Although I had natural horsemanship training in my 40’s – just to see what it was about, and experience this ‘kinder gentler’ training method, I was originally trained in all things Horse, by my Arab/Morgan mare when I was 8 years old.
We had recently immigrated to Canada from Kenya (with a 2-yr interlude in Massachusetts) and neither of my parents, nor I, knew anything about horses. My only exposure to horses had been my weekly riding session at 2-3 years old in Nairobi; being led around an arena as I sat on a pony. How I LOVED those sessions and would not miss my weekly bliss for any reason.
We had only been in Canada for a year when my Dad finally relented and bought me a horse. I had one book on how to care for a horse and that was the extent of our combined family knowledge of horses. Not only did I not know how to put on the bridle that came with the horse, I didn’t know if the bit went under, or over, the tongue. The book said I needed to clean the horse’s hooves regularly, so the way I figured to do that was to have my friend lead the horse forward one step, I would ‘catch’ the hoof when the horse took a step forward, and then hang onto it while trying to pick it out.
My blessed mare, Dobbin, sure had her work cut out for her. Luckily, as a child, I also didn’t know that we weren’t supposed to be able to hear/understand animals, so that made Dobbin’s job a lot easier. Did I mention she was already in foal (pregnant) when we bought her? She was a wise mama already and was also 8 years old – we quickly agreed that it was best to let her be charge of most things. The days I forgot to water her before I left for school, she would be standing at the water trough, clanging her hoof on it as I walked home from the bus stop – crap! And I would sprint for the hose.
This is how I KNOW that relationship, honesty, intimacy and authenticity are far more important than any training, skill, or intelligence. Dobbin taught me everything I needed to know about horses. So that when my Dad’s friend dropped off their crazy, dangerous pony – to see if I could do anything with him before they took him to slaughter… I was able to give that pony a second chance. We then sold the pony 5 years later to a family for their 2-yr-old, with a 100% money-back guarantee. They adored him.
In this video, I show you a couple brief clips of one of the most important aspects of a horse-human relationship – The Halter. Think about how this must feel… go ahead and wind a few ropes around your head and face, give the end to your friend and let them pull you around. See how you feel. NO ONE likes to be pulled around by their face. If you feel you have to pull on your horse’s face, you’ve probably already missed your horse saying, No (or not now), about 3 times.
We humans don’t need any help being dominant. Our toxically patriarchal culture has already done a superb job of indoctrinating all of us into dominant, coercive behaviour as our default setting. How many of us have not been abused or traumatized as a result of someone dominating us against our will, or with no regard for our personal space and autonomy? Seriously. I don’t think we need any more help or training in how to apply pressure, manipulation or trickery.
This doesn’t mean we can’t have desires and ideas about what we would enjoy doing with our horses! It simply means that we hold calm, grounded space for the horse to have an equal voice. No means no. My body, my choice. Sound familiar?
Horses are naturally curious, playful and exploratory. Both Xadaa and Posa asked to wear the halter at a young age, because it looked like fun. It was an activity and aspect of relationship they had observed me having with some of the other horses, and they wanted to experience it themselves. If I had wanted to, I could have easily built on that, through play-based co-learning. All of my semi-feral crew can be taken out in public on a halter, they’ve had pads, weights and a bareback saddle on their back. They’ve all had me on their back at some point – for however long they wished, whether that was seconds or minutes. ALL done through play, lightness and with full autonomy over their own body – usually unhaltered, in the middle of their herd, and acres of land to get away, if they wanted.
When I was teaching Montaro the reining signals from the ground (wearing a halter with ropes for reins), as we walked along the road, he said to me, “You don’t need to do that. You want me to go left, just look left, or turn your body slightly left. You want me to stop, say Whooa.” Oh. Riiiight. Der. When I asked him if I could ride him, so we could practice riding, he said, “Why would we need to practice?” He sent me images of him and I out hiking and exploring wilderness areas (pictures I had sent him as my desire), and said, “You get tired, you hop on, and I’ll carry you. When you’re no longer tired, you walk yourself. What’s to practice?” For him it was the simplest thing in the world.
We haven’t ridden on any adventures yet… but perhaps this summer the opportunity will arise and FEEL GOOD to both of us…