% success rate. So 2% of the time things don’t come out the how you’d hoped. That’s pretty damn good, so why worry about that 2%?
Our belief is that we’ll be a lot better, and build a stronger relationship with the 98% if we’re willing able to adjust what we’re doing to fit the 2% in a way that better suits them. We may never get there, but we’re going to try. We believe it is important to care about all of those relationships. We can do more, get further, and find more satisfaction together. Whatever our goal; the performance arena, a successful trail ride, a relaxed cowhorse, or even a more satisfying business relationship; If we accept that our Presentation is directly correlated to the outcome, we may be able to heave ourselves out of that rut and into fresh greener pastures of better relationships and improved outcomes. Don’t stay in the rut and look at it on the way by, head into that pasture, you might be missing something!
“In riding a horse, we are borrowing freedom” -Helen Thompson
I’d read those words many, many years ago but as I sit to gather my thoughts about Empathy it echoes in the back of my mind. What gives us that feeling of freedom that we get from our horse partners. Certainly the strength, the speed, the ability to be a better version of ourselves are all part and parcel of that feeling we get. But, maybe it’s a fuller understanding of another being that contributes to that feeling?
Isn’t it much more valuable, more literally freedom, if those characteristics are given to us, and not taken from them? We can achieve this by approaching our relationship as a partnership, not a master and servant. Our friend Curt Pate told us that he strives for a mare/foal relationship, rather than embracing the predator/prey relationship talked about in some circles. Lifemanship is founded on the notion that we’re all in this together. We are seeking partnerships in the world.
Maybe we can borrow even greater freedom through by exercising empathy with all beings?
Now that we’ve discussed Awareness, and learning to be more present in the moment; the next piece is Empathy. As we use it, Empathy means a deeper understanding of the reasons for the reality of the other entity. Awareness is largely about understanding what constitutes our perception of the realities (or the future imaginaries) we are faced with. Empathy is understanding our shared reality through the experiences of another being. Understanding is the operative term; and an open mind and a willingness to adjust are indicators of true Empathy.
Every living creature, from our children, to our horses, to our pets, is entitled to its own perception of reality; just as we are. This is fundamental in our way of doing things here The DX Ranch.
“This all sounds good, but awfully philosophical, but how does it relate to Horsemanship?” you might ask. One of my favorite quotes is one that was attributed to Buck Brannaman, “horses and life, it’s all the same to me.” My interpretation of this statement is that a consistency of purpose can help us make the most of any situation. Buck’s horses are dang sure his partners. He’s started more colts than most of us will ever even get to ride; and he approaches it from the standpoint that “the horse is never wrong.”
We ascribe to that belief here at The DX Ranch. Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that our horse is exhibiting a behavior (his perception of his reality) that we’d rather not have in our relationship. How we come to know this is hopefully because we’ve developed our Awareness; but sometimes we find ourselves in “high-alert” status and we learn through bumps, bruises, or even stitches. I’ve got a scar on my head to prove it.
You may have heard someone say “he’s a high strung SOB, that’s why he can’t be still.” You can substitute “high strung SOB”, and “can’t be still” with any number of other things. Many not suitable for a family friendly blog such as this.
When we use Empathy in our approach to horses, we understand that we too are one of those external influences on a horse for which he has a perception.
Coming from a place of understanding and acceptance of his point of view, we can form a partnership that can help us get closer to that feeling of freedom that causes us to dust ourselves off, stitch ourselves up and try again.
I wonder if that works with our fellow man as well?
I’ve got to ride quite a few colts this past Summer. In my string I have two 3 year olds, and a 4 year old. The four year old mare has the most rides on her, and recently, as I was astride, I realized something — she isn’t comfortable in the West end of our barn. She needed help to get comfortable.
I thought to myself, “why is this?” Well, self, I said, “It’s because you saddle and unsaddle her in the East end all the time”. What an easy fix, right? So that day, I unsaddled her on the opposite end of the barn. I mean the horse is mobile, right? I don’t need to come in and do the same thing every time. At the end of a ride, I hang that saddle on the fence 50% of the time and leave it on the ground the other, so why not unsaddle somewhere different everyday, and take the horse to the saddle? Bazinga!
The next ride, I brought her in and groomed her in the middle of the arena. Then I proceeded to hang out with her there for about 20 minutes. I’ve spoken at length about just being with your horse, so this seems apt for me: no agenda, just hanging with my best girl (actually the only mare I’m currently riding, but I digress). She cocked a back leg, let me lean on her while I scrolled through Instagram. Sometimes, just being in a place together is the best way to get where you want to go.
Our ride that day was pretty spectacular. She rode on the West end of the barn like a champ, despite the fact that our crazy barn cat likes to camp back there and stalk the horses, which is probably part of why the colts may find that space to be scary- but there’s going to be lots of scary stuff in their world: dead cows in the pasture, signs at rodeos and equine events, ropes flying and more. They’ve got to learn to look to us to help them realize there’s nothing to be afraid of and by changing the routine, we can do just that: Help them get comfortable in any situation. Give them time to think, give them time to check back with you — are you freaking out? If so, your horse may have good cause to freak out too. So if we’re good, they can be good.
Hopefully my moment of introspection will help you with your horses in some way, shape or form. Enjoy the journey and enjoy the ride.
“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.
We learned Awareness from the horse. They know how they feel, and they live in the moment. Their very existence has been based on the ability to stay ahead of situation.
“Teaching is demonstrating possibility, learning is taking ownership of the possibility.” Author Unknown
As we mentioned in the previous blog a clinic/workshop experience should leave you feeling empowered and able. Not set expectations for yourself that make you feel like you’ll never get there. We treat our human friends with the same level of respect, thoughtfulness, and acceptance that we would our horses, cows, dogs, and family.
There’s no need for you to have your horse straight up in a bridle, performing all of our aspirational intricate maneuvers, or even accustomed to cattle, to try something new or experiment with the next step in the progression; whether that be roping, moving cows, trying an advanced piece of headgear, or what have you.
There are a few factors that will help you to ensure that these experimental ventures will be fruitful for you and help you take ownership of the possibility.
Awareness, Empathy, and Presentation are foundation of Lifemanship, and you’ll hear them repeated and explained may times in our workshops. Today we’ll breakdown what Awareness means to us here at The DX Ranch and Project H3LP!.
Awareness, like the other concepts, has multiple levels. We constantly try to improve our Awareness. It’s a function of time and circumstance, but really it starts from within. How do you feel? Are you in this series of moments with your horse, or are you thinking about the bills you have to pay, or the rotten day at work, family squabbles, or the million other things that may seek your attention?
We learned Awareness from the horse. They know how they feel, and they live in the moment. Their very existence has been based on the ability to stay ahead of situation. I’ve been a victim of their better Awareness many times. About 5 years ago I was riding a real nice colt, helping a neighbor gather heifer pairs. I rode up to get a baby calf up, but I got too close, and put the baby calf in his blind spot, and got behind the situation when he reacted to the calf bumping him from an unseen position. Now if you listened to the podcast (link); you know I’m not, nor have I never been, a bronc rider. Consequently, a concussion and a broken finger further convinced me that my Awareness can continue to improve.
I was in that moment, my mind was on my horse and how well he was doing, and he was , but my Awareness of external circumstances was a bit lacking; i.e. calf in blind spot.
Awareness of our self, making sure we’re in the moment, giving as much of our attention as the horse is giving to us, can help us get to the next step. Empathy. After we next discuss the difference between aware and alert, we’ll dive into step 2 — Empathy.
Have you ever known someone with a horse that would consistently frustrate them with something they were asking, but someone more experienced might come along and get there with almost no extra effort? For me, it had to do with getting horses to be still, be with me. One time it was the horse that wouldn’t stand still when I had a calf roped.
You can hear a little more about that story on the Let Freedom Rein podcast. If you’ve already listened, you know it was Ol’ Nub Long that helped me through that. Same type of lesson, in totally different circumstances, I learned from his son, Dave “Daviento” Long when I was struggling to get better at saddling a colt. Dave is as good as I’ve seen at saddling a colt. Such a matter of fact presentation.
When I asked him about how he was able to get it done so smooth, he just chuckled (the same chuckle he still does when he repeatedly out ropes us) and said something like “There’s nothing to worry about. Either I’ve done enough to get him ready, or not, and he’ll let me know. If it goes well, we move on, if it doesn’t we start again.” Incidentally, I’ve never seen Dave make it look like anything other than saddling old reliable.
What Dave helped me realize 20 years ago, is that it was a lack of confidence on my part that it’d be alright either way. I had some confidence around horses but not a lot of experience in saddling a horse that wasn’t tied up. It was just a lack of confidence that it’d be alright. Once I understood that the worst thing that happened was that I go back and revisit a few things that would make my entire relationship with the horse better, I brought a lot less uncertainty to the encounter.
So how do we get that confidence? Odds are not everyone gets to be around as many horses as we get do; and that’s the surest way. This lesson helped us realize that by breaking a situation down to its component parts we can make things more achievable. If we can build confidence in performing those smaller, component parts, that confidence we build in ourselves can project through uncertainty.
In this video Jenn’s working on bridling a colt, and she shows some of the component parts for bridling. You’ll notice there’s no bridle in sight. Jenn is able to comfortably handle the equipment, the horse, and the situation.
Now, think about your situation that frustrated you. What could you do, short of handling a few hundred more horses, to get some more experience that you can gain confidence in? Have real world example you’d like some feedback on? Get in touch with us here, or better yet come on out to our inaugural horsemanship workshop at the ranch in May.