For what started out partially as a blog to chronicle my journey with Honor, my Arab/Quarterhorse gelding, my posts have been quite lacking in horse-related updates lately. So today I think I'll remedy that.
Honor is a pretty boy--a bright red dun, slick and shiny and brave as they come. He also needs some work on his ground manners, because no one wants a 1000-pound animal with very hard hooves stepping on their feet or bumping into them because he's too busy looking for grass and is clueless as to his affect on those around him--namely me. He's been on a nine-month vacation and reminds me of a teenage boy who just sort of grew up without much instruction: a whole lot of energy but a bit deficit in the department of social graces.
In the world of horses, it's commonly said that the one who moves the feet is in charge. That means if I'm moving to get out of his way, he's calling the shots. Not only does this make for sore toes, it can spell disaster in the saddle, for if a horse won't listen to you on the ground, he sure isn't going to be very tuned in when you're on his back.
So I'm working with him on basics--yielding to the leadrope without stepping on your leader. Standing still while getting feet cleaned out. Paying attention to the person holding your halter rope instead of dodging the noise off the the left, right or behind you, and I'm doing it through communication, horse style--teaching him to respect me, my space bubble, and pay attention to what I'm asking him to do. Whoa when I say whoa. Move when I ask him to. Stand still when it is time. It's really all about letting him know what is expected of him, how what he's doing is working for me, and being patient and understanding with hiim in the process.
I find it not so very different from human communication, actually, and Honor is like far too many of us-growing up with little or no instruction in how to make known what's happening inside us and what we need from other people. People long for connection, but often when they get close, they end up getting stepped on or stepping on the very person they're seeking to connect with. It's time for some remedial work! For Honor, this looks like me walking along beside him, pulling his attention back to me if it strays, poking him in the shoulder to move him out of my bubble if he moves into it, and teaching him to listen to me.
For people, we're probably not going to lead them around with a rope, prod them to get them to move over, and twitch their lead rope when their attention strays. But communication? Definitely need that. It's time to leave off the non-verbals--the sighs, the withdrawal, the angry or sad eyes (that don't work very well as communication tools anyway). Just say it. I'm feeling _____________ because ___________. I need ____________________--will that work for you?
It also sounds a lot like boundaries. Sometimes people don't know how to treat us in a way that safeguards our hearts. We keep hoping they'll just "get it," but like Honor, they have yet to learn effective communition or to pay attention to how they may be affecting others, so they continue in default mode--which is usually to reflect whatever type of communication style they grew up with--trying to get their needs met. Often, the truth is that we ourselves may not be much better than the other guy at communicating the inside stuff. Not only does this errode connection in our relationships, drain the pleasure and inject fear into the relationship, it's just a painful way to go through life!
How much better, no matter how scary or foreign, to work on ground manners: to communicate what we're expecting or what we need and begin to expect the same from others. Instead of an angry, blaming bluster to get a controlling person to back off, just kindly and patiently giving them some good information with which they can adjust their approach if they want to be with us. Rather than feeling stepped on and unseen, and hoping someone will notice our misery, we can take what's inside and share it in such a way that the other person gets the message without feeling trampled themself.
Groundwork: It's helping Honor's manners, and it's really saving my toes!