Tuesdays are dedicated to Snow Frye‘s amazing Body Awareness class followed by work with Sharon Wilsie & Laura on our Horse Speak Educational program. Upon arriving home last night I headed down to the paddock. Everything was blanketed in the newly fallen snow and it was finally, a warm, lovely evening. Riley was standing by himself in the middle of the paddock. We shared a quiet greeting, I inhaled the wondrous smell of his neck and offered him some long, low strokes. Then I walked around a bit, called him to me and wondered what we should do. Riley looked at me and held up his foreleg, indicating that he wanted to do some copycat tricks. I had a few treats in my pocket so we played. We crossed our front legs, worked on bowing, danced back and forth a bit, backed up and just had fun. He was all in! I moved the mounting block into the paddock and got one of his fetch toys. We played fetch a few times and then I stood on the block. He came up, but not quite in the right spot for me to mount. We talked about that for a while and I could tell he wasn’t sure this was a good idea. I threw his toy down about where I wanted his head. He understood that, went to retrieve it, handed it to me and stood still for me to mount. I shared some breaths with him, rocked the baby a bit on his withers and asked permission. He stood still and I climbed aboard, not really sure where he might take us.
Then Riley proceeded to walk directly towards Scout, the lead horse, who was eating the last of the hay in the shelter. I thought, okay…. my first choice would not have been to see if we could get chased off by the lead horse, but I let it happen. Scout reacted exactly as one might imagine. He gave Riley a big, fat NO! Just prior to Scout’s response I had began bumping my calves lightly against Riley’s sides, which is the cue for backing up without the use of reins. He backed out obediently and then took me to the gate, as if to say, “let’s go out.” Trail riding in the dark without a bridle or helmet really wasn’t a good option, so I asked him to walk on. We walked around the paddock a bit, did some turning, halted a couple of times, backed a little and then I slid down. This experience left me with a warm heart, feeling happy and grateful. Riley showed me how empowered he felt with me on his back. Enough so that the first thing he did was to confront the lead horse about the last of the hay, not something he would have done on his own.
We ask for unbelievable trust when we tie our horses up, saddle them, put a piece of metal in their mouth and then climb up on their backs. We are taking away their freedom and possibly their voice. We are asking for them (a prey animal) to give us (a predator) everything. When we get on naked we are saying to them, “I give all of my trust to you, let’s go somewhere together and you can lead.”
I’m not suggesting you get on “naked”, only that you consider what you do from the horse’s perspective. Remember that it takes two to have a conversation and if you are talking you can’t be listening. Try to spend some time just listening this winter. Go to your horse without an agenda and see what he has in mind. The experience will give you great insight into what he is truly feeling and thinking. Be calm, quiet, open and aware. Maybe just pull up a chair and share space in the herd with him.
A few weeks ago, after returning from a clinic in California, I needed some quiet time to reconnect with my horse. I brought a chair into the paddock and sat down. The horses each visited me, sometimes hanging out and sometimes leaving. A boarded Morgan named Jordie had visited me, left and was about to return. Riley, who had been standing near me, pinned his ears, chased Jordie away, and then returned, aligning his body beside my chair. From there we both just basked in the sun and relaxed. Riley had created a situation where it was just him and me. What a gift!
Creating true connection and mutual trust comes from “Feeling” first, not “Doing”. The insights you gain don’t come from driving him in circles or disengaging his haunches, for that is not “natural” to a horse. The horse first and foremost cares about how it feels to share space with you. Will you understand his needs? Do you hear what he is saying? Can you keep him safe? Can you “read” his body language well enough to understand him? Are you self-aware and mindful enough to see how your presence affects him? Then, do have the tools to create positive change?
If you approach your horsemanship in this manner you will not need to use whips, ropes, flags and round pens to begin your conversations. You will begin exactly where the horse needs you to begin, with an open heart, an open mind, the ability to create calmness, as well as the ability to create clear boundaries in a non-threatening, meaningful manner. From there all things are possible.
Let them do the talking and see where it leads you. It’s about the journey and it can be amazing! It can lift your spirits and warm your heart. So go out and enjoy!
P.S. The stories I shared are just a couple examples of what has developed out of my quest to find a way to work with horses that is based on what is truly natural to them. I call it Holistic Horsemanship. If you are interested in learning more about creating a true connection with horses check out my list of upcoming events on www.heidipotter.com. One great start that you can gain from the comfort of your own home this winter is the upcoming Horse Speak Webinar-The Fundamentals of Horse Language taught by Sharon Wilsie, the founder of Horse Speak. Learn more by visiting: www.horsespeakeducation.com and began down the pathway to a deeper understanding of these magnificent creatures and a new way of becoming exactly who they need you to be.