Wendy Jago, NLP Master Practitioner and coach, applies Neurolinguistic Programming “presuppositions” to the art of developing more successful human-equine partnerships. NLP Presupposition 5, ‘Having a choice is better than not having a choice’ suggests a better way to approach human-equine stalemate situations.

WHEN we feel we don’t have a choice it arouses strong feelings — helplessness, resentment, anxiety, disappointment, frustration, anger… We can feel like this when others have power over us, but also when we feel we should have power over others but don’t. Riders often fall into that latter group.

The horse may have reasons that make sense to him (see my first article in this series) for not doing what his rider asks. When a horse refuses, it might be because he has only been given a yes-no option. But even if he had been willing to say, “yes”, he might not have understood what “yes” meant, or had not seen it as important, or not seen it as achievable.

A stuck situation suggests that both partners lack choice. There is always a “why” in such stalemates but how do you crack the impasse? What NLP researchers found was that the person who has the greatest flexibility of thought and behaviour in any situation has the most choices — and therefore potentially the most influence. You are the rider so you should be that person — if you like, you are the ‘adult’ in the relationship!

Since it was not the horse’s idea to have someone on its back, or be taught a message system it didn’t need in the wild, it is our responsibility as riders to develop our flexibility. In terms of thinking, this means we need to let go of, or at least modify, some of the beliefs that we may have. ‘He needs to be submissive.’ ‘He must accept the bit.’ ‘He ought to move off the leg.’ ‘He has to know who is master.’ ‘At his age he should be able to’ …

Our horse Mouse likes to learn a bit at a time. Although he is now 20, he still tends to repeat a movement he’s just done on one rein by offering it on the other. As far as he’s concerned, that’s what you do when you’re learning, right?

We need to learn to imagine ourselves into his experience, to step with him before attempting to ‘lead’ him. Is he sluggish today because he was out all night racing about with his mates in the field? Is she bad-tempered because she’s just been clipped and feels cold? Every day is a different start if you are a horse (and quite often if you are a human, too!).

I’m just beginning qi gong classes and finding out how difficult it can be to learn a new pattern of co-ordination, create specific poses and turn them into a flowing sequence. A bit like a horse learning dressage! “I got my hind leg crossing over nicely, but I forgot my shoulders… I was rounding through my neck but I forgot about lifting my ribcage and tilting my pelvis…”

If I’m unlucky my teacher will give me exactly the same instructions that got me confused in the first place. Once more with feeling. And once more with failing!

We need to increase choice by asking ourselves questions like:

♦ Was that an “honest mistake” my horse made? If so, I should pretend I wanted what my horse has offered and ride on acceptingly for a while, rather than immediately correcting or punishing him
♦ Is he confused? Taking a pause will allow me to ask myself, “how could I make my wishes clearer next time?”
♦ Was he showing me a “try” even though he isn’t able or confident enough to do the whole thing? Did I remember to reward the try in some way?
♦ Have I gone too quickly in trying to teach him this?
♦ What kind of a learner is he? Does he like to have a bash and get the general idea, with polishing and refining afterwards, or does he feel more confident if we deconstruct the process and help him learn a bit at a time and build gradually?

If the horse’s way is not the way I learn personally, I have to make more of an effort to understand him and his way of learning. 

♦ What additional strategies of aiding do I know that might help him? Could it help this time to add or subtract from the aids I used?
♦ How can I use my working patterns in the arena as allies to help make it easier for him to “do the right thing”? For example, using corners to provide a natural half-halt or to create bending which then leads naturally into half-pass or active weight-bearing steps from the inside-hind that will then support shoulder-in*
♦ Can I consult a more experienced friend, a trainer, video, book, to find the extra options that might help take us forward?

Developing our range of choices opens up more options for those we interact with. Successful influence is about using ourselves in ways that make situations two-way not one-way and allows others to feel they are being listened to and respected. This is when horses — and people — can feel able to “think forward” and become truly “engaged” in their partnerships with us. This is what allows them to accept our influence willingly: they sense it is in their interest, not just in ours.

*See Charles de Kunffy’s ‘Training Strategies for Dressage Riders: Manège Patterns’ for an excellent training reference

© Out and About Dressage Ltd, 1 February 1018

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