Ask Like You Mean It
Horses don't like ambiguity. Humans are full of ambiguity. We often struggle to communicate. Eventually we muddle through. It is a credit to horses' gentle and forgiving nature that they continue to try to understand and work with us in spite of our ambiguity.
One of the exercises participants at H&PP (Horse and People Project) are guided through, is to ask the horse to lift up one of its legs. I explain that a horse, as a prey animal, relies on his/her ability to run if there is perceived danger. Horses in the wild would never give up a leg because that would make them vulnerable should a predator decide to attack. However, horses in captivity have learned to yield a leg to their owners when asked. During the round pen activity, when working one-on-one with one of our horses, many participants have a hard time getting the horse to yield its leg. As the facilitator, I often notice that the participant is not asking with intent; I often see a tentative, would-you-please-maybe-if-you-feel-like-it-and-if-not-thats-ok-too kind of approach, followed by relinquishing authority, frustration and insecurity when the horse completely ignores the request. This is when I say
Ask like you mean it.
Ask as if it is a foregone conclusion that you will soon have the leg in your hand. Ask with intention, with focus, with clarity. Ask with a positive attitude. And when you ask, FOLLOW THROUGH. Don't ask and withdraw. Ask until the leg is yielded and then you say thank you and release the leg. The follow through and release are actually just as important as the ask. An incomplete request can feel to the horse as a retreat. If the human retreats, the horse thinks he/she is in control.
If you ask like you mean it, you approach the horse, ask for his/her leg with clear intention and expectation, and DON"T stop asking until he/she gives the leg (follow through). Then you calmly release the leg. Ask, follow through, release. Mission accomplished. You were clear, start to finish and the horse respected that, gave its leg, and all was well.
What does this teach us? How often in life are we ambiguous? Does it serve us well? Can we all benefit from a little more clarity?
Ask like you mean it, follow through and release!