Our horses as mirrors

racehorse Aqueduct

Tom's Thunder, in career #1

Today’s Guest Post is from Katrina Clay, an OTTB owner and rider. 

As publisher of a regional holistic magazine, I can tend towards what may be referred to as ‘woo woo.’ I also have a practical side that believes only in the rational. Sometimes these opposites clash, but more often they work together to find the rational within the ‘woo woo.’

Working with my OTTB (Tom’s Thunder, aka Tom) gives me ample opportunities to do this—as Tom rationally mirrors my energetic effort back to me. So here’s the ‘woo woo’ part, because horses are responding to what we put out there, behind our words, rather than any façade we construct with the ‘right’ use of techniques; they show us our deep-seated beliefs, as well as our true nature.

 Let me give an example. Tom was on the track for five years, making almost half a million dollars. Pretty successful, wouldn’t you say? That tells us that Tom knows how to train and participate in work. When arriving at the barn, it is likely I’ll get a welcoming nicker and he always come to the gate to meet me. I often sit on the ground while he eats grass right alongside me. It is heartwarming when he chooses to be near me while free to roam wherever he wants. However, get us in the ring working, and he sometimes loses interest in me. Again, his race schedule indicates that he knows how to train, so what does it say about me? It shows I lack conviction when requesting work from him.

Left loose, Tom still chooses my company.

I understand myself well enough to know that I learned, early on, that asking something of a friend often leads to resentment, conflict, and/or disappointment. This false belief can cloud the presentation of my requests from coming out purely and confidently, as there is a bit held back to avoid any negative feelings. And that is how Tom responds—held back. Does knowing this make it easy to change? No, but it does makes it easier than it would be if I did not see the full issue.

 Another example has happened probably hundreds of times, but one time in particular it hit home. It was winter, so Tom and I were riding in the indoor. I asked him to soften and he responded by softening. I happily said “good job” and as soon as those words were out of my mouth, he stopped. The second I recognized what this was telling me, I burst out laughing. For that must be what I do in life, stop or give up when I hear praise. Obviously I do it with Tom when I give praise too, because this was not only an energetic reflection, but also a learned response. Just as a horse can be trained to stop with the word “whoa,” they can also be taught to stop with the words “good job” if that is what you do every time you say it.

These are two somewhat negative examples. So, it could be added that Tom is a barn favorite among the humans. I like to think this is a reflection of me being a barn favorite among the horses!

Our horses will reflect our beliefs, perceptions, and body posture all day long. It is our responsibility to see this in all of our interactions. That said, it is wise to remember that horses are individuals, and should be accountable for their behavior. However, by paying close attention to how our actions are aff

ecting our horses—in every way, not only the obvious ones—we are being given the opportunity to practice a variety of spiritual truths. The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, best describes one of those truths as: “Peace in ourselves, peace in the world.”

Or in my words: “Peace in ourselves, peace in our horses.”

Thoroughbred and human

Katrina Clay and Tom's Thunder

Katrina Clay is publisher of The Healing Springs Journal, located in upstate New York.

She has two blogs, howithelpedmyriding.blogspot.com “Reflections from an Analytical Rider,” and atreesvoice.com (which is mostly nature related rather than horses.)

She admittedly has not kept up the first blog, but thinks it may be time to change that.



Filed under Success Stories, Training Theory

4 responses to “Our horses as mirrors

  1. If you’re interested in the funny ways we react to praise, you might try Carol Dweck’s “Mindset”. She’s a social science/neurological researcher and has done some fascinating stuff on what happens when you say “Good Job” instead of “you must have worked so hard”.

  2. I love this post and can so relate! Horses are incredible mirrors and have taught me so much about myself. My OTTB sounds very similar to Tom and I have a similar sort of reaction to asking him to do things as you… it’s so nice to see that I’m not the only one. 🙂 I love the part at the end about “good job” meaning “all done.” And, I agree with Jennie’s comment above… the way positive feedback is given is so important and yet, so difficult to do.

    I hope you keep up your horse blog… I’d love to hear more from you on this subject!

  3. Check out http://www.forbes.com/sites/teresagenaro/2012/03/06/hansen-brings-hope-to-retired-racehorses/ for an excellent article on Hansen and how his owners are helping bring recognition and donations to ex-racehorses!