Anticipation or Adaptation?
I’ve been noticing that as humans we distinguish between planning to do something, and actually doing it. I’ve also noticed that we spend large amounts of time on the former and sometimes zero on the latter.
Horses don’t make that distinction. They are either doing something or not. So when we are riding, if we are kinda sorta thinking about perhaps sometime maybe someday trotting, and our horse trots? Technically, the horse just got the correct answer. We can celebrate how smart, willing and tuned in they are.
Usually what happens is we get frustrated, pull on the reins and holler “My horse is anticipating me!”
As if this is a bad thing.
Really what is happening is two fold: we have either (knowingly or unknowingly) repeated a pattern and the horse is following it, or we spent so much time planning before asking that the horse just went ahead and did it. As I see it, this is great. Wonderful even. We have chosen to get to know a creature who, by some miracle, not only appears to be uber talented at reading us but is willing to go along with our plan.
Think about it: if you knew what your co-workers or friends wanted to do; if it was clear as day and was being telegraphed every second and you heard and felt it, would you want to go along with their every plan?
Horses do this. All the time. They are hardwired to get along, to be as peaceful as they can be about it, and to look for ways to work within the flow of what is happening at any given moment.
I think most of us would agree that horses are really good at connecting. They are also Masters of Patterns. If you show them something the same way often enough, they will start to rely on and trust the pattern. It’s part of their evolutionary makeup: knowing the route to get to water or food, or a shady spot on a hot and blistering day was how they survived in their environment. It’s how they still survive, even though their roaming area is usually much smaller than their predecessors. And they have room service (i.e. humans).
Many years ago, a horse’s roaming area was vast. I wasn’t there when horses weren’t any bigger than Great Danes, but my guess is many of the same things that happened then, happen now. Mountains don’t get up and walk away. Rivers may dry up, but given enough rain, they will flow in roughly the same area. Grassy plains stretch for hundreds of miles and though subject to wildfire or drought, it was rare that it happened to the whole area. If there were big changes, the horses did what horses do best. They moved until they found somewhere more hospitable.
Once we brought horses into our lives, they lost the ability to seek out a different environment. We are their environment; we are the food providers, we decide the how and what and why and when every day for them.
We may be experts at thinking and it may have brought us this far, but horses are masters of feeling and responding, and making sure they stay alive.
All of this is to say, that we have a mountain of untapped potential residing right outside in the paddock.
We can work with their vast skill and knowledge or try to change or fight it. Either way, the horse will go on being a horse and they will find comfort in their life, or they won’t. Interacting with horses isn’t always easy, and we don’t always get it right. I do believe though that if we make acting more and thinking less a priority, we can get farther and become closer with our horses than even we can anticipate.
Photos: Crissi McDonald