Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Working With the Individual

(This blog was originally posted on February 15, 2016)

My horse, Avalon's Galahad (front) and his brother,
the Lipizzan stallion Favory Alisa II (Amadeus)
Photo by Sara Fogan

Earlier this afternoon one of my good friends described how and why she has slightly different training approaches for each of her three horses. One of them responds well to body language, vocal and clicker instructions. He is a “thinker,” she said, and he will work to figure out what she wants and complete his “task” before he gets his reward. The other two, she said, would crash into themselves and her to get a treat, so she must adjust how she asks and make sure they understand what is expected of them and when. This makes complete sense to me.

Although my gelding, Avalon’s Galahad, receives the same training and handling as the other horses at the barn, he is definitely his “own horse.” Like them, he understands the aids for walking forward, stopping, transitioning up and down between gaits, backing up, standing still, etc. Like them, he also knows when I am on him and when our trainer is riding him, and what he can, cannot and will try to get away with depending who is on board. Galahad likes to really understand what he is being asked to do and why. If he thinks human error/confusion is going on, he tries his best to do what is being asked. If that still doesn’t make sense, he responds how he thinks the human up there on his back intended. To his credit, he understands the subconscious intent of his rider in terms of her body language. How she sits in the saddle or shifts her weight is one of the aids he correctly interpreted, based on his training. However, at that moment his rider’s conscious mind hadn’t caught up with her body (subconscious mind) and she didn’t actually ask for the movement she intended. So horse and rider try again: the rider asks the question more clearly and/or a little differently and checks how Galahad responds. Sometimes he is genuinely confused when he is learning a new movement; sometimes I give mixed signals when I ask for that transition down to a walk but my body keeps moving along with the rhythm of his very comfortable trot. He is probably thinking: What do you want, lady?

For example, before she ever put me on Galahad for a trial ride, my trainer had me ride her hunter (and Galahad’s brother), Ban. I knew the gelding understood what I was asking him to do, but he would not budge no matter how many clucks or squeezes I gave him. Ban knew his owner/trainer was not on him, and he was not going to move a hoof until she said to do so, at which point he became a (fairly) willing equine partner for an hour or so.

Granted, my horse is much more fluent speaking and understanding “Human” and body language than I am speaking Equus (horse). We share a mutual vocabulary in terms of the aids we use during ground-work and training in the saddle. Unlike his brother, Galahad is my horse; when I ask him to do something he will make a great effort to do answer my question as he understands it. We also enjoy a good rapport: mutual respect, trust, improving communication and to like and even enjoy each other’s company. I know and understand from working with my hypnotherapy clients that these factors are imperative to understanding their individual therapeutic goals, as is being able to effect the specific desired behavior changes through hypnosis. I believe the same is true when we are riding and interacting with horses. With rapport and good communication skills, it is possible to have a great, mutually rewarding and even enlightening conversation.

Sara R. Fogan, C.Ht. is a certified hypnotherapist based in Southern California. She graduated with honors from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in 2005. For more information about Calminsense Hypnotherapy® and to set up an appointment, please visit
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