Learning to Trust our Instincts

Posted in: Classical Equitation, Clicker Training, Stories & Thoughts, The Journey – Dancer

Do you trust what your instincts are telling you?

Balance That Clicks!

Balance That Clicks!

I was tidying up my emails recently, and I came across an email I wrote quite some time ago now.

I thought I would share it because I know how tough it can be to trust our instincts and our inner feelings. It really does take a great deal of inner confidence to achieve, especially when we are often ostracised for doing so. Maybe it will be helpful to others, to know you are not alone.

“Thanks for your reply, its so nice to know that I am not alone in my beliefs of how much horses can teach you about yourself and how to be true to oneself and others around you.

I have also been on the most amazing journey with my mare. She had been badly treated (although not as badly as some). She still trusted humans, but knew they could inflict pain very easily. Her natural reaction was to panic and she was in a pre-flight state the whole time. I of course had no idea of any of this – though nothing was working with her. I loved her to bits and she clearly wanted to trust me, but I was just another one of those humans who was still inflicting pain on her without really thinking about it.

Dancer in the school

I used to have lessons with a dressage instructor, and one day I finished a lesson nearly in tears, even though the audience was ooh-ing and ah-ing, quite blown away by how well my mare was going. Despite this, all I could do was feel terrible and so sad. I just did not feel right in my heart. I actually felt quite sick after every lesson. I was taking from my horse. She was clearly unhappy and had a niggling back problem which I knew was a big sign of something being very wrong. She was SO unhappy in her left canter, she would pin her ears and pull her nose right back when I asked and buck. The instructor’s voice still rings in my ears – “use more rein, be stronger with your leg – she is simply being naughty – it will get better the more you practice it.”

It hadn’t got any better at all up to this point, in fact I felt something was seriously wrong.  I went home and decided I was going to listen to my heart and my horse and try to understand what she was trying so valiantly trying to tell me. I have made it my mission ever since to learn all I can about how a horse should move correctly and how a rider can ride softly and gently to create lightness in both themselves and their horse to produce harmony which hurts neither.

I now ride bitless, treeless and my mare is also shoeless. They are such sensitive creatures if we allow them to be, they can learn to respond to the lightest of light aids.

But as you too have experienced, it’s not about just the horses. My relationships in all areas of life have totally changed – I can fully understand another’s perspective even if I don’t agree with it myself. I never really had much patience as a youngster but I now seem to have never ending amounts! I look for the good in everything and recognise the smallest try, no matter how tiny it may be. As a result, I generally feel pretty positive about everything.”

At the time of writing the email presented here, I had come across a trainer who I believed could help Dancer and I. I had contacted him via email and explained, at length, about what I was looking for, and my belief that it was possible to achieve lightness, harmony, balance and collection bitless and without coercion or force. I was hoping that due to his history and experience, he would be able to help me.

I didn’t receive a reply and he never returned my phone calls. I then saw him at a competition a few weeks later and asked him if he had received my email and calls. He seemed a little uncomfortable, couldn’t remember whether he had got my email and then asked where my yard was. It was a very awkward conversation which left me confused and rather upset. 

A few days later, I began to understand why he had behaved in such a way towards me. It turned out he had received my emails and calls and also knew exactly where my yard was…he had been there just a couple of weeks before to teach someone else! I can only assume that for whatever reason he had decided that he didn’t want to work with us.

“Sadly many people in the world have not learnt how to free themselves from the weight of their egos or to listen to their own inner voice and let it guide them. They fear change.

I love the following quote and I try to keep it in mind especially in the face of adversity: “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

My mare now truly trusts me and I feel so privileged it’s untrue. She still has memories and areas which she finds hard; as you say they don’t forget their past – but the trust they can form with us helps them to deal with those memories… and when this trust is fostered between you both over time, these are the horses who make living in this hard world one of the most amazing experiences one could dare dream possible.

I have learnt so much from her but only because I had the confidence to dare to stop, take a breath and truly listen to what she was trying to say. She has rewarded me a million times over since!

It really is about listening to your gut feel, your heart, your soul… isn’t it!?

I truly believe that if something feels right, it is – things are meant to happen for a reason, mostly one we have no clue about at the time. However, if it’s right it will present itself, or something inside you will guide you to it, if you can learn to listen to the ‘pearl of light’ within you.

We all have a pearl of goodness/light inside each and every one of us. Most people just don’t know its there, they have never learnt to (or allowed themselves to) listen to it deep in the depths of their souls. You have to learn to be able to be very quiet in order to be able to hear it – but most of all you have to listen.

You and I have found our pearl of goodness and let it guide us. This is how you can offer so much to your gorgeous horses – they are simply following this light. They feel safe and know they can trust you.

It’s the most wonderful thing in the entire world, and I wouldn’t change it for anything!!”

Thank you so much to the recipient of this email! Our conversations were a fundamental catalyst for so much of what has happened since.

Jo Hughes