Subject: Respond or React, Responsive or Reactive

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What we think about when we ride will make all the difference.  Believe in both yourself and your horse, for greatness is always there, just waiting to flow freely.
Respond or React
I was recently reading about the difference between reacting and responding. The writing was referring to human interactions but I couldn't help but think about this subject and it's relation to the horse and human. The observation was, for the lesson, that when a person reacts to someone or something they are in fact giving up their control in the situation. When we react we are giving our control to the other person or the horse. You may have read one of our articles on the importance of being able to move your horses feet, and the equal importance of not ever allowing him to move your feet. We teach that allowing the horse to move your feet is signaling to the horse that he is in fact in charge, whether you intended that or not, and I'd guess, not. When I find myself reacting to my horse, he is in essence, moving my feet. And believe me he doesn't feel good about you when he gets the message that he is in charge. I might add here that if both people, or both the human and the horse are being reactive, none are truly in control. Self discipline and knowledge are key and strength here. Think about it for a moment. When have you ever witnessed a person yelling or being reactive and at the same time being in control?

Years ago while living near Sheridan Wyoming and teaching in the one room Kearney School, I was in need of shoeing for a new team of draft horses I had purchased and I was planning to have them pull my chuck wagon on the Wyoming Centennial Wagon Train. My friend Raymond Hutson suggested I take the girls to Jack Sipe. I had heard that Jack could be pretty hard on the horses and asked Raymond if he had any other ideas. Raymond told me that that had been true of Jack but that he had changed and assured me that my experience would be a positive one. Well I took the advice and made an appointment with Jack. I was very impressed with Jack's handling of my team from start to finish. Not only did he get them shod very well but it was truly a very positive and enjoyable experience for all of us. What I saw that day was nothing like I had heard and I shared that with Jack as we sat and visited for a bit. He proceeded to tell me a story of how he was a bit crude (reactive in my words) with many horses in the past but that he got an “education” from some draft horses that “made” him rethink his ideas. He said something like this: “Those draft horses wouldn't put up with my crap and I had to sit down and think of another way.” He then decided to get along with the horses and I think that must have changed his life. For those of you familiar with the drafts, you are aware that many are trimmed and shod only using a confining stocks. Jack refused to use stocks as he believed and proved that any horse can learn to be shod while standing freely. Jack was creating responsiveness and trust in the horses as he progressed with the shoeing process. Through being responsive himself, Jack was very positively adjusting to fit his otherwise uncomfortable situation.

Sally & Sue and my Kearney School kids

Buffalo, WY
Find a way to be responsive and you will build responsiveness into your horse. I often suggest to my clients, when they are feeling like they are not getting from the horse what they think they should, to take a break and think about finding another way. Find that way or take that break before you go into reactive mode. Be in no hurry to get it done, and you will be surprised how the trust between you will build. When I see or deal with a reactive horse, I do my best to do a little more thinking and I try to find a good way to respond to that horse or that situation. Many times the reactive horse can be traced back to a reactive human. Perhaps that person is in the past but the horse may not believe at this point that all of us aren't that way. We need to take more time with this guy and if we do, we will make progress. When we are reactive towards the horse, and I might add that anytime we see a person being reactive to the horse we are also seeing a person out of control. I've been there myself and I've found that knowledge is the answer. When we find a way to respond rather than react, we get along a lot better, and the horse is much more willing to try for us. We do not have to be offering our request perfectly but we do want to be offering in a way that would create a healthy and trust building response. So when we are finding that we aren't getting it done, we all have the ability to react to situations and we all have the ability to respond to that same situation. So next time you are feeling reactive, or you notice your horse being reactive, sit for a moment or longer and find a good way to be responsive. You will both be happier and trust will start to develop in a whole new way.

Happy Tails, Robert
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The Horse Fellowship LLC
Robert and Janet Phinney

PO Box 4, Dayton, WA 99328, United States
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