Saturday, March 22, 2014

What My Horses Teach Me

At this point my horses are my real teachers - of how to be with horses and how to ride them in a way that results in partnership and communication.  I'm grateful every day that they are willing to share their knowledge with me and nudge me along the path towards better horsemanship.

Dawn has been a huge influence, since I started working with and riding her in the fall of 2009.  She's helped me immensely to become more aware of my body and how I use it, and of metal and physical braces.  She's so incredibly sensitive that she's helped me learn not to "shout" but instead to "whisper" .  She taught me to follow with my body and hands and allow forward - she's immensely forward but that can come together with relaxation.  She and I have a "meditation" together that we do almost every time we ride - we breathe together and our hearts beat together when we're muzzle-wrapping.

Pie has taught me that a young horse requires active riding - but active doesn't have to be "loud" or braced, it has to be leading and directing, while remaining soft.  He's taught me a lot about my body position - he doesn't compensate for me and highlights when my posture and focus are off.  He's taught me to be more reliably "there" for him, and there's a lot more he has to teach me, he says.

Red has taught me to be calmer, and more patient, and more persistent while staying soft.  He's extremely sensitive to mental energy and is working with me on my not "shouting" mentally.  He's taught me the difference between softness from the inside of the horse/human combination, and "light" - a horse where physical behaviors look soft, but the internal softness isn't there.

And yesterday he taught me something very important, which I sort of knew, but had never really grasped.  After our big wash stall training experience of Thursday, which ended in a very good place, I was interested to see how we'd be the next time we went in the wash stall.  Friday afternoon, we needed to rinse his leg off before I remedicated and rebandaged.  So off we went to the wash stall, and . . . he led right in on a loose lead, right off the bat, no stopping, no bracing and no backing up.  I repeated it a couple of times just to be sure - same thing, no problem.  And then he stood there calmly on a loose lead while I hosed his leg.

What really struck me was the change in his demeanor.  Before, when he approached the wash stall, along with the pulling back and bracing, his demeanor was alarmed, and even once I managed to get him in, he was anxious and trying to escape.  And every time we went in, it was the same - it never got any better. Now, he was calm and settled, like it had never been an issue.

I think I know the answer.  By continuing to offer him softness, and a soft place to be, even while he was bracing - instead of bracing back - he was able to find softness inside.  And the physical softness reflected in his leading in and standing so softly was the same thing as mental/emotional softness - the two things are really two sides of the same coin - they are the same.  That's why we never got wash stall training that stuck before, because the softness wasn't coming through.  It's a great piece of learning for me - a physical brace is always part and parcel of a mental/emotional brace, and a horse that is physically braced may express the mental/emotional part of the brace with resistant behaviors, spookiness and anxiety.  A braced horse is an unhappy horse.

Thanks to Dawn, Pie and Red, I have some hope of improving my horsemanship - they add "so long as you pay attention."  Amen to that.


  1. Our horses really are our best teachers if we're willing to listen.

    Nice work with Red. Now that he knows there are no horse eating monsters in the wash stall he sounds very confident in himself and I'm sure he's pretty proud of himself too.

  2. Excellent post and true. I know that I am limited as a horseman only by my limitations -- not Sugar's.

  3. Horses are wonderful animals to learn with and from.

    Today Harley told me that he wanted to ride again when I was grooming him. He pawed once and arched his neck. He also initiated trotting under saddle. It was great!

  4. Reminds me of Podhajsky's book title, "My Horses, My Teachers." Great perspective.

    It's rather amazing limping about the barn on my crutches and noting how, in general, my horses are very respectful and patient with me. They seem to be extra careful when I am in the stall. They are such sensitive and perceptive creatures.

  5. Posts like this are why I love your blog, Kate. Your insight is wonderful.

    I'm really intrigued by your experiences with wash rack training. You mention that previous attempts just didn't stick. This sounds like my struggles with teaching Dee to let me deal with her ears. We work on it and work on it but each time it seems like we've may as well have never done it before...always feels like square one. Clearly I'm doing something wrong. I've been so focused on approach and retreat that I think I've been missing the place of softness. I will work this week with a new attitude. Seems maybe your horses don't just teach you but maybe your horses taught me this week!

  6. It really is amazing how much a horse can teach us if we are willing, every horse I have had has taught me much more to learn

  7. Every horse can teach us something, if we open our heart, mind and soul to them. You have 3 wonderful teachers, and thank you for sharing your journey with them. Like Story said, it teaches me too!


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