The Power of Intention
It is the intention behind our actions, not the actions themselves, that determines the results we experience. The power of intention is a central part of Gary Zukav's teaching in Seat of the Soul, and it has very practical and meaningful implications in our lives and in our work with horses.
As Gary explains, "Intentions are one with cause and effect." A positive, loving intention will bring about positive results. A negative or egocentric intention will carry with it a particular energy frequency which will bring negative results. If we look underneath any choice to act, we will see the underlying intention and motivation driving this choice. Peeling back the layers, we'll find the deepest root of the intention is based in either love or fear, unity consciousness or separation. One evokes cooperation, the other opposition. While the external action may appear the same on surface level, it is the underlying motivation that determines whether that choice will bring peace and harmony to ourselves and others, or create more division and opposition.
Horses are natural "Lie detectors." They are authentic beings, and when someone in their presence is not authentic it makes them uneasy. No matter how you are acting on the outside, the horse can feel what's really going on under the surface - even when you yourself may not be conscious of it. If your intention with your horse is to prove yourself, or to dominate and control (all ego driven intentions), they will sense this and respond as prey animals to your predatory energy, regardless of what you are physically doing. If your intention is a meaningful partnership and true connection with your horse, your horse will feel safe and trusting in your presence and open to engaging with you. Notice the way your horse responds when you are carrying an underlying intention of force or ego vs. when you are fully present, just enjoying the moment together. Outwardly, you may be doing the same "activity" but your underlying energy will have a bigger impact on the results of that activity than your actions themselves.
The same is true when we feel pressed for time while with our horses- they sense our inner urgency as pressure, and often react to this by being unsettled and uncooperative. Monty Roberts wisely points out,
"If you go at it like you have 5 minutes, it might take you all day. But if you go at it like you have all day, it might take you 5 minutes."
Two recent farrier experiences with my mares spotlighted the importance of our intentions. Both mares are 4 year old TB's, and had been with me only 4 weeks at the time of their appointment with "Farrier One." Neither horse had given me any trouble with crossties or picking up their feet for cleaning until after their experience with this farrier. Though this person's technical skills had earned her a good reputation, her energy was aggressive and dominating. The mares were nervous around her, and her impatience and gruffness with them - followed by high-pitched phony baby talk - made them even more nervous. To make matters worse, both the farrier and I were on a tight schedule that morning. The energy was feeling increasingly edgy, and really blew up when the farrier put Tiara's right front foot on the stand. Tiara had recently recovered from a severely bowed tendon in this leg, and the farrier hadn't tightened the stand appropriately so it gave way under Tiara's foot; the mare reacted with intense fear feeling the "ground give way" under a limb with a recent history of a similar over-stretch trauma, and started pulling back and thrashing her head back and forth trying to free herself of the crossties. We finally got her still enough to finish the job, but we were all a bit shaken and the farrier's impatience was intensified. Monica, who had been witness to all this, looked at me like I was feeding her to the wolves when I crosstied her next. I tried to breathe and be a calm presence for them, tried to stay out of judgement in my mind, but I don't think I was very successful. Monica, normally very low key and mild-mannered, gave this farrier "all kinds of trouble" (human interpretation... horse interpretation: "I'm uneasy, I don't trust you, and do you seriously think I want to give you control of one of my legs and let you take off part of my foot?!?") To make a long story short, neither of these mares had ever given me any issue with picking up their feet or with crossties before this experience, but afterwards they didn't even want to come into the barn much less let me crosstie them, and picking up feet suddenly became a big ordeal. The barn aisle and crossties now represented a negative experience for them, not a comfortable place as it had before, and I now had some damage I needed to undo. I worked on it diligently and daily, and got the help of a friend, in preparation for the next farrier appointment. Time crunch aside, Farrier One was not a good match for me or for my horses and I found someone else who I knew to be talented both in barefoot trimming and as a trainer in natural horsemanship.
Four weeks went by, and it was time for their next farrier appointment, which I scheduled for an afternoon when I had no place I needed to be afterwards. I admit I was a bit nervous after their last experience. But the new farrier quickly put us all at ease with his calm, patient demeanor. As he picked up each foot, he paused, patiently working with the horse to find comfort, waiting a moment to feel their agreement and trust in him before proceeding with his trimming. My mares were so comfortable with his approach to them, not only did they cooperate and relax, they both even yawned repeatedly! Farrier Two not only made all the difference in how well this appointment went for them (and him), but also undid the trauma induced by the previous person, leaving both horses feeling positively about having their feet handled.
Helping a horse to feel safe and comfortable in your presence is imperative not only to having a successful partnership, but for your own safety as well. A horse that stands still out of obedience and fear is not a "safe horse"- it is a bomb waiting to explode. The point in sharing my story is to demonstrate that our energy and intention make all the difference in how a horse feels in our presence and responds to us. It's not about what we're DO-ing, it's all about how we're BE-ing while we do it. Farrier One had an underlying aggression, impatience, and dominance that could not be disguised by her high pitched baby talk to the horses, and this was made worse by the fact that both she and I were pressed for time; the horses were uneasy and uncooperative for her. Farrier Two was inwardly and outwardly peaceful, creating an environment of safety and comfort, and inviting a cooperative partnership with the horses.
We can all learn from this: if you approach a horse with an internal intention to dominate, rush, or prove yourself, no matter how you might try to "sugar coat" it, the horse will sense your incongruency and won't trust you or feel safe around you. Before engaging with your horse, take a moment to center yourself. Check your attitude and intention. Breathe. Connect with your own body, breath, the ground under your feet. Then calmly proceed forward. You'll likely find your horse much more interested and willing to engage with you.