The most powerful, yet underrated, technique I've ever found, learned and used. Created by Dancing Pete Rhodda
I use Playground of Safety (POS) more than any other exercise. It is incredibly powerful for relaxation and to neutralize stressful environments. Give it a chance.
POS looks boring and pointless. But it’s an incredibly powerful exercise that I keep learning from and just don’t know all the benefits.
The main purpose I see right now is that it sets up a herd dynamic, with you as the lead horse, that will protect and watch over its herd (the horse you are using). You must prove to the horse that you are worth trustworthy to protect them and their bubble, first by protecting your own bubble, then by holding your spot, not allowing them to drag you off.
Once you have established, don’t push on my bubble and don’t pull on the rope, you further prove yourself as a leader by relaxing on your spot with your focus not on the horse. Leaders lead by watching for danger.
Leaders don’t stare at followers. Predators stare at prey. Followers watch their leader. If the human is staring at the horse, the horse perceives he is either a predator about to attack, or a follower that the horse must lead.
Once this relationship is established, then the horse can feel free to relax within the space the human leader has given him (the doughnut of safe area around the human). This is like allowing someone to drive your car. You must really trust them to relax and fall asleep. You must trust they are good drivers capable of not only operating the car but also avoiding potential accidents, alert enough to stay awake, knowledgeable enough about where you are going not to get lost without your guidance or direction. If you don’t feel safe or comfortable with any one of these things, you will not allow the other person to drive while you rest or sleep. You must feel completely safe and comfortable enough to rest or sleep.
POS is that space where they can feel safe and comfortable enough to rest, ‘sleep’, process and release physical and mental/emotional trauma, abuse, brace and intense feelings.
As you wait and allow the horse the opportunity to relax, process and release he will go through phases or cycle of movement and stillness. Each time he goes from either moving to stillness, or stillness to moving, he has reached another level of relaxation. The more cycles they go through, the more relaxed they get.
Processing is a big part of POS. It’s the time where physically they are relaxed enough to switch from SNS to PSNS. It’s characterized by the horse looking ‘asleep’, eyes closed. Most times the horse will be standing up, but some get so relaxed in POS that they will lie down to process.
To have the comfort and trust to lie down, even to roll, in the presence of a human (that could instantly switch into a predator), is a huge deal that many horses won’t ever do. If one will roll, lie down or sleep/process in your presence, it’s a huge big deal.
The strategy here is to just patiently wait with your body relaxed, grounded and mind clear. Some people are tense, they hold too much buzzy energy in their bodies, and too much chatter in their minds.
Horses are often ‘blown up’ (flight/overreact) or ‘driven inside’ (freeze/ignore) by these high chaotic energy/high mental chatter people. This high chaotic energy and/or high mental chatter sometimes shows on the outside to others as tension, anxiety, emotion or actual chatter. Other times it’s completely hidden, like the calm surface on a body of water that has a dangerous turbulence underneath.
The horses always know and respond to what’s inside you. You can fool people, you can’t fool horses. Some horses are more tolerant than others, but the highly sensitive ones cannot tolerate buzzy people.
Sometimes we don’t know we are buzzy, and that was my problem. I didn’t realize I became more intense in high stress situations. I am super laid back at home, and although I may not feel nervous at most shows, my horses could feel my intensity. This intensity was making some more buzzy at shows.
Once my friend Pete identified this by asking me a few questions like :
Do shows matter to you? Do you listen to music on the way to a show? Do you spend lots of time preparing for shows? Do you get excited to see your friends or rivals at shows? Do you dress, do your hair or makeup differently?
With those questions he showed me that I change slightly at shows. My laid back home self may look the same, but there are many things happening beneath the surface. I never thought of an inspiring playlist or show outfit as changing me, but I guess it does slightly.
POS has taught me so much about how to relax, ground and clear myself, especially my mind. I love it now, where I hated it when I first started. I used to do the minimum and hated even that. I wanted to be ‘doing’ something. It has taken me 3 years to really start to see and understand the benefits.
The biggest benefit I see is that the horse learns it’s safe to and can relax, process and release both physically and mentally/emotionally in your presence. It gives him the space to learn to do this on his own. He learns coping mechanisms and ways to help himself to soothe. This is of supreme importance, bc we want the horse to be keeping himself relaxed, not needing us to constantly be doing something to him to achieve relaxation.
To do this powerful exercise one needs 3 things:
1. long rope
1. Find a spot to stand relaxed with your focus not on your horse.
2. You will have a bubble around you that is yours to protect.
3. Your horse will have a doughnut of space surrounding you and your bubble (you are standing in the doughnut hole). The outer edge of the doughnut is created by the end of the rope.
Your horse may do anything it wants to do in his doughnut as long as he doesn’t come into your bubble, or pull on the end of the rope.
Introverts usually start frozen/standing still.
Extroverts usually start with flight/moving.
Wait for your horse to relax enough to move if he was still; or to relax enough to stop if he was moving.
As he relaxes more and more, he will move through these cycles of movement and stillness. Each time he changes, he is becoming more relaxed and more present. This is incredibly important to do.
Tick-Tock-If your horse pushes on your bubble, you must drive him out using the Tick-Tock technique.
1. Turn away from your horse (so it doesn't feel like you are attacking).
2. Raise your stick straight up (this becomes the pre-cue to say, you are in my bubble, they figure this out super fast and will start moving out of the bubble from just the lift of the stick soon).
3. Put your stick on your belly button with the tip at the height of his nose (if you keep the tip lower than the nose, the horse will reach over the stick to push on you).
4. Turn in the direction of his nose one step at a time, swinging your stick toward his nose, then away from his nose, approach and retreat, until you either tag his nose or he moves out of your bubble (the Approach/Retreat is super important here. The approach gives him the cue to move, and the retreat gives him time to process that cue and actually move. Many Introverts/High Freeze/Ignore horses will freeze when they feel the stick coming toward them/Tick, the pressure is too much to process, but by adding the Retreat/Tock, these horses can think and learn to respond correctly).
5. Relax again on your spot (This is what confirms to the horse that the Tick-Tock wasn't an aggressive move. He sees there is a clear answer, and Relaxation follows it. He will learn to seek the relaxation).
Many people don’t like doing the Tick-Tock to keep their horse out of their bubble, they just don’t see the point. They are concerned it will damage their relationship with their horse, when actually, it is the best thing you could do for most, if not all, horses.
Confident horses will push on the bubble or pull you off your spot because:
1. They want to see if you are an adequate leader before giving up the leadership to you .”If you won’t keep me out of your bubble and keep yourself safe, why would I expect you to protect me from something that’s trying to get both of us?”
2. They want to play, be entertained. “I don’t see you as a leader, I see you as someone to chew on, move, play king of the mountain.”
3. They want to see if they can get your feet to move. The one that causes the other to move is the leader.
Unconfident horses will push on the bubble or pull you off your spot because:
1. They know the safest place is in the center of the herd. If you are a herd of two, the center of the herd is in the middle of you.
2. They may try to leave bc they don’t trust you will keep them safe. They will leave before you do, so you are left to get eaten, not them.
3. They will want to stand super close, but not pushing, so they can ‘parasite’ or draw from your energy. Horses are hardwired to mirror their herd for safety. If they do perceive you as their leader, they may want to stand close to mirror your energy. This works great if you are always perfect, never get nervous, anxious, frustrated or angry. If you do, they will be sure the sky is falling and really lose their marbles. “If something is upsetting my leader, I know the end of the world is near and I am petrified!”
For every horse, protecting your bubble has tremendous value:
1. It gives them the space to move or freeze, and relax.
2. It takes you and your emotions out of their mind. They cannot ‘blame’ you for their emotions.
3. They must address what they are feeling and find a way to self-soothe with a distraction, and without you taking over the soothing process.
4. They get the time they need to process and gain confidence. This is on their time table, not ours.
5. The exercise mimics the way a herd drives out the young members (especially colts) when they are challenging the pecking order/leadership within the herd.
6. It gives them the space to get comfortable in their own skin, and come back to the relationship as a confident, relaxed, partner capable of filling in for you on one of your bad days/moments.
Playground of Safety is a powerful exercise that can solve many problems. It is one exercise, it doesn’t mean you will have a bubble that large forever. It just means that you can establish a bubble if you want one, like every leader. If a leader chooses to change the rules and allow you into their bubble, then its fair. If a leader chooses to lock their door and keep you out, then that’s also fair.