A Sappy but Powerful Experiment

Here’s a fun little exercise I did with DaVinci. I was patting his neck and admiring his beauty. Part of me was wishing he’d hurry up and get over his deep-seated fears of things that sound weird, things that smell weird, things that move fast, things that move suddenly, things that are in the wrong place, people who he doesn’t recognize, people who sound weird, people who smell weird, people who move fast and so on and so on.

I changed my train of thought to take inventory of the ground we have gained. He lets me brush his mane, he lets me touch his ears, he can eat with his head down when I’m next to him. He always answers me when I call his name. He lets me trim his feet while he unrestrained. He can climb, spin and leap on and off of any pedestal put before him. He stands unhaltered while I put a saddle on his back. He lets Raleigh share his pile of hay. His eyes go half lid when I scratch his chest.

All of a sudden I felt my heart start to sing and then words became too powerful to stay in my heart and began softy flowing out of my mouth. They were:

You make me so very happy
I’m so glad you came into my life
You made me so very happy
You made me so very happy, baby (DaVinci)
I’m so glad you came
Into my life

All of a sudden DaVinci completely softened. I swear I could feel him saying: No one has ever said those things to me before. I don’t think I’ve ever made anyone happy in my life. It feels really good that I can make you happy.

Naturally being the sap I am, tears began to flow. I never once, before this, considered that a horse would care if it made me happy. I got the distinct feeling that it was one of the most important things I’ve ever relayed to DaVinci.

DaVinci is probably one of the most difficult horses on the planet because his brain is so full of hurt. His point of view is usually What horrible thing is going to happen to me next? And then I have the contrast with Raleigh, my young Clyde, who walks about saying What wonderful thing is going to happen next?

Because of DaVinci’s innate point of view, I think on some level he understands how difficult he is and no doubt can read the frustrating thoughts on the part of his handlers. So for him to be the recipient of my happy song, may have been the first time he was reading pure positive thoughts about himself. Judging by his reaction, he was feeling really good about it.

So then I decided to quietly sing those lyrics to each of my horses. They all had the same reaction of becoming very soft and well, cuddly. (And it’s not because of my off pitch singing voice) I couldn’t make it through the entire chorus without my throat tightening and my eyes getting hot. As I’d say the words, images of all the wonderful things we do together flooded my thoughts. The power of all the good feelings surfacing at once nearly knocked me off my feet.

My experiment now, is to actively hold those You make me so very happy thoughts about DaVinci when I work with him. In the past, although I was using pure positive reinforcement and my actions were attraction-based, my thoughts of When will you become a normal horse? may have felt really bad to him and sabotaged my efforts and his progress.

I’m really excited to see if singing this little ditty during our training sessions brings about the change I think it will.

I’d love to know what happens to you when you sing this to your horses, your dogs, cats, and can you imagine, the humans in your life!

What if we sang this song to the difficulties in our lives? It sure changed my perspective by singing it to a difficult horse.

And wow,  just think if we sang it to ourselves every time we looked in the mirror?

You make me so very happy!

-Cheryl

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15 thoughts on “A Sappy but Powerful Experiment

  1. Somewhat on the same note (pun intended!), I have a very skittish foal, only two weeks old, that I hum to. Unfortunately mama stepped on her fetlock within 2 hours of birth and, while she should heal fine, there’s some doctoring to do and as gentle as I am, there is pain associated with the betadine scrub, bandaging, etc. The low pitch humming piques her interest and seems to calm her more than talking to her does.

    • What a lucky little foal to have you. I think your humming may be doing much more than calming the foal. Check out this excerpt by Simon Mitchell regarding Vibration Healing:

      Vibrational medicine interfaces with subtle energy fields that underly the functions of a physical body. It is based on the idea of resonant frequencies, similar to a tuned string on a musical instrument resonating with anything tuned to the same frequency, or an opera singer smashing a glass by singing at a certain pitch. Some sciences and philosophies have recognised vibrational elements as an important part of the universe. It is proving difficult to link these new sciences with the dogma of Western medicine. Even as long ago as 1928 Thomas Sugrue recognised vibrational elements at work in the human body:

      “The human body is made up of electronic vibrations, with each atom and elements of the body, each organ and organism, having its electronic unit of vibration necessary for the sustenance of, and equilibrium in that particular organism. Each unit, then, being a cell or a unit of life in itself has the capacity of reproducing itself by the first the law as is known as reproduction-division. When a force in any organ or element of the body becomes deficient in its ability to reproduce that equilibrium necessary for the sustenance of physical existence and its reproduction, that portion becomes deficient in electronic energy. This may come by injury or disease, received by external forces. It may come from internal forces through lack of eliminations produced in the system or by other agencies to meet its requirements in the body.”

      Who knows, your humming might be healing that fetlock really fast as well as keeping her happy. Talk about good vibrations!
      Cheryl

  2. This is really interesting, because lately I have been doing a lot of “mental” training along with my clicker training.

    Let me explain…
    I set out to teach one of my ponies to rear. I was taking a break from teaching him to target front legs, and I was showing my mom how I wanted the end result to be “I thrust my hands into the air and he rears up”. As I threw my hands up into the air I was really envisioning my pony reaching up into the air with his front legs. The pony must have sensed some sort of new signal that my body language was giving off now because he lifted two front feet into the air.

    Since then I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with this. I’ve been trying to really focus my mind on the task I want the horse to accomplish (as well as thinking positively/enthusiastically). The change in how much quicker my ponies are figuring out what I want is amazing. This kind of goes along with what you are talking about. Projecting that love that you feel for your horses through your mind/body language (your singing is changing something your horses can pick up on), which we probably can’t even pick up on ourselves…but our horses can.

    Anyway just wanted to share my similar experience. 🙂

    Incase you are interested here is a post I did on my blog about my whole experiment:
    http://trickponies.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/by-golly-i-think-you-have-it/

  3. My horse has recently suffered an injury to his eye which has left him blind in it. He’s not happy to be ridden on the road and gets really upset. any advice

    • Hey Penny,

      I worked at a large animal vet clinic for a year and we had quite a few partially or completely blind horses come in for treatment. One in particular was completely blind and needed a treatment every hour on the hour. This was quiet the challenge. During the treatment of this horse, it hit me that what this horse needed most was to feel safe. Sight is a sense horses utterly rely on for their ability to know when danger is present. So in every tiny thing I did or said or thought I let the horse know it was safe.

      This might translate on the road into riding him on the side of the road where he can see traffic.

      Talking to him and telling him he IS safe and that you will KEEP him safe.

      Also, doing some bending exercises where you have him halt and bend his head all the way to your foot while you are in the saddle (both directions). That way if he is frightened, you can stop, and let him see both sides of his body so he will know his is safe.

      If you have never trained a horse to do this or he doesn’t already do this, Cheryl has GREAT techniques to teach him to do this happily.

      Thank you.

    • I’m so sorry to hear of your horse’s eye injury. Not that I have experience working with seeing impaired horses, my first thought would be to immediately establish some sort of ‘grounding’ or security cue that means “You’re ok, everything is fine, you’re safe.” I’ve found that the best way to do this is first teaching your horse the basics of attraction-based communication using a sound (clicker) as a means to tell the horse ‘right answer’.

      I’ve found with my horse with PSTD, who is absolutely afraid of everything, I can totally stop a flight response, I can get him to focus, calm down, and come back to earth by the sound of the click. For him the sound of the click means something good is going to happen. So when he is in a full fledged panic, I can simply click, and it seems to stop him in his tracks and then he looks to me for what he needs to do next.

      The reason this works so well is that we practice quite often in an attraction-based environment where he is asked or invited to touch an object, or perform some task and then he hears a click and receives a food reinforcer. Because this process is associated with good feelings, when he hears the click, those good feelings surface and seem to over take the bad feelings. This is why I believe it is super important to only use positive reinforcement, invitation, or attraction-based methods paired with a click.

      I’ve see folks stomp at a horse to send it out, or use some type of pressure to cause the horse to move away and then they click. This to me can cause the horse to have less than positive feelings about the click.

      I wouldn’t doubt at this point, your horse is having to learn all about the world all over again, literally from a different set of eyes. This can be a wonderful opportunity for you to reintroduce him to a brand new world full of positive and good feeling experiences so he’ll feel better with one eye then perhaps he did with two.

      What I would do, if he’s acquainted with the basics of attraction paired with a click and a treat, I would spend time listening to him to find out what noises get him upset. If it’s a car coming up from behind his blind side, you could have a friend practice with you in the stable yard with a car. You could click-treat for the sound of the engine. Click-treat for the car getting closer. Eventually you could even have your friend honk the horn, you’ll click and your horse would receive a jack-pot of treats.

      After you have created some very pleasant feelings surrounding noises on his blind side, then I’d hand walk him along the road where he has a tendency to get upset. Work with him just like you did in the yard. Lots of click-treats for simply standing there with you.

      The other thing I would do while you are working with him, is to teach him a behavior like head lowering or teach him to flex his head to your side to accept a treat. So if while you are riding and he starts to get scared, you can engage his brain and ask him for ‘head down’. This helps get his thoughts off of the scary things and on to something he has to do, which of course feels good because he has most excellent associations with head down. When a horse’s head is down, it also serves to relax the horse. It stretches the back muscles and reminds him of being relaxed, like when he’s grazing in a field.

      For head down, I teach this by first having them target and object on the ground. I then give that behavior a verbal cue, then a touch cue, which is my hand touching his withers and then I’ll give it a rein cue which is a slight up and down jiggle. This way I have all sorts of ways to help my horse relax and pay attention without a hint of negative reinforcement or pressure.

      If you can teach your horse to flex side to side, right/left, this may also give him a sense of confidence that he is still able to see what is going on through his eye with sight. I also teach this flexing using a target and then giving it a verbal cue and then a rein cue. It’s also how a horse accepts a treat under saddle. I think it’s one of their favorite things to do!

      I hope this helps. I’d love to hear more,
      Cheryl

  4. I have experience with the humming.

    Unannounced to me, I was training a two, not four, year old 16.2hh thoroughbred, off the track. He was very hot, excitable, and explosive. During our first riding session I hummed to him. It was actually pretty amazing the effect it had on him. He became very relaxed and playful. This attitude produced a willingness in him to try to understand what I was trying to teach him, and he rather quickly learned to move forward and straight and even began relaxing his jaw and coming on the bit with big springy steps!

    This horse was a maniac that his owner could not ride (which is why they hired me:) , who, when initially on his back, tried running sideways into the arena fencing, and just a little soothing hum went all the way through him and changed his whole energy.

    Note on the rearing:

    I am just adding what you did with the visualization to my training on a whole new level. I was always taught “just think trot, and the horse will trot” and this has proven true. Now I’ve started visualizing the level of performance I want from my horses during training sessions. For example with a horse on the lunge line I envision Capri balanced, even strides, stretching into the bit, tracking up, and pushing from behind and since I’ve started doing this, the result desired kept in mind is what is seen on the lunge for the majority of the time. I am getting better results with this, literally, than tightening side reins and pressuring with a whip.

    So keep it up with holding that picture of him rearing in mind while you train him!! It is working for me. Good Luck!

    Thank you

  5. What a wonderful, wonderful post. I must remember this when working with one of my horses in particular — he’s a wonderful boy but slow to gain confidence and I’m more often than not frustrated with him. I’m insanely curious to know if this will help us! And if I can remind myself, I must also use it with my 20 year old daughter……

    Thank you for a new Mantra!

    • Thanks so much for your comment. Yes, it works great with two leggeds! I have a 19 year old daughter and it’s worked so well with her that she’s using the same techniques with her Siberian Husky puppy that likes to eat couches. It’s so refreshing to see her go to solution and love her new dog and appreciate the dog’s tenacious qualities rather than getting angry and punishing the pup.

      The only downside I see to this type of thinking is that soon every horse/dog/cat becomes beautiful and wonderful and very hard to resist bringing them home!

      Thank you again,
      Cheryl

  6. Pingback: Clicking to Good Vibrations!

  7. Your blog makes me very happy. 😉

    I, too, wanted to add something about the visualization. I don’t have a horse, but am equally blessed with a German Shepherd, my family’s beautiful Opal. She is mostly wonderful, but can be a bit over-excited when she sees other dogs.

    One day, I took her for a walk (pretty normal). On the shortcut down to the creek, there’s a house with a dog that barks at anything, which can be horrible to walk crazy Opal past. I expected her to react, even though the dog wasn’t outside, and she did. We walked down to the creek, and she was wonderful – she stayed close to me, despite her extendo-leash (long story short, I can get hives from any sort of friction, so normal leashes are a no-go), played in the shallow water, and was a happy dog. We saw a stranger walking in another direction, but she didn’t lunge (I didn’t expect her to, as people aren’t quite as interesting to her as dogs).

    On our way back, I was admiring how happy and relaxed she looked, when she saw a dog and I didn’t. She immediately tried to go to the dog, and as she was already reacting, I didn’t see her sitting calmly by my side, and she didn’t. The dog avoided her because she looked crazy, even if she only wanted to play.

    A little while later, though, I saw a dog before she did, asked her to sit and stay, and she did until I released her. Dog met dog and all was good in the world. It’s amazing the different reactions she had within an hour’s time, but I think it had something to do with what I expected from her, and how she read my voice and energy.

    I’m starting to watch the videos on the Dogmantics site you posted, to see if I can retrain her. ;3 Here’s to the best!

    • You are hearing clear echoes! Thank you so much. Definitely link!

      It was through my horses that the work of Abraham-Hicks truly became tangible. I could see and the law of attraction in action. If I could help any of my horses, especially DaVinci, find a thought that helped him feel better, it would produce a better feeling (safe) behavior. I believe too that each time I help DaVinci reprogram an old thought pattern like “Every time a person raises their hand, I’m going to get whacked and feel pain” to “Every time a person raises their hand, I’m going to feel better” then I’m on the road to teaching him to attract better responses from the folks that handle him.

      If he reacts to people defensively, most likely he’ll bring out the worst those people and create a bad experience for himself. If I can teach him to ‘think’ thoughts that feel better, then he’ll hopefully bring out the best in his handlers.

      DaVinci has taught me during this sappy intention experiment, is that the world is so much better if you like yourself. I’ve watched him. He doesn’t feel good when he’s flipping out. The contrast, when he’s feeling confident, is staggering. He’s a different horse. I’d venture to say that he likes himself (or likes being in his body) so much more when he’s overcome an obstacle that previously made him lose his cool. This confidence, or better feeling, seems to attract many more opportunities for both of us to feel better.

      True to Abraham-Hicks writing, there’s such magic when we can simply feel good. Then bump that up a notch and bask in appreciation for our horses, our animals, our humans, ourselves, and wow, life takes on a whole new look!

      I appreciate your comment 🙂
      Cheryl

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