I am privileged enough to not only be a high school student but also a student of horsemanship. Training and riding horses requires a great deal of commitment, however, I value this commitment greatly. By practicing my passion, I have learned many things about myself that have shaped my attitude towards learning and my future.
In order to work with horses, an understanding of the link between a horse’s psychology and physiology is imperative.
The model of horsemanship that I follow has three major "components" that are interconnected and are used interchangeably according to the situation at hand. These are: confidence, yielding, and tasks.
A horse's primary motivation is safety, and this is the only problem in interacting with a horse; it simply has many facets. Confidence in the immediate [the personal bubble of a horse] and external [the surroundings] environments is required. This allows a horse to be comfortable enough with a human as well as their surroundings; the horse is able to respond to certain stimuli that correspond to a yield. Horses look for security, and when they find it, they attach positive connotations to it. This is how they learn.
Yielding is the act of developing a certain action associated with a cue. A confident yield becomes a cue for a smaller stimulus. You develop this until the slightest stimulus incites a positive and powerful response from the horse.
Confidence and yields are used together to achieve tasks — practical applications of yields. In order to do tasks, these other aspects need to be developed well. All of horsemanship is confidence, yielding, and tasks in more places with the horse at higher energy — moving faster and using its body in the most efficiently powerful way.
But, it is not an easy process. I have often found myself stuck and unsure of what to do with my horse, but this is a gift in disguise. Despite many situations involving tears of frustration, I have had to come to appreciate that sometimes you will be alone and nobody can help you, so in order to get a job done you just have to do it to your best ability. When you are galloping towards a fence you cannot just think, “We can work on this a bit more tomorrow…” You cannot get there; you have to be there.
Nevertheless, this does not mean one cannot get help along the way! I have mentors who guide me along the path of horsemanship notwithstanding that often in the process of learning you meander to and from the path, making the process longer but more beneficial to your own understanding.
In sum, horsemanship teaches the worth of mental and physical strength, empathy, self-examination, confronting failure, and recognizing success — all of which are qualities that apply to other spheres of life. But my experiences with horses have also foregrounded that one has to give oneself permission to be a student; nobody can experience it for you.
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