The concept of Emotion Centered Training came to me around the same time Benny entered my life. When Benny came to me he had been in five different environments within six months, making me his third new owner. This beautiful Palomino paint horse had spent pretty much the previous two years locked in a stall. He had multiple physical and emotional issues that led to behavioral issues. One, in particular, proved extremely difficult to fix.
Most horses in our setup will urinate and take care of their business outside their stalls if they have access to the outdoors. However, a few boarders and horses in training prefer to hang out in their stalls, especially when there is activity in the arena.
Benny enjoyed hanging outside with his buddies, safely biting at other horses through the fence. But when he needed to pee he would walk into his stall, urinate in exactly the same place every time, and walk out. I tried all sorts of methods to change his behavior, from locking him out of his stall during the day when it wasn’t raining, to “good boy”/“bad boy” training, and even chats with animal communicators – but to no avail. Peeing in his stall was deeply rooted in his psyche and no matter what I tried, nothing could change this habit.
My studies of late have focused on the brain and body physiology of people and horses, with a focus on emotions and communication. I am particularly fascinated by studies about the discovery of brain cells in organs such as the heart and gut, and not just in the brain. Science has been able to show that our brains transmit and receive “frequencies” similar to radio or TV waves, while words carry an energetic vibration when spoken.
So I thought: if I have brain cells in my heart and gut, thus making my body a powerful transmitter, and my horses are emotional creatures, why not try using emotion centered training to get Benny to stop peeing in his stall? After all, I’d tried everything else!
Emotion centered training
I started by standing in front of Benny’s stall and putting my focus on the front of my body from my heart to my gut. I spoke the words “good feeling” and recognized how that made my body feel. It felt like softness, relaxation, joy and love. Then I said “bad feeling” and noticed how my gut constricted, my heart ached a little, and I felt sad and angry.
With a focused recognition of how my body felt when I expressed these words, I looked at Benny and said “good feeling” out loud while envisioning him standing outside in his paddock peeing. I repeated this a couple more times.
Then I envisioned Benny standing inside his stall peeing in his usual pee spot and said “bad feeling” with the focus on how my body felt. I tried to project my feelings into the pictures in my mind, imbuing the thought with my feeling. I repeated this a couple of times, and then returned to expressing the “good feeling” words two more times. The next two days were nothing short of a miracle – Benny didn’t pee in his stall! On the third day, however, he was back to peeing inside again. I realized I needed to repeat the “good feeling, bad feeling” thoughts and words every time I was out in the arena. I made sure when I saw Benny peeing outside, I would send him “good feeling” through my voice and gut feelings.
For the next two weeks, Benny had only a couple of “accidents” in his stall, and the rest of the time he peed outside. Every time my husband or I saw him peeing outside we’d say “good feeling, Benny,” sometimes clapping with joy to further express our good feeling to him. A month went by with only a few more “accidents”, then two months with no accidents, then another three months.
It’s now been nearly six months since Benny has peed in his stall. Even in wintry rainy weather, Benny steps outside to pee. Sometimes it seems he’ll wait for me to get to his end of the arena at feeding time, at which point he steps outside to pee – showing me he is doing it. I clap my hands and say “good feeling, Benny”.
What an amazing accomplishment for Benny! And what an enlightening source of power we have when we take the time to notice our feelings and use them for purposes of positive training. I’ve learned our horses so want to live in “good feeling” with us. They happily do what we ask when there is “good feeling” imbued in the asking.
Professional trainer Missy Wryn developed Training the Whole Horse® on the foundation of Do No Harm, creating safer trusting relationships with horses. She is also the founder of IRON FREE Riding, HorseMAREship, Sisters of the Saddle, Nature’s Balance Care™ and DO NO HARM Today. She is also the inventor of the ALL-IN-ONE Rope Halter Bitless Bridle. To learn more, visit MissyWryn.com.