When horses offer us undesirable behaviors it’s important to see it from their perspective, they are having a hard time, not giving us a hard time. That was the case with Noah during our Fall Horse Speak Clinic in North Carolina. I wanted to help solve her habit of crowding and getting in front of her leader, ultimately cutting them off to take the lead herself. (Hint: It had much to do with finding her leaders worthy.) Noah would also throw up her head up towards the person who was un-haltering her and leave town quickly. I believed the halter issue was caused by a triggered memory of ill-will towards her, or a memory of pain. As is always the first step, we ruled out pain first.
Our haltering session began with me first focusing on myself, assuring that I was at Zero, an inner and outer state of calm. Next I began to help Noah relax and go towards Zero herself. I held some of her face, head, and neck Buttons while taking deep breaths. She didn’t let down much but tolerated my touch. I held her Follow Me Button, inviting her to follow me into relaxation by dropping her head a bit. She wasn’t buying it. I broke down the task by using the 3X approach, a problem-solving Horse Speak protocol. I unclipped the halter, took a deep breath, reclipped it, and paused, stepping away, offering a hold hand toward her cheek, and taking a few more deep breaths. I repeated this process two more times. On the last set I removed the halter. She tensed up and brought her head towards me a bit, which was an improvement. I thanked her and we ended the session.
Noah is truly a stoic lead mare. During the retreat I assigned one person to her and another to a different horse. As they started to walk to their respective horses Noah changed it up. She walked directly to the person who she wanted to teach at that moment, showing us that I had it wrong. We went with it as the choice is always theirs at liberty. Her message was very clear!
At another time Noah was standing on the hill in the pasture and alerted to something in the distance. I walked a few steps in front of her using a Sentry posture and breath. She then walked around me, stepping in front and went back to her Sentry position. I obviously had not taken care of the problem. I tried to convince her all was safe but there obviously really was something very far off in the distance and she could still sense or see it. Oh how they make us smile!
Fast forward to our last afternoon of the retreat when we were working on in-hand applications. It was clear that Noah was seeking Clarity about who leads who, and about maintaining the Bubbles of Personal Space. When her leader got grounded, clear and consistent things began to get much better. She stopped trying to crowd and cut in front. She began to walk in unison, maintaining space and a nice rhythm. Big changes were happening for this mare. At the end of each walk around the cones and markers every horse was brought to a safety cone for some rest, digest and restore. Noah began to associate the safety cone with its intended purpose. She began to find some Zero, which had been challenging for her throughout the retreat. I decided to give the halter issue one more go before we wrapped up.
I approached her and we checked in with each other. I held various Buttons, taking a deep breath and pausing in between each touch. I used the 3X approach with the halter once it was clear that she was not being triggered. She allowed me to slip the halter off and remained completely relaxed. I stood for a while just “holding” and breathing with her. Lastly, I offered her a check-in before leaving. She did not acknowledge my offer. No change in her expression and no offer to connect with me for the first time in days. She was the horse that lingered on every Greeting, with every person, wanting to share a few breaths and converse. This time there was no response. It was a very telling indicator of her state of mind. Another teachable moment had presented itself.
Relaxed, or Shutdown, Going Inward and Processing?
Leaving her at the safety cone we took our seats nearby. She was free to go but remained in place. I asked the participants how they felt upon observing her in that moment. Did she seem relaxed or did she seem shut down, inward and processing? Her head remained in a neutral position, her eyes looked inward and vacant. She did not move. Her breathing was shallow. We all agreed that these were signs of a horse in a deep processing state. We offered her an “I see you” and let her be. We began our final wrap up session seated between her and the vast landscape that she so diligently searched for threats. Noah remained at the cone for 20-30 minutes. After a while she took a deep breath and returned to being more present. She cocked a leg, closed her eyes, and even let her bottom lip droop while she rested. Then she calmly left the cone with a gentle swish of her tail and rejoined the herd. Her owner said that that level of relaxation was unusual for her. We all began to feel better. What a wonderful way to wrap up our time together
I am full of gratitude for Sharon Wilsie, the founder of Horse Speak, and for having had the opportunity to spend the last 7 years learning and practicing the truly natural language of the horse. It has enhanced a lifetime of skills and allowed me to offer connection, enrichment, and support, to every horse, in every situation. I cherish being able to share this work and teach others whose goals are to improve rapport, trust, confidence and connection with the horses they love. To begin or continue your journey in Horse Speak visit: