What do you do when your horse asks you to go so far out of your comfort zone, that you start counting off a list of all the things that could go wrong…? Last week I told you how my friend Jenny and I used an art game to see what was going on in our subconscious, then we took that information out to the horses to see what they had to say.
Now, I’m going to tell you the rest of that story…
Jenny and her fiancé Ken (I call them JenKen cause really, who could resist?!) walked across the paddock and into the barn and I went looking for Montaro. There he was all by himself, towards the back of the field. He flashed me a picture (in my mind’s eye) of him and I going into the back 20 acres together.
BUT he wanted to be unhaltered and completely at liberty. Oh boy. Three separate directions he could take off in… nasty neighbour at the back… what if he didn’t want to come back to the fenced part for hours? What if I couldn’t catch him again and had to drive home leaving him in the unfenced area overnight??! And so on.
At which point Montaro asked, Do you trust me? As I pondered this, the thought/image packages from him continued to arrive, What does our relationship mean to you… who have I shown you I AM (accompanied by flashed images of all the cool stuff he has taught me)? Do you trust in our relationship?
I took a deep breath and said, “Fine. But I’m going to get a rope and halter to bring back there just in case.” I stuffed the halter in my pocket and slung the rope crosswise around me like a purse, and we headed off to the corral-pen together – Montaro following calmly behind me. Funnily enough, none of the other horses followed us. They stayed up at the barn with JenKen.
Taro followed me into the catch-pen and then he stood quietly while I opened the gate to the unfenced 20 acres. I took a deep breath, then stepped aside and invited him in. We started to make our way down the steep bank to the creek and then I stood back and said, “This doesn’t feel safe to me, you go first.” He stepped/slid down the bank, leaped across the creek and galloped up the other side. I made my way across considerably slower and as I came up the far bank to the field he was still racing around, bucking and kicking with freedom and delight.
I cannot pretend that I was not just a wee bit apprehensive about, “What the hell have I done? Shit! What if he doesn’t let me get near him! What if he takes off and just keeps running?!” My heart was pounding, I was shaky and nervous, and then he dropped his head to eat. Deep breath in. Okay. Okay, just keep breathing… Of course my monkey mind is then running off with, “How long is he going to want to stay out here? There’s no grass left on their side of the fence, he might want to eat for 4 hours… I can’t stay out here for 4 hours… shit, what if I can’t get him back in…” and so on.
I knew better than to even try to approach him in my current state, so I decided to give myself a time out. After all, we were already HERE. Unfenced. Completely at liberty. I had already made that choice and now we were IN it. So, time to stop franticking around (yes, I just made up that word and how apt it is!) and just be here now. I figured I had at least an hour or two before he would even possibly be ready to go back.
Meanwhile, the other four horses – once they realized he was gone – were tearing up their pasture, bucking, rearing, racing around at top speed – sliding stops just before they hit the back fence line (another reason my heart was pounding) – galloping back to the barn, storming through it and out again. I had told JenKen to give them some loose alfalfa while I was gone with Montaro, so they had put out the piles – which the horses completely ignored as they franticked around whinnying and calling to Montaro.
Whew. Thank god none of them tried to go through the fence. And they eventually settled enough to grab anxious mouthfuls of their favorite treat, while flinging their heads up and scanning the back fence line every few moments.
I came trudging back to the barn to let everyone know we were okay and to grab a flake of alfalfa for Montaro. I placed the flake in the middle of the corral-pen with the gate to the unfenced area wide open. I was thinking that if he chose to follow me back, he may balk at the idea of going into the corral-pen; so a little inducement might be a good idea!
And then I crossed the creek again and went into the back 20. Montaro was still in the first open area after the creek – where I’d left him. And I stood there breathing deeply for a while – breath being the key to connection and intuition – and then the image of my Tree Cathedral popped into my mind. I looked at Montaro and said, “Yes, very good idea, I’ll go visit the cathedral.”
So I skirted off to the edge of the field and into the forest – into my gorgeous, powerful, magnificent cathedral of cedars:
After spending some time in the presence of these Masters, and meditating in my special spot (I sit where the red gloves are):
I emerged back out to the field to look for Montaro and see what wanted to happen next. Would he even be there? I wanted to know how he felt about me in this space of complete freedom and choice. Would he still want to connect with me? What would his reaction to the halter be? He doesn’t mind ropes but he does not like wearing a halter. Of course, I was now much calmer and balanced from having meditated and connected with the trees, so I was able to approach him without a frantic energy or anxiety. I was now able to feel into his energy and to feel my own body wisdom directing me in how to move and what to do.
Yes, the anxiety and all the what if’s were still there, but I sent them to the back of my brain and I used my breath and focus to center myself and ground my energy down into the earth.
My body spontaneously remembered two things from my youth – when I didn’t have human teachers or lessons and I just learned directly from horses with no adults around:
- Horses like me to approach in a circular fashion, from the side, not head-on.
- Horses don’t move easily in straight lines, they like to meander or zig-zag whilst slowly moving forward.
As I walked round the side of the area where Montaro was, I also remembered how I had taught Audelina to enjoy being led. Previously, the mere sight of a rope would send her galloping away. And if they got a halter and rope on her, her big Belgian self would just take off anyway! You could get a severe rope burn, or be dragged along – your choice!
With Audelina, I started with no rope or halter and just asked her to follow my outstretched arm – so my arm represented the rope that connected her to me. Just the way I taught Juno in this video. However, as Aude was still quite feral at that time, she did not enjoy being touched, so scratches were not a positive experience for her. Instead I lit upon the idea of asking her to follow me to patches of grass, that I would pick for her. Especially patches just outside the fence that she couldn’t reach and so we zig-zagged across the pasture, with her getting a mouthful or two of grass every time she followed me.
I realized I could do this same thing with Montaro. And then I remembered Elsa Sinclair showing us an affiliative behaviour she likes to use with horses, where she mimics grazing together. And this results in shared space, bonding and intrinsic motivation for the horse to ‘get with you’.
You can see in this video how that process works. And notice how we are on ‘horse time’ – there is no place for anxiety, impatience, or any expectations regarding Montaro’s behaviour, or how long this is going to take. If there were, it would push Montaro away from me – because I would then be an unpleasant or stressful place for him.
I have never done this before. I have no idea whether this will ‘work’ or not. I simply must trust my own intuition, trust our shared communication, and trust in our relationship – which celebrates Montaro as a free being, with as much wisdom and right to choose as I have.
And if it didn’t work, then I would trust myself to come up with something else to try! I would trust Montaro to give me information or direction. And yes, I am also prepared for the worst case scenario: For him to refuse to come back and for me to have to leave him there overnight and pray he doesn’t invade nasty neighbour’s place, or wind up on the road… and then I would get a call in the middle of the night, and so on.
Oh yes, I’ve noticed that I’m often in this place with horses where they ask me to do stuff that other people think is nuts, dangerous and irresponsible. HOWEVER. In all my years of doing this, no one has ever been seriously hurt. All my bodily injuries have come from skiing and martial arts – not horses!
But when I venture way out of my comfort zone with horses – where I’m acutely aware that it could all turn into a shit-circus in a heartbeat – I have the most amazing experiences. Thrills and joy and wonder that courses through every fibre of my being. And my relationship with my horses leaps to a whole new level of intimacy and deep connection.
You’ll see by the end of the video how Montaro is following me happily and easily. He doesn’t know I’ve put some alfalfa for him in the corral-pen and he can’t see it until he’s almost in there – but you can see how willingly he goes back with me, simply because he’s connected to me and knows that being with me is usually a good/fun place to be.
The second time Montaro and I came out here completely at liberty, I went straight to my Tree Cathedral. I ended up spending almost an hour and half with the trees and totally forgot about Taro! As I emerged to an empty field I felt a rising panic. But I stopped myself and felt into him… where are you…? I felt, up at the corral-pen and then immediately my doubting mind sprang into action and I started worrying, “But if he’s not, and I walk all the way back there, then I’ve got to come all the way back here and then start searching the other direction and…” That’s the point where I give my rational mind the boot and say, “Never mind! We’re going with that very first impression. And if we’re wrong, we’ll deal with it.” I trudged off towards the creek and as I neared the bank, guess who I spied eating alfalfa in the corral-pen?
So now we have an M.O. – he knows I will leave a flake of alfalfa in the corral-pen and he will even make his own way back there whenever he wishes. I will follow this same pattern as I bring the others back here. Will I bring one other along with Montaro? Or just one horse at a time? Will the others want to be haltered, or a neck loop, or…? I guess we’ll find out 🙂