2. Don’t say don’t
In our last post we talked about the phenomenon that your body reveals what your mind thinks. This week we are continuing in the same vein with the precept of don’t say don’t. The word “don’t” is a human creation meaning “do the opposite of the action I am about to prescribe.” As humans we understand “don’t” and use it as a substitute when we can’t think quickly enough of the action that we do want. We tell a child “don’t run,” and as a human that understands the nature of opposites they realize that they are supposed to walk. Animals have no notion of opposites. And even if they do understand that the thing they are currently doing is wrong, the statement of “don’t run,” is far too ambiguous and leaves too many options open for exploration.
Now you are probably thinking, “wait, I thought this blog was about body language? How can you say ‘don’t’ with body language?” Well, you just stumbled on the crux of the problem: you can’t! It is impossible to imply opposites using body language, yet people try to do it all the time. It’s an easy trap to fall into.
Imagine you want to get someone to hand you a bottle of mustard from the pantry using only body language. The way most people attempt this is not by providing the listener with a destination, but to provide them with don’ts until they eventually figure out what you want. If you were the one grabbing item after item, you would shortly come to the conclusion that “don’t get the flour” is not an acceptable alternative to “get the mustard.” You would eventually end up with the right answer (the mustard) but can you imagine the frustration in the mean time? It is the same thing for horses. They will eventually understand that “don’t go forward, left, right, up, or down” actually means go backwards, but what an indirect way to go about it! Even if you only think of it from a respect standpoint, your horse probably looks at you with the same eyes as a fighter pilot asking for his mission coordinates and receiving an airy “not Wisconsin” as a reply. Could you respect someone who gave instructions like that?
Lets back up for a moment and return to our Precept #1: your body reveals what your mind thinks. Imagine yourself as a GPS (bear with me!). We know from the previous post that our subconscious body language can’t help but respond to our thoughts even if we don’t mean for it to, so imagine that every time you thought about a particular road, your screen told the driver to turn there. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Imagine that the driver asked you to navigate to the grocery store. You, as the astoundingly human GPS think “I have to get this person to the grocery store, but there are lots of places to get lost on the way.” You start the driver on his way down the road, but very quickly you find yourself thinking “uh oh, here comes a road off to the left. I hope the driver doesn’t get confused by this.” And since your screen has been programmed to respond whenever you concentrate on a road, a little blue arrow appears and tells the driver to turn left. Now you have a big problem and you think “shoot, I knew that was going to happen! Now they are on the wrong road and I need to get them back where they were.” And the screen tells the driver to make a U-turn. He does and you think “that’s better, but wait! Now there’s a road coming up on the right. I bet the driver is going to get confused again.” Sure enough, an arrow on the screen is now telling the driver to turn right. He does, but probably more skeptically than before. “I knew it! This fool! Why does he keep turning? He’s supposed to be going straight!” The driver at the same time is yelling “this stupid thing! Is it broken? Why does it keep saying U-turn? Does it even know where we are going?” And so the cycle continues until the driver tunes out the GPS (or throws it out the window) and finally finds the grocery store by luck.
I hope you can see the problem here. If our subconscious body language displays whatever our mind thinks, and there is no way to say “don’t” with body language, then that means every time you think “don’t go over there,” you are actually telling your horse “go over there.” This happens all the time when people are trail riding. The rider (the GPS) sees a hole off to the right and thinks “oh no! Horse, don’t step in the hole!” And you can guess exactly where the horse ends up stepping. Humans are not the only creatures capable of understanding an intended direction, but since most people focus far more attention on where they don’t want to go instead of where they do want to go, the only thing our poor horses can do is tune us out and keep grabbing items from the pantry until they happen upon the right one.
Our first two precepts go hand in hand–basically two sides of the same coin–detailing one of the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the human condition: our imagination. We can visualize a futuristic event (one that may or may not actually happen) and cause it to come to fruition. We can’t hide our subconscious body language, but through learning how to get it to work for us we can eliminate some of the most common problems people have with horses. Your horse will thank you.