#6 A Broken Back (Part 2) The Power of Perspective

Jul 22, 2021

In Part 1, last week, of the Broken Back story, I shared several lessons I learned, or more accurately, with which I deepened my understanding. I'd like to share a few more with you this week. I'll start where I left off... 

Lesson #3- Knowing where your horse's mind is and changing the thought

After several yellow lights (see last week's blog for more on this concept) I was able to help Suede find forward along the rail- which had become a place of comfort for him over the past several months I'd been riding him. He started to relax- things were looking good. Then the rest of my herd (Lakota, Bobbie and Music) left the pasture near the arena and headed to the other side of the property. Suede's mind went with them. He got a bit more forward, his ears were laser focused toward the disappearing backsides of his 24-hour companions. I was aware of his desire to join the rest of the herd but the HUGE error I made was I didn't change his mind before I asked for the next thing. 

You might already know the importance of this, but I'm a learner who needs a lot of repetition and to have things presented in a variety of ways, so I'll share what I've come to understand about the importance of knowing where your horse's mind is.

When you make a request of your horse, their answer to your request is dependent on where their mind is. You might ask your horse to go forward and they start backing up- it's not because they forgot how to go forward (unless they haven't learned your cues for forward yet) it's because their mind is hooked on something behind them. The more you ask for forward, the more they back up. This can also be seen clearly during trailer loading. You ask your horse to take a step forward and they shoot backwards out of the trailer. This is because their mind was thinking OUT of the trailer and any pressure you put on them will add fuel to their thought. So... what to do? You've got to change the thought. 

The crucial error I made the day I broke my back was to not change Suede's thought and get his mind back with me before I made my next request. 

He walked directly into the corner of the arena (still thinking with the herd) and the next thing I asked brings me to...

Lesson #4 Adjust to fit the situation

Prior to the ride I'm describing, Suede's confidence had grown in big ways. He was starting to be able to think his way out of situations instead of needing my help every step of the way. He's a super sensitive little guy and had become really reactive when he came to me. Him thinking through pressure was a big deal. One thing I'd started doing was if I was riding the rail and he'd get stuck in the corner, I'd wait a moment and then squeeze to ask him forward and then he'd need to figure out how to go forward to get out of the corner- when he was relaxed and thinking inside the arena- his answer was to turn and continue following the rail. 

Well... you already know that he wasn't calm and relaxed that day (and I wasn't as present and calm as he needed me to be). His mind was out of the arena, wanting to follow the herd so when he got stuck in the corner- going back to what I had been practicing days before??? Probably not the best choice. 

Nope- it wasn't. He got to the corner, I squeezed- remember what I'd mentioned about adding fuel to where ever your horse's mind is already thinking? Yep, he put a huge surge of effort to leave the arena- like jump out of it. I was caught completely off guard AND off balance. I reached for the rein with a ton of energy- more energy than I'd ever used while riding him. I succeeded in turning him away from his jump attempt, which knocked my foot into the side of the arena and startled him even more. It was like one of those cartoons where the road runner takes off, leaving the coyote in mid air. I was the coyote. I landed hard on the cold November ground and ended up with a compression fracture in my L1 vertebrae. If you're going to bust a vertebrae, I've been told this is a good one to bust- so I had that going for me 😆

This brings me to the last lesson I wanted to share...

Lesson #5 The Power of Perspective

My back is now pretty much back to 100%. I can do everything I want to do and sitting is the only thing that causes discomfort- I've never been a huge fan of sitting anyway so it gives me a good excuse to walk out and hang out with my herd. 

I knew after the wreck that I needed more help with Suede. I also knew who I wanted to seek out. Although I was able to replay the events of the accident and see clearly where I went wrong- the intensity of Suede's response definitely showed me that I'd missed some crucial pieces in his restart.

By the way, if you've been in an accident with your horse or have had an incident that shook your confidence, one of the most powerful tools available to help you rebuild your confidence is visualization. Our brains want to replay the accident over and over in an attempt to keep us from repeating it. But it can often keep us in a state of fear. If you can take control of the visualization; replay it and then add a new ending based on knowledge you have or something you've learned, it can be a key step in getting back on the road to riding- if you choose.

All along after the accident happened, I knew there was a good chance that I wouldn't ride Suede again and it wasn't a sad thing for me- just an understanding that I might not have what it takes to help him become a safe riding partner. But... I was committed to him having a place in my herd no matter what and I was committed to continuing to learn from/with him. 

Enter the old cowboy I've mentioned in several other posts... His name is Charley Snell and he truly is a cowboy. He's been riding on ranches all his life. Quite a few years back he started teaching and sharing what he'd learned from horses and some great horsemen through the years. Ray Hunt is one of his biggest influences. I'd seen him teach at my friends' place (the Boehme Ranch) a couple years back and was impressed with him, how he handled the people in his care AND what he was doing with the horses. It felt familiar but different enough that I quickly saw he had some ways of looking at things that I wanted to learn. 

Here's where the power of perspective comes in... I've been at Charley's place in Bend, Oregon a couple of times now and have had my mind blown. On several occasions my brain felt a bit like a snow globe- the things I was seeing were shaking things up and I needed to give them time, space and quiet to settle into new levels of understanding. I had to use a ton of the exercise for Self Compassion that I shared a few weeks back to keep myself in a learning frame of mind. 

The things he's teaching me are helping me and Suede. I'm excited about the future. I'm also excited to share some of the lessons Charley is teaching me (which I will be doing over the next few weeks in these emails). 

Oops... I've taken a few side trips to get back to my point about perspective. I broke my back and it would be easy to feel disappointed, disgusted, frustrated, sorry-for-myself (and believe me, I've felt all of those things a time or two since it happened) but now I feel a huge sense of gratitude that I broke my back. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have had the push I needed to seek out Charley and study with him. He's a special man with a wealth of experience and a kind heart. He's caused me to shift my perspective about my back in a big way- and as I'm sure you've experienced in your own life- a shift in perspective can change your world. 

I'm looking forward to sharing more of the learning with you next Thursday when we look at the importance of teaching your horse to let go of a thought...

Maybe today or sometime this week, you might have something that comes up that causes a negative emotion- play with changing your perspective. I'd love to hear if you are able to and what it did for you (you can email me at [email protected]) Eventually, I'm going to figure out a way to allow comments on these posts- but for now, email works 😊. Thank you for being a part of this!

Have a great week!! 


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