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Are you following your instincts?

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I love how some weeks the emails, questions, and discussions seem to circle around a singular idea.  This week I had a lot of questions about two things that seemed to swirl around together…

When and how to use your gut instincts when working with horses and how to develop these instincts further.

During my lifetime with horses I have been lucky enough to have met people that are instinctively in line with their horse.  You may know someone like this.  They just are in perfect sync with their horse and it is so obvious.

When I saw this growing up with horses and horse people, it fascinated me.  I used to think that they had learned to read each other’s minds.  It was that natural and easy for them.

And me being the inquisitive type, I asked 50 million questions to these people.  I remember my great aunt Julia was one of these women who always seemed to know what to do, how to do it, and when to do something when it came to her horses.  But this skill didn’t just happen around horses.

I remember thinking that she just floated through life on a cloud as she was always happy, and she seemed to always “know” what was going on around her.  She wasn’t like anyone else and you could feel that she was different.

She stayed calm and smiling, no matter what.  I can’t remember ever seeing her upset or get flustered about anything.  And as many questions as I asked her about everything, she always said, “it will just become natural for you too sweetie.”

“Don’t try, just do”

Aunt Julia would say that a lot.  I didn’t understand it then, but I think I’m getting closer to understanding it now.  Her recipe was…

  • a heap of understanding mixed with a handful of compassion
  • throw in a dash of confidence
  • and then mix it all together with a feeling of quiet calmness

This baked a beautiful loaf of knowingness.  Where you just know what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.  And with all this, it all falls into place and works!  That was how I saw my great aunt Julia.

I know that is probably easier said than done as everyone’s gut instincts really do need to be developed somewhat.  Maybe not the actual instincts, per se, but the ability to listen to your instincts, for sure.

Do you ever get that feeling that you need to do something, and your brain talks you out of it?  Then later you look back and realize your gut was trying to tell you something or you realize afterwards that you should have listened because your gut did know better than your head?

I used to do that all the time!  Then I decided to do an experiment on myself.  That scientist brain of mine.  I decided that I would do only what my gut said and I wouldn’t overthink it or complicate it.  I would turn my brain off and try to tune in my gut instead.

Well, I found out that all of one without the other was not a good idea.  But I did realize that there should be a happy medium and I should balance my head and my gut and not rely on one or the other all the time.  They needed to work together, and I needed to learn how and when to listen to both of them.

The other thing I learned by following only my gut during this little experiment was that It didn’t always work out because I couldn’t always differentiate properly.  I couldn’t tell when my gut was talking to me as opposed to when my brain was talking to me.  That’s why I say learning to listen to your gut instinct is a skill that should be developed as well.

I did learn a lot by this little experiment on myself.  One thing I learned was to journal my experiences as they happened and then go back and look at them on a weekly basis.  This helped me see patterns and also to see what worked and didn’t work.

And because I looked back on a weekly basis, I could remember what I was ‘thinking’ or ‘feeling’ at that moment and it helped me differentiate my gut from my brain.  The more I did it, the easier it became.

If you are interested in developing your listening skills, between your head and your gut, and learning to develop your gut instincts, I would recommend the same experiment.  However, please modify it to use both your brain and your gut and see if you can differentiate accordingly.  You may find it very interesting.

You may find that your instincts are right on, but you haven’t been listening as much.  Or you may find that you need to work on developing your instincts because you think too much and you rely too much on ‘figuring things out’.  The latter was me.

Now, I think I have a good balance between the two.  But it took years of practice and listening to Julia’s voice saying, “Don’t try, just do.”  I also learned that when she said “it would become natural for me too”, she meant that after years of practice I would realize I had to let it go for it to come naturally.

Your horses have this instinct and listening to their guts down perfectly.  And let me just say, if your horse doesn’t like someone, doesn’t want to go somewhere, or seems afraid or uneasy –

LISTEN!

The first thing to do in order to develop your skills listening to your instincts is to listen to your horse’s instincts.  They got this right and are great teachers.  You just have to allow them to teach you.

Here is an example:

Last week’s blog was about what I observed when I took the stallions out of their pastures and put them in the barn for a bit.

My purpose was to get them out of the mud and rain for a while, dry out their feet, and keep them comfortable.  I thought it would just be for a week or so until the heavy rains stopped.

My gut told me I needed to take them out of their pastures and put them in the barn.  I listened and I did it without hesitation or a second thought.

However, my brain was trying to tell me the opposite.  My brain said that the stallions were fine, they had a nice big shelter in each pasture, they had a full grass pasture to graze on during the day, they had lots of space to stay out of the mud puddles, and they weren’t in any danger.

But my gut said “do it” and “do it now”.  That was on a Thursday.

On Sunday, we had a microburst come through the property and it wiped out the stallion barn.  Flattened it!  It also took out part of the fencing and a bunch of trees.

Whew!  I’m glad I listened to my gut instead of my head or I may have lost my stallions.

I can’t tell you why I had that instinct.  I can’t tell you how it happened.  But I can say that I’ve learned to listen to my gut and not to ignore it.  And even though my brain was trying to talk me out of it, I’ve learned to just go with it and not second guess my gut.  I don’t try to question it or try to figure it out.  I just do.

Thank you, great aunt Julia.

I am happy to say that for the past decade or so my gut has never let me down.  At least not since I started developing it more and started to listen more.

By the way, that little part about “not questioning it” is really important in developing your skill.  When you question it, your brain takes over and tries to talk you out of it.

It was very hard for me to stop listening to my brain’s reasoning and to just follow my gut without question.  Very hard!

My brain really had some good points and always seemed to make sense.  But once I really started to follow my gut more, my world changed dramatically.  Not only with horses, but also with everyday things in my life.

I am so grateful to have been able to finally let go and see the magic that happens when you do.  It may sound counterproductive, but it’s just the opposite.

Keep it simple, uncomplicated, and don’t overthink it.

By the way, I now think that the reason the horses were so grateful when I put them in the barn stalls was because they knew what was coming.

Horses are much more attuned to the forces of nature and I think they knew the microburst was coming.  Or at least that we would be hit with remnants of Hurricane Laura that weekend.

I think my gut felt what the horses were feeling, and it realized that they really wanted to get out of the pastures and into the stalls for safety.

Even though my brain didn’t see any signs like them being anxious, or pushing at the gate, or anything like that, my instincts were in line with the horses and I heard their message.  Then again, I could just be overthinking it.  Hahaha

Well, besides journaling and experimenting on yourself to develop your gut instincts and how and when to listen to them, here are a few tidbits that may also help you develop those skills.

  1. Realize that you’re not in this alone and start watching and listening to your horse more.  Learn from them.
  2. Attitude of Gratitude.  Make a conscious effort to be thankful for everything in your life, especially the little things.  Those little things add up to be big things.
  3. Understand that there are things out there you can’t figure out or rationalize.  It doesn’t mean those things are wrong; they are just something you can’t wrap your mind around right now.  Who knows, in a few years science may give us a rational explanation.  Until then, don’t overthink it, accept it and let it go. Allow it to work.
  4. Spend more time with your horses in nature and less time on your screens.  Allow yourself to feel what’s around you.  Ask yourself:  how do my horses feel, what do I hear, what do I see, and how does each of those things make me feel?  Then go deeper: what do I sense, what are my horses looking at, what do I think they are sensing, what’s really going on?  Getting connected to nature and your horse will bring you more connected to your own instincts.
  5. Slow down when you look at a situation, take time to feel something other than panic or anxiety.  Pause and really look at the situation from many different angles.  Take yourself out of the situation and look at it as an outsider or 3rd party.  Then really ‘feel’ what you should do and not rationalize it.  Now that you see every angle, ‘feel’ the answer and see how that works out.
  6. Give yourself permission to let go, really feel it, and be wrong a few times.  It won’t happen overnight.  So, practice and learn from what does work AND what doesn’t work.  Make sure to journal your progress.
  7. Be open to change and possibilities.  Don’t feel like you have to control everything or know everything.  Sometimes it is just a feeling and you are allowed to follow your feelings.  Things will happen as they are supposed to.  Change can be good.
  8. Know that it will get better, it will work out.  Working on these items above will help you develop your gut instincts and your listening ability.  They are naturally within you and this will bring them to the forefront and be another tool in your horsemanship toolbelt.

Have fun and enjoy the process.

These tidbits have been very helpful to me as I practiced and developed my listening skills and my gut instincts through my lifetime.

These have also helped me with my horses as well as in my everyday life.  I hope these tidbits are helpful to you as well.

I’d love to hear any stories you have like the one I had with my stallions in the comments below.

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