What does “transition” really mean? Well, Webster’s Dictionary defines transition as follows: A) passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another. B) a movement, development, or evolution from one form, stage, or style to another.
In short, transition equates to change. In regards to our horses, we should take time to weigh the emotional challenges we and our horses experience when we engage in transitions.
Recently I have relocated from the Sierra Foothills of California to the Catskill region of New York. My horse went with me. During the period of transition, we had a short one month stay with friends in preparation for the big move across the country. I left a property on which I and my horse cohabitated, where I could see him every day and tend to his training and maintenance needs, to him being over an hour away from where I could only see him a couple of times each week. The horse had to find his place in the herd of five other horses and then make the seven-day haul across the country to do it all over again! To say there was emotional “angst” for both of us could be considered an understatement.
So how did my horse and I deal with the emotion of transition is this scenario? Well, it came down to consistency. I did what I could to keep his diet and his training consistent. I spent lots of time simply connecting with him and make every experience as positive as I could. I considered the spectrum of emotions known to exist in horses and made sure that kindness was at the top of my program “to do” list. I made sure I did not try to teach new things during this period of time and worked on refining what we both knew. My expectation of performance was also consistent given the situation. It was all about maintaining a balance. Once the “big move” was over we began to get back into a routine, still being consistent, and taking our time to build back up to what we had before the transition. Horses are adaptable to be sure but they also have an emotional spectrum that we, as their custodians and partners, need to recognize and listen to in order to give them the support they need in those times of major change in their lives and ours.
Now think about how the emotional triggers impact your horse when you are changing gaits or attempting to teach a new thing. Being prey animals, their first instinct is to survive the experience. Change equates to fright which then leads to flight or fright. Our task as the linear thinking partner is to use our empathy and ask for the changes with kindness, expecting the best while planning for the worst. When the horse fails to meet our request as we would like we have to step back and think about how we are making that request, in what context we are making the request and how that request is going to be a benefit to both horse and human. Yes, that sounds very “new age” but it is our patience, empathy, and consistency of thought, word, energy, and action that helps the horse feel “safe” in those times of transition, whether it be moving across country and attempting a new maneuver.
Consider your horse in all things. Consider the potential emotional reaction to changes. Support your horse through these changes with consistency, kindness, and fairness. Be a leader who leads by example and you can traverse the emotional spectrum of transition, no matter what its scope!
Thanks for reading!
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