The importance of paying attention

Carolyn Carter
Feather Publishing

  Training horses comes with its share of difficulties. There is an endless list of hidden secrets, and farfetched theories that normal people wouldn’t even want to grasp if they could. Yet, I try continuously to conquer those difficulties to the point where I am caught in this purgatory between thinking like a normal person and thinking like a horse.

  The challenge with being a horse trainer and being a normal civilian is that I want to take short cuts with everything I do in order to be proficient as possible. But, in taking short cuts that means I’m not paying attention to every factor of my training. I will miss something. I will end up creating more problems by my need for human efficiency.

  Horse training has changed my life. When I first started with it, I quickly learned that everything deserved my attention. Suddenly my power of observation skyrocketed, and not just with horses, but with people too.

  A lot of the really good trainers out there will come off as weird and socially awkard. I think it’s because they are so sensitive to other living beings that they know they are reading a lot more about that person than that person is actually intending.

  I’ve learned that people in general are not especially in touch with the signals they are sending off. Signals like the need to look down when talking to a person, the need to talk louder when uncomfortable or the need to cross their arms when trying to create a blockade. These all mean a lot to someone who is trained to pay attention to the survival instincts of another animal.

  I’m not saying I’m a great trainer. I’m learning every day. Horses make me hypersensitive to people, and it’s strange to me when people can’t reiterate those little signals I might purposefully give off.

  I love watching horses talk to us through their silent instinctual communication. It takes such a power of observation. It’s a great thing to tap into because it means that for once I am paying attention.

  I love seeing what direction their ears are pointing; if they’re at me it means that much more. I love seeing them lick their lips, showing me they are content with the situation they are in.

  I love reading into every little message the horse might be sending, and then linking it to the outside factors that make it send off those messages. It all creates a “horse trainer rush” that normal people would think we’re crazy for constantly seeking out.

  If I don’t pay attention it could have detrimental consequences to my riding, whether it is me getting bucked off or my horse taking huge steps back in its progression. The idea of paying attention is such an important concept to a trainer that it leaks into the rest of our lives.

  However, I can’t decide if I am grateful for that or not.

  Often I will get easily disappointed in a person, because I sent a signal that wasn’t received. We as trainers literally have to mind-read. Horses cannot speak, so we have no other option but to listen to their nonverbal communication. I struggle with remembering that everyone else is just not as sensitive to nonverbal communication in the same way.

  When I send what I believe is a perfectly clear signal that somehow translates to something important, and the intended recipient doesn’t register it, it can be so frustrating. I think, How was that not clear? I blinked twice and tapped my left pinkie; do you want me to put in on a billboard?

  Well, people aren’t horses. They have completely different instincts. We are predators for starters, so our power of observation is minimal compared to an animal that runs from predators for survival.

  There is still so much that I don’t see — in my horse world and the real world. But I now understand that I need to just look, and I hope that makes a difference.

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