When my semi-feral Belgian (Brabante) mare first came to me, she would bolt at the mere sight of a human holding a rope. Yet 6 months later, I put my full body weight onto her back, for the first time – while she was lying down snoozing!
How is this possible?
Well, it all comes back to the 5-Minute Fun Equine Collaborative Learning Method! No “training” involved. It’s simply being wholly in the moment, with no agenda, just letting ideas arise spontaneously and saying to the horse, “Hey! What about this…”
Or letting the horse suggest something, or show through her behaviour or exploration that she is curious about something – and then exploring that further together.
So I arrived at the barn one sunny winter afternoon, and Audelina was lying down out in the field. I immediately went to her and snuggled down with her – with my arm cuddling across her back and my cheek leaning on her neck as I inhaled her warm, horsey smell. And we just enjoyed the sun and breathed together for 5 or 10 minutes.
Then I started scratching her withers – and as I looked at her broad, comfy-sofa back, the idea came to me, “I wonder what she would do if I sat on her back now?” As I thought about it, I noticed that all 4 legs were folded up underneath her. So I was a bit worried that putting my weight on top of her would crunch her joints a bit – and of course, I didn’t want to do that.
Then I moved behind her (I’m standing up by this point) to scratch her sacrum and the top of her butt cheeks (next to her tail – you know how horses love that!). And I wondered if it would be more comfortable for her if I sat on her rump.
I was thinking to myself, “Hmmm… how can I make me getting on her back a positive, enjoyable experience for her?”
And then it came to me: If I lay myself across her back, on my stomach, I can reach with my hand to scratch her favorite spot under her tucked-up hind leg: her udder region. Yes! That is something worthwhile enough that she just may think that what I’m doing is a good idea. Of course, I would watch her like a hawk and be ready to get off immediately at any sign of discomfort.
The first time I did it, her ears flicked back and her head stiffened in a bit of, “What?? What’s she doing?” Which quickly shifted to, “Oh yeah, that’s good, that’s really great,” as I leaned, with my full weight draped across her back, and stretched to scratch whatever I could reach under her hind leg. A minute or less later, I got off, and went back to scratching her rump.
Then a bit of massage down her back and sacrum, then back to draping myself across her back, my feet near her shoulder on one side, with my head hanging upside down near her rump on the opposite side, so I could scratch under her hind leg again. Absolutely no change in her energy, breathing, or body language this time.
Again, I alternated with other scratches and massage and then lay diagonally again across her back for the third time, with my full weight stretched out on top of her, as my equine chiropractor drove up to the barn – watching me from her car window. I got off after a couple of minutes and crouched down behind Audelina’s butt and ran healing energy in through her sacrum. Aude was now so relaxed and blissed out, she rolled over onto her side and slept stretched out flat in the warm winter sun.
I left her there and walked over to greet my chiropractor, who is chuckling away, “You know, I’m thinking how backing a horse for the first time is usually such a big deal; everyone is so nervous, cause you have no idea how the horse is going to react – is he going to blow? Are you going to eat dirt? And then… we have this way…” she gestured to Audelina snoozing blissfully in the beautiful sunshine.
It’s remarkable how different things can be when you listen to your horse, and your primary goal is trust and intimacy. It’s amazing how much bliss awaits both of you when you throw out “training” and think about fun collaborative learning instead!
“I would again like to encourage you to feel your uniqueness that awaits discovery (or rediscovery) beneath wants, fears, imagination, worries and future plans. The devil loves copies, poor imitations, the masses, their frenzy and their susceptibility. However, horses love the original and the individual, the unique, in brief, the authentic. And they love the brave.”
– Klaus F. Hempfling, The Horse Seeks Me