What Are You Looking At? Understanding Gaze As A Cue & An Aid

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What are you looking at?

Otherwise known as:

What are you going to ask for or do when you look at me that way?

Growing up, my father was the armchair expert of our family. An ex-competitive athlete (he was a 100m and 200m sprinter) my dad knew how to commit himself to something and how to train. The same accident that put an end to his running also prevented him from ever riding himself, but despite that, he was at every lesson we went to, was there on the side of the arena when we worked horses whenever he was able and was the person behind the video camera filming when we were competing.

A mannerism that I have picked up from him is when I am watching something or someone and I am concentrating, I cock my head to the right-hand side. I saw a photo of myself once and remarked: I look exactly like my dad.

My dad had very specific gazes that preceded an action, feedback (cough cough) or a request. I knew when he looked at me “that way” how my efforts were tallying up in his mind, and more or less what was to follow. We all have this skill of “reading” people’s gaze. The intensity of it, or lack of. Whether it feels inclusive or dominating. A gaze where we know we’re being watched. That look where an instruction (or perhaps a criticism or adjustment) is likely to follow.

Our horses feel the same. The way we use our eyes is often the first communication received from the unconscious about the information and action that’s to come. If we have become habituated to looking at our horse a specific way or in a specific place when we are about to make correction or to alter something we perceive is “wrong”, then our horse will become sensitized to that look, and reflexively seek to remove themselves from the pressure before it increases or overwhelms them (if the look itself hasn’t done so already).

How does your gaze differ when you are looking for something that pleases you, compared to when you are searching for something to correct?

What does the intensity of your gaze become when you are deciding what it is you’re going to do next? And how might this effect the insides of your horse?

Some of us only truly look- and some of us are truly only seen- under the gaze of criticism, or where our needs are not being considered. This prevents us wanting to be seen and sends us spiraling into reactive ways of being.

Our gaze and the way we look at something or someone is an action in and of itself. The action of seeing and the experience of being seen is a powerful one. Let the act of truly looking not automatically be coupled with the action of correction.


❤️ Jane

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