Viewing Environmental Influences As Learning Opportunities

As I was finishing up my session with Takoda late one afternoon, I was mulling over the main topics of the conversation that I just had with this 4yr old Hanoverian Mustang that I am taking through my horse development program.

Despite his interesting combination of skeptic and curiosity there is a main thread that runs through each session–confidence, or I should say, the lack there of.   Takoda lacks confidence in himself, his human leader, his environment, and in learning situations. All these things make it a challenge to balance all aspects during a session. I will write more on that in a later post.

In this post I would like to discuss, albeit just scraping the surface of the topic, some of the challenges and advantages of environmental influences and how they can benefit us as we develop ourselves and our horses.

At times it is all to easy to stay in the familiar places where we know we will be successful. It may be the arena, round corral, and the same trails. We like this because it is consistent, predictable and it gives us confidence as we develop as horsemen and horsewomen.
On the whole is good to be safe and have confidence.  But there comes a time when we need to change something in order to stretch both ourselves and our horses.  Move out of the comfort zone, and into the learning zone.

This is what I did today with Takoda. Yesterday I set up the round corral outside after having the panels in the indoor arena for the winter. So today I took advantage of the new location of the round corral and had the session outdoors. This in and of itself was enough to cause Takoda’s confidence to be tested. He has been making great progress over the last few sessions and so this was a great opportunity to challenge us even more and see how things progressed in a new environment.

Key Factors I Focus On:

Confidence, actively relaxing and connection were the key factors I chose to focus on and be aware of in the session. As the wind picked up so did the degree of difficulty.  But this is why I love what I do–horse development. It is mentally, emotionally and physically challenging…and I love it.


During the early days of my horsemanship journey it was emphasized that if something wasn’t going well, or wasn’t working as it should, then one of the first three foundation games were broken.

Having a confident, dominate horse meant that 99% of the time it was an issue with him not yielding willingly, with lightness and flow to my requests. That is the exact opposite of what Takoda was giving. If something isn’t working it is because he lacks confidence in one of the four areas mentioned previously.
Challenge today, Confidence:

The challenge today was in the area of his confidence in his environment. So I went right back to the very basics.  I spent a great deal of the session focusing on him relaxing, not simply physically standing still but mentally and emotionally relaxing. This is when you get the biggest changes.

Although the change in location was enough to create a less than desirable shift in his behaviour, I am a big believer in rolling up my sleeves and diving into a problem to solve it. It is much more efficient and, quite frankly, I find it fun. Today was no different.

The remainder of the session was spent in various ways addressing the issue of Takoda not just tolerating but actually relaxing and connecting with me.


Important to Expose Horse and Human to New Things:

Whether you enjoy the challenge of things getting a bit, and sometimes a lot, messy, or if you’d rather things stay calm and a low stress level, it is important for both you and your horse’s development that you purposely put effort into exposing your horse to new things, places, and situations.  This will increase your leadership, communication skills and over all benefit the relationship with your horse.

It will get uncomfortable.  It will very likely be mentally and emotionally straining for you.  But the difference that you will see in your horse after successfully bringing him to a new level of confidence in you as his leader, in himself, in his environment and as a learner, will be worth it.

Success and Sweat:

As a closing thought I want to leave you with this quote “Success isn’t given. It is earned. On the track, on the field, in the gym. With blood, sweat and the occasional tear.”  Nothing worth doing is going to be easy. But just take it one step at a time. One session. Be in the moment. Find the help and support that you need and don’t be afraid to allow things to get a bit messy. There is hope of growth waiting on the other side.

Let’s talk.  Are you brave enough to change things up environmentally to see what your horse thinks?  Are you ready and able to handle his responses to the change?

One thought on “Viewing Environmental Influences As Learning Opportunities

  1. I think that it can be overwhelming to have both horse and human out of their comfort zones at the same time. I suppose this is why young horses need a skilled human and older horses can teach unskilled humans. Takoda and his human are blessed to have you training him for her. Excellent article.


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