Kristi Smith – 4-Star Senior Parelli Professional
In 2005 I took my first long term campus course with my beautiful Paint mare, Maxi. It was a 10-week program called “The School.” This course was designed for folks who had professional aspirations but didn’t yet have the horsemanship skills to be accepted into the professional level course. I signed up for this course because the literature I had read stated that it could “accelerate your results.” It was exactly what I was looking for! I had decided I wanted to become a Parelli Professional and I had talked my husband into making the finances work. I was all set! Except, I had a mare who had not signed up for this adventure and was not particularly interested in helping me.
Innately and through childhood conditioning, I had become a very direct, focused, determined and intense person. Those are not necessarily negative qualities unless you were standing in between me and my goals. If you were unfortunate enough to be in that position, you probably felt like I was bullish, incentive and uncooperative. That is likely how Maxi felt. Lucky for me, she was not going to tolerate me trying to just bully her into doing what I wanted. At the time, I felt like I was being punished. Now, I realize she is one of the single greatest partnerships to ever happen to me.
I was 30 years old when I took this course and had never considered evaluating my thoughts. I knew I had an inner monologue running. I knew that my inner voice was not always saying nice things. I didn’t know that that conversation was hurting me and restricting my relationship with Maxi until the day she pointed it out to me.
One Saturday morning (a day we were meant to give our horses a rest) I was eating breakfast in the lodge while I read my Level 3 theory guide. I was contemplating the standard for what was then Level 3 freestyle riding. I had been told that it wasn’t “really” Level 3 unless you could do it with your arms folded. As I ate my breakfast, I was making a plan to attempt Level 3 freestyle with Maxi that morning. I decided we were going to work on Cloverleafs at the canter with my arms folded. Never mind that I had not tried to get them good at the walk using all the aids available to me. Arms folded and at the canter was the level 3 standard and I wanted to achieve Level 3.
While I ate my breakfast and made my plan for Maxi and I that morning, I read the passage in the Level 3 theory guide that tells us to be careful of our thoughts. You know the one. Be careful of your thoughts because they become your words. Be careful of your words because they become your actions. Be careful of your actions because they become your character. Be careful of your character because it becomes your destiny. That passage really stuck in my brain that morning. I don’t know why. But, it was a niggle that I could not get rid of.
I finished my breakfast and headed out to achieve Level 3 Cloverleafs. Needless to say, a huge argument arose between Maxi and I. It wasn’t long before we were both sweating, breathing hard, and actively working against each other. All while this was happening, that passage was swirling around in my brain. Be careful of your thoughts! Finally, I stopped Maxi in the middle of the honeycomb, and a bit like a crazy person shouted “Fine! What are my thoughts?” What I know now is that inner monologue had low-frequency thoughts. They were egocentric and focused on me and not the needs of my horse. At that moment, I began to retrain my inner monologue. I realized the thoughts I had identified with up until that point were no longer serving me. And, for the sake of Maxi, I let them go.
Several years later I had the opportunity to watch a presentation by a long-time Parelli student named David Ulloa. He is essentially the “Pat Parelli” of sharks. He travels the world studying sharks and shark behavior to help protect and support them. What he told us was that sharks have a sensory perception that is not sight, sound or even sonar. They can detect when an animal is in distress and that is how they chose their meals. They are not the indiscriminate killers that you see depicted in movies. They deliberately go after the weak, sick, stressed or dying. This helps to ensure that that that don’t get injured in the hunt.
I found it interesting that it seems that sharks are able to detect the frequency of the organisms around them. David is also a Parelli student and he followed this conversation up with the hypothesis that horses likely have a similar sensory perception. I would go so far as to say that humans likely do too.
Since that day in 2005, I have been obsessed with all types of behavior and personal growth. I have studied countless resources and they all seem to point to one thing. What I am thinking matters. There have been huge advancements in the science of “reading thoughts.” There is a machine called a functional MRI that can locate in our brains where different thoughts live. They literally “light up” different parts of our brains depending on what kind of thought you are thinking.
I found this image online by googling “emotional frequencies.”My hypothesis is that if I am thinking high-frequency thoughts like love, joy, and acceptance, my horse has an easier time perceiving me as a partner and will actively seek out harmony with me because it feels good. When I think low-frequency thoughts like anger, fear, pride, guilt or shame my horses likely perceive pressure or perceive predatory behavior from me. This will cause her to try to dominate me if she is left brain or will cause her to get afraid if she is more right brain. Either way, they will look for a way out of the situation.
In Parelli the goal is harmony. I want to do more than just teach my horse to move away from pressure. I want her to want to do what we are doing. I want her to seek it out. For her to be able to do that, doing things together has to feel good. If all we do is teach our horses to yield to pressure, they will also look for the conversation to be over. They work to try to shut us up or put them away. They look for a way out. “What do I have to do for you to stop doing that?” That is a good place to start, but it is not the goal. The goal is high-frequency harmony and what you are thinking matters.
Horses and humans are both social species. We are both hard-wired to want to find our “herd” and harmonize with them. Doing so ensures our survival. I believe that the opportunity to learn to harmonize with another species moves us beyond survival into evolution. We learn to evolve beyond our instincts and create partnerships that have the potential to change the world. High-frequency harmony is the goal.