Tuesday, May 11, 2010

In Their Own Language

This morning, when I fed the horses, I also opened the stall doors, and Siete rudely shoved her way past me out into the corral to eat the flake of hay that I had left out there. That's not okay, so I immediately told her that it was mine, not hers, and chased her to the far end of the corral. It was a little early for me to think clearly, but I heard Carolyn Resnick’s voice in my head telling me to keep strong but flexible boundaries. Siete was sulking. Head down, she came around to Silk's stall and joined her mother, eating from that pile. Then, as soon as I turned away, she charged back to the hay I had claimed as mine. Again, I waved her away and told her that she couldn't have it, and she retreated to her own stall to eat the hay in there.

So, when we began our Waterhole Ritual of sharing territory later in the day, I wasn't sure how Siete was going to act towards me. I had a feeling that she was still annoyed. There had been a huge commotion next door that I am proud to say my horses totally ignored. Our neighbors’ enormous tree had fallen across their driveway in the windstorm Sunday night. With chain saws and wood chippers and lots of loud, violent sounding noise, a crew of tree-trimmers cleaned it up for a couple of hours. After they were finished, I opened the big gate between the corral and the pasture so Silk and Siete could come and go into their stalls as they chose. I placed my chair in the pasture and began to read. Both horses joined me and grazed happily for a while.

Then, following Carolyn’s suggestion, I took a small bowl of carrots and put it under my chair. She wants Siete to become rude because she thinks it indicates that Siete trusts me more and knows she can speak out about how she feels. This exercise is supposed to develop the horse’s ability to listen and pay attention to me. I returned to reading. (I should add here that the horses aren’t wearing halters, and the only thing that I have to guide them is a “reed”, literally a long, very flexible grass reed from a water plant.) Neither horse came near me. After about 20 minutes, I stood up and brought a piece of carrot to Siete and thanked her for her good manners. When I sat down again and began reading, she approached me. I stood up and calmly waved the reed lightly, asking Siete to back away. She knows that when I wave the reed, I’m telling her that I want more space, and she left me alone. Slowly, I walked over to her and gave her another piece of carrot, praising her for listening to me. She turned and walked back to her stall and stood in the doorway, looking at me expectantly.

Silk came to me as soon I sat down again, ready for her piece of carrot. I stopped her by gently waving the reed and told her that she would have to go away to be able to get the treat. She looked really indignant and reluctantly stepped back. Miffed, she walked away. Then, I stood up and brought her a piece of carrot. I told her that I knew that she was a good horse, and I thanked her. She took it and began grazing again. I sat down, picking up my book again. Siete made her way back out into the pasture, so after awhile, I decided to try another exercise called the "Hello Ritual". I looked her in the eye and walked up to her, and she extended her nose to greet me. I touched her forehead, said hello and walked away. Over the next ten minutes, I did this again with Siete several times and she responded with interest and was glad to see me. This exercise gives the horse control of the situation and also shows her that she can trust me. When I approach her, I must follow her lead. If she greets me, I reply and then, take the pressure off by leaving her. These reciprocal movements are the beginning of the dance. Sometimes, you need to lead and sometimes you follow.

Each time I sat down in my chair, I felt a rising sensation of happiness begin to bubble up. I couldn't stop smiling. After about the fourth time that Siete looked me in the eye and lifted her nose towards my hand, I positively floated back to my seat. It seemed to me that my little horse was thinking, "Oh good, after all these years, she's finally speaking my language!"

Even though I've watched the "Waterhole Rituals" DVD over and over and read Carolyn's book, “Naked Liberty” twice, this time, everything seems to be clicking for me. I think that having the opportunity in long phone calls every two weeks to listen to Carolyn explain what she would like us to do and why we are doing it and having other students in the group ask questions helps make the pieces fit together better and become more clear for me. Today, I really believed in my heart for the first time that Siete would be interested in playing with me and eventually dancing with me, and it filled me with joy.

Carolyn was saying that we’ve been taught to be rigid with horses. That means the horse learns the rules, but stops paying attention to you. With the Waterhole Rituals, we’re beginning a new dialogue. To be able to learn this way of communication that is instinctive, basic and based on herd dynamics found in groups of wild horses while using the sophistication of the Internet and video and distance-learning technology is really remarkable.

I’m so grateful to Carolyn for her adventurous, open-minded and generous spirit. She is inspiring me to take a leap of faith and giving me more confidence and a greater comfort level when I communicate with Siete and Silk. For the last year, I’ve been lamenting that if I still lived in San Diego, I would have been able to work with Carolyn Resnick. I’ve looked and looked for a horse trainer near me here on the East Coast that seemed like a good fit and haven’t found anyone. It is amazing to think that I can learn to train my horse long distance like this with the very person that I most wanted as our teacher. Imagine all the other things that we can learn now that we have these resources available to us. It boggles my mind and thrills me.


Kate said...

You're taking advantage - full advantage - of a great opportunity to develop an even deeper relationship with your horses. Thanks for your detailed descriptions.

Grey Horse Matters said...

This system seems to be working out very well for you and your girls. It's wonderful to have the resources at your fingertips to forge a deep relationship with your horses and I think it sounds like you're having fun doing it.

Breathe said...

I look forward so much to your posts on this. Lately I've been changing the way I catch Cibolo, inspired by what you're doing. He has nearly forgiven me for his ill fitting saddle and our walks toward each other within the herd are improving, thanks to your posts.

jme said...

i love learning about these alternative approaches to our interactions with horses. it sounds like you have found a way to really make the time you spend together special.

Lori Skoog said...

There is a lot to be learned by reading your blog. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. It makes me want to learn more.

deejbrown said...

This is fascinating, this learning about other animal cultures beside our own. Your experiences are helping me listen to others of all species.