Sunday, March 5, 2023

Foundations for Becoming the Leader Your Horse Needs (Part Three of ‘The Horse, The Environment, and You’)

By Mary Gallagher

Starting a 2-year old with the Boundary Box
In my last two posts, I discussed you and your horse in relation to the environment (‘out there’),
boundaries (between you and your horse), and most importantly, your ability to ‘observe, observe, observe’ and see your horse experiencing you in the environment, and respecting your boundaries (or not).

With a level of safety established by our increased awareness, we can start talking about communication. Your body language is a big part of setting healthy boundaries, being safe, and becoming the leader your horse needs.

If you have read my previous posts, you already know that I like to start with a boundary box. It’s a simple concept, but deep in terms of how much you can accomplish, and how challenging it really is to do well and grow your practice.

The basics: The horse is on the outside, and the human is on the inside.
Walking beside your horse in both directions at a walk teaches you how to change your horse’s direction, manage your equipment, and keep your horse out of your space (as I’ve pointed out, horses will continually test, and boundaries are a favorite).  As we get better at switching directions while keeping the horse out of the box and managing our equipment, we can begin to retreat towards the center of the box while the horse stays outside, and repeat the same exercises from this greater distance.

A lot of communication can be lost when the distance is greater. We thought it was working so well, but might find out that we are not as connected as we thought—that is the beauty and purpose of the box. The boundaries give the horse and the human visual support, and can be expanded for greater learning. You really see and experience how consistent you have to be to maintain the boundaries while in motion.

Moving on from simply walking, we can ask for a forequarter yield, hindquarter yield,  back up, step away, and move forward. These simple moves become less simple, given a bit of distance and a boundary to be respected. On the other hand, as we master each increase of distance, our leadership is reinforced. As the horse gets more comfortable taking direction and more sure that stepping in the box is not an answer, and the human gets more precise and consistent in giving direction, our leadership grows.

Working with a 2-year old in a safe environment--the round pen--using the boundary box. This is an authentic, first time encounter of the young horse with the boundary box. I narrate the process as we go.
As our leadership develops, the horse begins to feel safer. Then we can test ourselves by taking the poles of the boundary box away and see if our communication holds up with an invisible boundary. From there we can experiment with longer lines and obstacles and speed to add variety.

How does this relate to the leadership gauge? The box sets up a space where we can easily experience the green zone: boundaries are clear, we are connected and easily begin to cooperate and communicate. When we increase the distance and things are not so clear, we may experience our own mushy boundaries, and the horse may get curious and step a foot across the pole, putting us in a sort of yellow zone. It’s a safe discomfort that we can work with and learn from. We don’t want to endlessly repeat the easy stuff, nor do we want to rush out and stress ourselves and the horse by taking on too much distance or discomfort in the environment.

Using the box to experiment with the yellow zone to accelerate our own growth and learning is a great way to progress. Dealing with our own as well as the horse’s discomfort and comfort in manageable steps is a way that we can grow our leadership safely.

The Leadership Gauge by Mary Gallagher

More about the Leadership Gauge:

The Horse, the Environment, and You (Part One)

The Leadership Gauge (The Horse, the Environment, and You, Part Two)

More about the Boundary Box:

Leadership Learning With the Boundary Box

Leadership Learning With the Boundary Box, Part Two: Safety and Emotional Fitness

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