We all have them! We set our alarm at night and expect it to go off in the morning. We expect other drivers on the road to stop at stop signs. We expect to buy chocolate cake and have it taste good. We have many expectations throughout just one day, not to mention a week, a month or a year of expectations.
What happens when something or someone does not meet our expectations? Have you ever slept through an alarm? Waking up in pure panic, rushing to get to work. Anxiety fills you as you make phone calls to your boss, explaining what happened. If someone doesn't stop at the stop sign like you expect them too, this can cause an accident. You, or the others in the car, could be harmed. What about the cake? They forgot to add sugar and your expectation of a sweet treat is diminished into feelings of disappointment.
What happens when we have expectations related to our horses? We walk our horse up to the mounting block. We expect them to stand still, like they do everyday. But what happens if today they keep moving away from the mounting block? Usually, I hear riders say things like: “Come on, you do this everyday.” The expectation wasn’t met, and often we feel upset or frustrated with the situation, and shattered anticipation can overwhelm us or make us give up. If we’re honest with ourselves, we may pass those harsh and negative feelings onto our horse. If we take it one step further, we may realize we are really frustrated with ourselves, for not understanding the horse in this particular moment.
I had a rather guarded horse that boards here. I could usually catch him if I had some grain or a treat. His owner, who was new to horses, could come out and catch him immediately. I will admit, I was frustrated that I, an individual who has been around horses for a very long time, could not easily catch this horse. Here, brand-new-to-horses owner, could catch him with ease. I thought about this, and in all honesty, it really bothered me. What was she doing that I wasn't? What vibe or energy was I giving off to make the horse act that way; wasn’t I an expert?
I was spending some time in the pasture and it dawned on me: I had some major expectations of this horse. Normally when I had to catch him, it was for a reason: the farrier or vet was coming, or he was moving pastures. Every time I had to catch him, I had an internal anticipation that it was going to be difficult. Every time I had to catch him, my expectation was: I need to catch you now because we have an appointment. His owner never had an expectation of him. Often, she would take him out of the pasture and just let him graze. There was no pressure from her, if he wasn't caught.
Like most things in life, expectations can be both positive and negative. In the above example, it shows how an expectation can add extra pressure and create a negative experience. In some cases, an expectation can create a much different outcome...
A few years ago, one of my boarders had difficulty loading her horse into a trailer. This horse would turn its head and use its whole body to run in the opposite direction, while pulling the rope out of your hands. He got quite good at it. She hired a guy to come out and work with him. After five hours, I had to leave for a prior engagement. Two days later I came out to the barn and she was sitting there, rather upset and defeated; she could not get the horse to load. I said, “The other day was the hard part, today should be easy.” I took the horse from her and within a few minutes the horse was in the trailer. I expected the horse to go into the trailer, and he did. The positive, confident expectation I had for the situation, rubbed off on the horse, for certain.
A couple weeks had passed and we had a workshop at my barn. My friend was telling someone about the trailering experience. She said after the five hours the trainer had only gotten his front two feet in the trailer. I was not aware of this because I had left. I thought the horse had been fully loaded into the trailer. This is why my expectation was what it was: that he was going to walk all the way into the trailer.
I was amazed that he had only loaded the front two feet and I had put him in all the way. What astounded me, however, was that I had no doubt about him loading, and he loaded. Since this experience, I have tried to find the place where I have no doubt about the horse doing something. This is quite hard when you have had past experiences. I’ve had horses buck when I ask them to canter. This “expectation” comes into my mind. Am I expecting them to buck or am I expecting them to go smoothly into a nice controlled canter?
Expectations are everywhere. When we are with our horses what are we expecting? Are we expecting something positive or negative? What if we don’t expect anything and we let the horse and ourselves just explore the task at hand without any end result? What would that feel like?
I challenge you to look at your expectations with yourself and with your horse. Are your expectations providing you and your horse with positive or negative outcomes? Find something that is new to you and your horse. Some examples may be a new obstacle, walking over a pole with one foot on each side, going for a walk down the road, walking through a mud puddle, standing in the field with your horse. I ask you not to have any expectations of the end result. Just experience it and explore the feelings that comes from having no expectations.