Often I am contacted when an owner or a rider is encountering a bump in the relationship with their horse. They bought a horse, things were going so well until... Now, they are not sure what they want to do. They have invested a bit of their heart and usually a bit of their wallet, and so are not quiet sure they are ready to part company with the dream horse that is slipping into a nightmare, yet they are overwhelmed and not sure what to do.
So today I thought I would touch on some practical things to build a relationship and move back toward camaraderie.
1. Throw the Agenda Away
We can be very goal oriented and sometimes it keeps us from being in the moment. The horse lives in the moment. As owners, riders and lovers of horses we need to learn to live and be in the moment with our horse. To do this we need to not spend our time with our horse trying to get to our destination but instead spend our time being in the moment with the horse.
2. Become a Student of the Horse
As I say this, let me also qualify the type of student you ought to be...an attentive, observant student. You could spend all the best hours of your days observing horses and still have much to learn. The less in the moment you are, when you are with your horse, the more true this is. It is a good idea to watch the horse in its natural environment, in herds, with people, with good trainers and with bad. Learn to read horses. Invest in the mindset of a life long learner. Come to the horse as a student and not as an expert. Now, when I say this I am not suggesting that you let the horse walk all over you. In fact, in the beginning do your observation from afar. Learn to see how the handler influences the horse, the other horse influences the horse, the other creature influences the horse, the new environment influences the horse. Can you see it coming yet? Can you anticipate the response the horse is going to give before it happens?
Become a student of your horse in particular. In the beginning it is important to get to know your horse and learn to read his or her body language. Sometimes this is easiest to do by turning your horse loose in an enclosed space such as a round pen. You want the space to be small enough that your body language is easily felt without you having to do too much running around, but large enough that your horse doesn't feel trapped by your presence.
Sometimes we are not very aware of how our pressures are effecting the horse. The freedom and the space gives you an opportunity to see how your horse senses you. Do you get more of a response then you expected or less? Does your horse tend to ignore or over react? Does your horse tune you out and then blow everything out of proportion? Can you get the horse to move from your presence super easily? Can your body whisper or do you feel like you have to use close proximity to get a response? Do you get the response you intended to or another response entirely? Does your horse seem inquisitive and like it wants to know what you want, or is it trying to avoid?
In the beginning try not to judge the responses. Don't evaluate and say, the horse gave me the wrong response, a bad response. Instead try to be objective and pretend you are learning a new language. If you step toward the horse's nose from the center of your space and intend to slow the horse or get a down transition and the horse stops hard and spins away, try not to feel that the horse was disobedient, instead try to use less next time. See what happens if you just lean your upper body forward. What happens if you turn your shoulders more toward the horse? More away? Experiment. See the horse's response as feedback in how the horse perceived what you did. When I stepped toward the horse's nose it caused the horse to feel like responding that way. This is where the horse felt the open spot. Take this feedback and then evaluate. If the horse felt the opening was to turn around but I intended the horse to just slow, how can I make the horse feel like slowing without feeling like it can turn around? How can I close that door?
If you are getting lots of misunderstandings far away expect to have those misunderstandings more pronounced when up close. A horse that will step into your space and not stay away from you when free will probably not respect your bubble when you lead. A horse that over reacts to your body pressure at 15 feet will probably feel like its looking for the nearest exit up close. Use the distance to work through some of these issues and refine your communication skills. When you start to lead again read your horse and his or her response to your body's pressures. Try to evaluate and modify accordingly.
3. Work With the Horse that Shows Up
We all have those days where our usually sweet attentive mare shows up in a surlily mood. It is easy to get derailed in these moments. Instead breathe and be in the moment. Deal with what is. Don't allow expectations to ruin a learning, growing moment for you and your horse. Surely, you know what it is like to being having a bad day. Pretend your horse is a close friend. What does your friend need today? Sometimes we work through these moods and can find a willing horse with a little expenditure of excess energy. Sometimes what the horse needs is some bonding and loving on.
If your usually calm and sedate horse comes out of the barn on two legs, try not to throw in the towel. It might be a perfect day for ground work in a nice large space where you can shape the arena or space. You can safely burn the extra energy and help the horse reconnect with you and then work on more refined control. Sometimes these high days end up showing us a very responsive highly in-tune creature we didn't know we had. When you have forward it is much easier to direct the horse then when the horse is leaning into pressures and resistant to moving.
4. Know What you Intend
There are times when we just kind of float along with our horse. We are not very clear in our directions and so we get unclear responses. If you don't have a clear expectation of the response you are anticipating it is going to be much more difficult to release the pressure when you get the correct response. The biggest quickest reward for the horse is going to be the release of pressure from the request, when you get the correct response. It also makes it much easier for you to suddenly realize that you are not where you intended to be. Take for instance leading a horse from the barn to the arena, if you are not being definite in your direction of travel and are not staying in the moment, you may be half way there before you realize that you are off course and actually now headed to the lush grass where you sometimes take your horse to graze. It is easy for our lack of attentiveness and leadership to throw our horse into the leader role. The horse may not even be pushing his or her way into this role...rather she or he could just be filling a vacuum created by our lack of clarity, direction and initiative. When you make a request, have an idea of what you expect and know whether or not you got it. If you didn't, then re-evaluate the request and the response, then rephrase. The quicker you respond and correct the misunderstanding the easier it is for your horse to know what the expectations are and whether they are on the right page. Inconsistency creates frustration.
So before you throw in the towel spend some time just working on the relationship. Spend attentive, in the moment time learning from your horse and growing with them. Even if you decide this horse isn't for you, you will have had a chance to learn and grow with the horse in the time you had.
I have never wasted any time I spent bonding with horses, listening to horses and growing in my level of attentiveness and awareness to what makes them tick, react and want to work with me in cooperation. Respect goes a long way, in any relationship.
Not just anyone can name you. Often times our first name is given by our parents. It seems only right that our mother and father who have brought us into the world should have the first right to place their seal and connect their authority through the use of name. Often the second people to rename us are the peers within our group. There is often a hint of teasing and jostling for position connected to these renamings within our American youth culture. In many native cultures renaming is connected to a coming of age ceremony, through which one learns or acknowledges their personal role within the society. It is usually connected to their personal giftings by the Great Spirit or the recognized deity within that culture. In the Bible there are stories of renaming that are usually connected to a change of situation, personality or character. When women marry often there is a change in name associated with the change in position in life.
My renaming was attempted by many. There were the kids who tried to tack their labels on me. Some stuck with pricks sharp enough to motivate change. This led to a struggle that wounded the fragile sense of image that I clung to, until the day the Lord began my renaming. I say, began because my renaming was a process that continues on today. First He un-named me. He tore away at all the labels and mis-conceptions that the enemy of our souls had tried, through various means, to adhere to my soul, destroying who God had created me to be. As He stripped back the layers of lies, He began to expose the truth, who I was in Him.
Yet, ultimately my most important name is simple. It is found in a possessive pronoun. It would be unidentifiable admist the others who could claim it. Yet, when He calls me by this name all else fads away. Nothing else matters when I truly allow the truth of who I am to settle in to the crevices of my heart. Who am I? Simply, "His."