I was talking to one of the boarders who had brought her new dog along to the barn. She had gotten the dog as an adult - the dog had previously been a hunting field trial dog. She said it was interesting that the dog reacted the same way as her horse, Sugar - if the dog (or Sugar) were agitated, the worst thing you could do was to get agitated, or big, yourself - you had to be calm and confident at the same time.
One of the topics in the book is the concept of an energy balance, with the ideal being that you bring to the party a 5 (on a scale of 1 to 10) in energy and your horse brings a 5. All too often, though, one party or the other is bringing something other than a 5 to the conversation.
If a horse is losing its mind - bucking, bolting or whatever, its energy may spike to an 8 - if we then meet that 8 with an 8 of our own, say by yelling or getting upset (or afraid - not that we necessarily have control over all of this) - then all the fuses/circuit breakers can blow and you have a real mess on your hands. If a horse offers an 8 - because of its distress at the time - if we can offer the horse a soft 2 in energy - by staying calm and offering the horse direction - it may allow the horse to come back to us by beginning to reduce its energy.
A digression on dogs. I have a German Shepherd, Brega, who is 4 years old. She comes from performance bloodlines, and is very intelligent. She would be more active, or could have a serious job, like agility, but she has a heart defect, aortic stenosis, that limits her ability to exercise and causes her to become tired in hot weather. Due to this birth defect, she was not able to play with other dogs when she was a puppy - at that age she was likely to suffer sudden heart failure if she ran too much, so she was inadequately socialized with other dogs. Despite the fact that she lived with our Golden Retriever, Sunny, until his death last year, she perceives all other dogs as enemies, to the point of barking and growling ferociously. She also has always been very reactive in the house, doing lots of barking at passerby, animal or person. After working with a trainer and attending classes, nothing really changed.
Something our boarder said rang a bell for me - our response to Brega's acting out when around other dogs, or barking in the house, was more often than not to yell at her to stop, which only had a momentary effect, at best, or to physically restrain her. This often would only increase her agitation and cause her to become more reactive. This made me think that we were offering her an 8 in energy in response to her 8, which was getting us nowhere fast.
So I decided to see if I could meet her 8 with a 2, and see if that allowed her to calm down and reduce her energy. There is a technique that is used by the monks of New Skete, who raise and train German Shepherds, particularly with young dogs who are just starting training. (Come to think of it, a lot of Brega's behaviors are puppy-like - just doing whatever she wants without regard to what the person requests.) The monks take their dogs (each is partnered with one dog) and attach them by a longish lead to their belts. The dog then has to stay with its person, while he gardens, cooks, does housework, or whatever. At meals the dogs lie under the table. This helps the puppies learn to pay attention to their human - they have to follow or be pulled along, they have to be patient and wait while their human is still and they have to move with their human as he moves.
So I tried this out with Brega. This exercise is actually very similar to something I do sometimes with a horse, where I keep them on a loose lead and have them come with me while I do some job, like dragging poles around the arena. I took her leash and tied it to my waist. We cooked, we washed dishes, we folded laundry, we sat and read, we ate meals. When Brega would begin to think about barking at something, I would just get up and she would have to follow, and then we would walk around the house until she settled down again. No fuss, no muss.
When we were out for walks, if she started to get distracted, or saw a dog in the distance that she wanted to bark at, we would do a "crazy walk". I would join my hands behind my back, holding the leash so that if she stayed next to me, the leash would be loose, and would stop, turn, turn again, take steps to the side, etc. In order to keep the leash loose, she had to pay close attention to what I was doing and follow my actions. By the end, she was veering and easily making all sorts of patterns with me, and got a lot of praise for that.
We'll see how it goes, but so far it feels good.
Another problem many horses face is the rider who overcues - who uses an 8 when a 2 would do. A lot of horses appear dull and unresponsive - hence the crops and spurs - but I think what the horse is saying is: "I offered my rider a 5, but they just kept on using an 8, why should I bother? I guess I'll just keep doing the 2 since my rider isn't listening to me." No wonder so many horses are dull and unhappy!