Jini and I both signed up for Carolyn Resnick’s awesomely priced Chair Challenge (only $15!) and although we’re only on Day 3 of the 21-day program, it’s already stimulated some great discussion and questions. Here’s what we’ve been tossing about:
We both really loved the first lesson – which simply got people to go and hang out with their horse(s) for 30-60 minutes with no agenda. In fact, you are not even allowed to engage with your horse, you pretty much have to keep your hands at your side, or in your lap, and ignore your horse. It ties in beautifully with Pat Rothchild’s series on the power of Mindfulness with horses, and has been a timely reminder for both of us, who find it all too easy to get wound up like anyone else in the daily stuff – chores, duties, worries, mood, and so on – only to find that we’ve completely forgotten to just… be.
The second lesson and accompanying video – mainly the first scene – is where we both went, “Gah!” as we watched Carolyn work in a small enclosure, using a “reed” (a long flimsy plant-based version of a whip) to get the horse to move away from her when she asked. Here’s the video so you can see what I mean:
This is where Jini and I got talking!
Note: Sorry but it looks like they removed this video. I tried to find a replacement, but no luck.
The Million Dollar Questions
This video brought up two issues or puzzles for both of us – and keep in mind we’re not trying to trash Carolyn Resnick here, and we both really like her philosophy and this program and all she’s done for the horse world. I for one have thrown enough babies out with bathwater to catch myself in reaction mode these days – not to mention, Carolyn’s a very accomplished trainer and does things with horses I may never figure out how to do my way. Okay? Are we clear on that? Both Jini and I like Carolyn’s work and gifts to the equine world. I’m just going to share our personal responses and musings here.
Watching her introduce the reed to the horse in this video called up a couple things that seem endemic in the “alternative” or “natural” equine community that we’re still trying to figure out.
1. Why (oh WHY!) does every trainer on the planet who uses the word “liberty”…seem to work with their horses in small enclosures that they can’t escape? I don’t think it’s inherently wrong to do so, but I do not think you can accurately call it liberty.
2. What is the deal with whips? Whip, carrot-stick, “extension of your arm”, pointer, flag, reed – guess what? They’re all long, pointy sticks that the horse knows he’s got to stay away from or else. And brilliant, one-of-a-kind trainers use them (and defend them) relentlessly, as though they hadn’t developed the communication or rapport with their own bodies to make their intentions clear. As if decades of working with the most gifted physical and energetic communicators (horses) didn’t impart this one ability…
The Hypocrisy of Liberty Training in Small Spaces
Let’s talk about #1
noun | lib·er·ty \ˈli-bər-tē\
the quality or state of being free:
a : the power to do as one pleases
b : freedom from physical restraint
c : freedom from arbitrary or despotic control
d : the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges
e : the power of choice
In my travels through horse training, I developed an allergy to illusion. I found myself saying constantly, “Just say it like it is! Call a spade a spade!” Euphemism serves no purpose but to give illusion wings and further shield us from the truth.
“What I didn’t like about this video is the amount of ask/pressure she was using, even in a low-motivation environment. By that I mean, there was no food, treats, etc that she was keeping the horse away from. So if that horse has so much energy to be pushy/dominant in that low-motivation environment then I would change the environment first, not ramp up the ask. What would happen if that colt was allowed into a 5 acre field to run around and kick, buck, etc. How about a playmate etc etc. I would try/do a whole lot more before increasing the ask. Kind of reminds me of that time with Linda Kohanov.”
I totally agree. If you don’t want a horse in your space, the first step in my eyes is not to get into his space, or rather, not to force him into your space and then punish him for it. What is liberating about putting horses in tiny enclosures and manipulating them into particular behaviours that they then have to be “corrected” for?? Sounds like the same-old same-old to me – actually, kinda sounds like entrapment! I’m not actually as fussed as I sound about this, because I don’t think it’s necessarily awful for the horse, and there is enough room in the video in question for the horse to simply not interact with Carolyn. It’s not abusive, and I get that it’s a demonstration. It just seems kind of unfair, or like the horse wouldn’t necessarily bother with the human if it wasn’t bored and stuck. Regardless, the horse is only as free, or liberated, as the rails around him permit.
I don’t actually have an arena and my paddock area is too small to move a horse around in comfortably, so I’ve always just gone out in the field with the gang to interact with them. They have food, water, each other, and space to do what they want, so if my energy is off or they’re just not into it, they can ditch. Their only draw is curiosity or some kind of fun or pleasure they get out of choosing to be near me. I call that liberty (and even so I know there are still fences) – except that I’m not training, or asking for anything in particular.
If I do have the horse haltered or in a smaller space, I do so for a reason – to force them to be close to me so we can get something in particular done. It is absolutely 100% me exerting my dominance (and the power of my opposable thumbs), and I don’t mind admitting to that.
I don’t know, maybe it’s a nit-picky case of semantics, but I think it is misleading to use the word liberty, where the only other option is boredom – and it has mislead many of us who are so drawn by the energy of the word and the drama of the performance that we fail to see the walls.
Whips, whips, whips!
Question or gripe #2, was about the human dependence on whips, or in this case, a reed.
Jini’s first comment, which actually sparked this whole conversation and this blog post, was this:
“Erm. I think I’d rather just send energy through my palm resting gently on their chest, or wiggle my fingers in front of their chest saying, “Back” to move them backwards.”
Carolyn uses what she calls a “reed” – and maybe it is a reed, it’s some kind of grass thing she buys at Michael’s, that big craft store chain. So it can’t hurt the horse, and she doesn’t use it to intimidate or chase the horses, but she does use it to create space around her and sort of annoy the horse out of that space.
First of all, Chuck Mintzlaff who teaches Friendship Training (a program that altered my entire paradigm and answered a lot of my burning questions), maintains that all horses know what a whip is, and what is meant by it – otherwise they wouldn’t bother moving away. It is that or else power that a long, sticky-outy thing carries that makes it work, even if or else never comes.
But even if that’s not the case, even if the reed is so low-charged that the horse cannot be, on some level, afraid of it – then what is the point of using a tool at all?
The energy used with the reed reminds me of my filly, Firefly. Imagine she’s the human and I am the horse. Occasionally – probably when I’m spaced out or not in my body, or she really wants something from me I’m not getting – she will exert her will by standing close to me and mock-biting at me, with a big scowl on her face and her ears back dramatically. I can tell she’s not trying to kill me, but it’s a frenetic, aggressive energy and it makes me not want to be around her, so I obligingly get out of there before I get too cranky. Or I stay where I am and ask her to back up with a light touch to her chest, until she stops and waits or leaves because I’m no fun. So I know that while waving harmless stuff in horses’ faces isn’t a particularly horrible and nasty thing to do, it does seem sort of…excessive and annoying for the amount of reaction you’re actually looking for (the goal in the video is just to have the horse walk away calmly, or just to stop coming forward).
This then launched Jini and I into a discussion of ‘what’s the difference between a reed and a flag, or whip, etc.’ And we both figured, ‘not much.’ We are both more interested in using energy, or ki, to set boundaries and ask horses to move, rather than mechanical aids. I then mused, “Yeah but what about when energy isn’t enough?” At which point Jini challenged me with:
“If you can’t do this (as a 3rd Dan Ki Aikido teacher) then what is the point of all your training? I don’t meant to insult you, I mean this as a challenge. If anyone can figure out how to be the human version of Montaro it’s you!”
Wait – Tell Me More About Ki!
Context break! Ki Aikido has been my practice since I was about 14 years old. We half-jokingly call it a Non-Martial Art. Rather than teaching force, dominance, and killer ninja skillz, it is a physically embodied philosophy that becomes a way of life, and it centers around gaining control and awareness of ki, or the energy that all things have, emit, and direct, whether they know it or not. Ki is awareness, intuition, and life force, and it’s also gravity, resistance, direction, momentum, charisma, and thought, and many other things. It is all of us, conscious and unconscious, and the way we broadcast that into the world.
On the mat, I’ve had ki come at me like a freight train. I’ve felt oppressed by someone else’s ki, I’ve had the sense that I will be very badly hurt if I don’t listen to it. I’ve also felt it like a gentle hand on my shoulder and an invitation to move in a joyful way. Neither is right or wrong, but the quality comes from the combination of the souls of the people involved in the exchange. I prefer the latter feeling, when the ki comes from a place of joy and sharing, but I also like to be challenged by the former, when I need to move and move fast, because life isn’t, despite its efforts to look that way sometimes, all kittens and namaste.
Using Ki to Move 1000 lbs of Horseflesh
So Jini wrote, “If you can’t do this (move a horse with just your ki), as a 3rd Dan Ki Aikido teacher, then what is the point of all your training?” And I heard what Jini was saying. I admitted I still need a lot of development on this. I know I can keep one or two horses out of my space with my body and energy, but often it does break down, and certainly with multiple horses it’s much harder. I can keep myself safe and communicate my intentions without a tool. What I can’t do is deliver that MOVE energy that sends them right off, unless they bring that spunky energy to me – or are already very fearful.
Likewise, on the mat, it’s really hard for me to move or drop somebody who isn’t bringing that engagement of energy – who isn’t committed to the attack, or better yet, to the dance. I have teachers who can move an unwilling body with the strength of their energy, who even relish surprising resistant students with a tidal wave of ki that even the Doubtingest of Thomases can’t deny. I still struggle with that clarity – like I do with moving horses off when they’re just standing around.
And I think it does come from my intention – I don’t personally see the point of making the horse “hop to it” when I really just need room to get by, or for them to wait a second to get their feed, and most of the time I enjoy being super close to my horses and don’t feel crowded or pushed. So that’s something I’ve always struggled with while learning about all these methods and theories – SO many of them use a whip or some euphemistic form of a whip to get that impulsion to move quickly and suddenly. But is it just for the drama of it? Horses will do that, but usually occasionally and with obvious aggression, otherwise the ask and the reaction between horses are pretty mellow – “‘Scuse me,” “Sure, man”.
So then Jini and I got into our own experience and experiments with using energy or ki with our horses. Here’s what Jini’s currently playing with:
“I continue to work on moving them using the rock-solid intention of, “You must.” or “That is 100% not going to happen. End of.” Enrobed in complete love, caring and compassion. I’ve been using the flakes of alfalfa to practice this. I will hold a flake in one arm and use the other to hold up my palm as a boundary line. I will walk slowly, purposefully – grounded, peaceful, steady breathing, from the hay storage to the various feeders. And see if I can make that ‘boundary’ gentler and softer each time (lowering the hand, lowering the palm, etc.), yet maintaining the complete certitude that they must not touch the alfalfa (don’t want it spilling on the ground), nor push into me in any way (energetically or physically). My intention is that they too be at peace, calm, walking normally beside me as we go together to put the alfalfa in the bin or feeder.
Believe it or not, Zorra caught on the fastest. And my biggest challenges are Aude and little Juno! I’m still rushing with them and I need to use my body as well to shield to get past Juno. It is easier to get them to stop pushing into me physically, than energetically. To get the energetic pushing/yearning to cease I need to have my energy of peace and caring (I AM taking care of you) larger and stronger than their anxiety/eagerness/hunger/monkeyness etc. So that their energy state is absorbed/transformed into mine.”
I think this is great – I’ve spent a lot of time with her herd, and they are all very big and very energetic! Spreading out alfalfa can be a circus if you’re not doing it with a lot of consciousness. Using her energy to try to affect not just their behaviour but the desperate energy behind the behaviour sounds like a very cool, very holistic approach to me.
“In the video, Carolyn’s not working with the energy behind the ask. I learned this from watching a friend of mine with my herd who I thought was dithery, fluttery, and without boundaries. However, she got monkey-man-Jax to move away from the alfalfa with the smallest ask I’d ever seen. But her intention was rock solid, surrounded by acres of ‘I love you, you’re so sweet’ with a gigantic smile and adoring eyes. And so he feels the solid inevitability of the request, but no dominance/challenge/pushy energy. She acquired this skill as a hugely popular high school art teacher. She had to maintain order and get the students to produce art projects, yet she genuinely loved and cared about them so much that many still text her years after graduation.
In this video, Carolyn is being as pushy, if not more, than the horse. And she doesn’t feel balanced or grounded to me. That disappointed me. I guess I was hoping to see more subtlety/elegance from her.”
I had to admit, I often disappoint myself in my own lack of subtlety and elegance. But instead of worrying too much about Carolyn Resnick, I decided to take to heart the idea that we each of us have our own style that we must be true to – or else risk inauthenticity. Using a whip feels like lying to me, even though it can also feel like a really useful or even momentarily thrilling thing to do. Maybe it’s different for you, but I can’t escape my own feeling and so I have to acknowledge it.
So the next day, I moseyed out to the feeder and instead of waving a stick in Spero’s face when he inevitably came over to chew on my coat cuffs and frisk my pockets, I moved into Aikido position (standing oblique, one foot forward) and did raising hands to eye level, our most basic ki-deflection move. It’s just that; swinging your arms like pendulums from where they hang, out in front of you at eye level, without tension. You kind of stream ki out your fingertips. I’ve deflected (and seen countless people deflect) a direct wooden sword attack to the head with this, so I don’t know why I doubted it against my loveable bunch. Spero stopped. I praised him. Then he tried leaning into me with his shoulder, and I did the same thing, sending ki to his shoulder. When he didn’t move, I stepped forward till I was touching him gently, and gave him a soft push – or rather, moved my whole body into him while touching him. When he stepped over, I dropped my arms and praised him.
I kept playing this way with them, using a combination of telling/showing what I meant when I sent that little bit of ki, and rewarding them, letting them know when they’d done what I had asked for. Within moments, that ki from my hand (or maybe just the signal of my hand pointing at them) was enough to move them off quietly, softly, and without apparent irritation or fear. I didn’t have to over-ask and then desensitize them to something (like you do if the horse is afraid of the whip/reed/flag), I could just “use my words”, or in this case, my body, to explain what I meant.
I tried it again over their dishes of grain, and this time brought up the same energy I’d used during an eight-man attack, to deal with four hungry horses wanting what I got. I used arms out from side and turning, where you turn or spin with your hands out like a helicopter (a crude explanation of a usually-graceful move). Again, I was surprised that a simple exercise translated so easily. I had to really use my body and my ki, but not in a way that was aggressive, or dangerous to me. But it felt like way more commitment than I usually bring to them. It felt more engaged. The horses saw that I wanted them to back off, and one by one settled at a distance to wait until I came to my senses and gave them their feed.
I realize that a whip, reed or extension of some kind can be very helpful in one particular way: it can create a safe boundary while allowing the person to stay calm. It can “buy time” or space to keep your nervous system regulated and it can make you more more effective with a horse that might otherwise overwhelm you, and therefore promote more clarity in your communication.
But there are still two ways to achieve this without a whip. One, start with the whip, but use that time to integrate calmness and confidence into your body and then challenge yourself to use it less and less while you learn to extend that energy through your body. Two, don’t use a whip, but start with a really, really small task, at the edge of your comfort zone. Maybe interact over the fence, or with a horse that doesn’t make you nervous. Experiment with sending and receiving energy. Grow your ki from these small places. Teach yourself to be big and bright without tools and dependencies.
When I go out to do my “Chair Challenge” exercises (aka doing nothing and Sharing Territory), I modify it just a bit. If I need to move my horses away, I ask politely and firmly with my own version of the reed – my body and my energy in clear, quiet movements. I also stand rather than sit, even though she is adamant about using a chair – because dammit, it’s -20°C out there and I need to keep the blood flowing!
I’m going to keep working this way and seeing what happens. And Jini and I are going to keep talking this way and seeing what happens. So a sincere thank you, Carolyn Resnick, for stimulating such a complex and fascinating discussion, and for the incredible gift of stillness and relationship with horses that you continue to give to the world.
A barefoot hoof trimmer, a singer/songwriter, an amateur farmer – these are some of the hats Kesia Nagata wears when she’s not full to bursting with wondrous equine co-creation.
80 thoughts on “On Liberty Training and Things That Look Like Whips”
Hey Kesia…Jini….this was very interesting to me becaus I love Liberty work and have been following Paulette Evans of Ribbleton Attunement..you should check her out on utube.
I would love for you to check out (if you have time) my latest utube video with my horse Dreamer that I have had for just about 6 months. This style of Liberty is all about mutual conversation and I am still very new to it but I love it. If you can watch it I would love to have a conversation with you about what you see and think and feel. The link is below if you want to watch if not that’s ok too. I’m ….Michelle Horse Junkie on utube
Michelle! First off – oh my lord your PLACE! So beautiful! That’s the best “arena” I’ve ever seen, so big and interesting! And your HORSE! So many exclamation marks!
I think your video is awesome and I’m going to check out this person you mentioned. Thanks for sharing with us, it’s a real treat to see other people’s processes and yours is especially interesting/enjoyable. I couldn’t watch the whole video right through as I’m on limited hick internet but I jumped through and watched big chunks throughout. I really like how much space and time you give her, and how nothing seems to be the wrong answer. You energy is respectful and inviting, and you have just a gentle, joyful, “come play with me” vibe.
So she doesn’t want to play at first, she’s looking for her buddies…what makes her change her mind? It seemed like she needed you to go in and engage, start things off by moving her just a little…
And I noticed you don’t seem to really need the whip most of the time…what do you use it for? How does it feel to you? When does it feel like you need it and how do you decide? I’m totally open-curious-no-judgement here; the post comes from my own internal experience and I would love to hear how you see/feel things.
Thanks again for sharing, what a great conversation piece…
Kesia …thanks it means a lot that you would take some time & your internet minutes to watch me. I live on 12 acres in northern CA in the calaveras county foothills ( a far cry from your amazing endless land) but don’t get me wrong I value and appreciate every inch!!!
My arena is actually there night time area…we moved here 2 1/2 years ago and all the fencing is still not up to par so I put them on the back 2-3 acres for night area the rest of the time they have the whole 12 acres. My husband carved out the round circle with the tractor & we had the sand delivered.
My first take away from your comments is ” nothing seems to ever be the wrong answer” …that is the main goal just have fun …like Jinis 5 minute fun. There is no agenda and no wrong answer. I’m just looking to build connection, have fun & laugh and if some good body movement happens that’s the icing on the doughnut. I am so delighted you thought my energy was positive and inviting. Yes the whole premise is to ask for movement to get the horse to engage but to never demand any kind of obedience, it’s a suggestion and then they can go/do where/what they want. If they don’t engage then you try some movement again. The main ingredient though is the PAUSE, you have to give them time when they block you or nudge you it’s there way of saying slow down I need a second. I never knew that and it’s one of the biggest things I have learned and the horses all resonate with the respect and consideration of the PAUSE so much. I feel it shows you are listening and that there opinion/feelings matter, which they doooooooo!
In regards to the whip…this is another way I feel you and Jini are my kind of peeps. I want to not use it at all, but during training, I feel like it helps keep me safer ( if only in my mind) when we tap into the big energy movements. I also feel like they help me with my posture, in relation to trying to be more consistent with my language and queues with them. You can see when I try to get Dreamer to jump the log, I misque him and point the whip at him, as he is about to jump and so instead he jumps straight up. Like I said I’m still very green at all this. I am working towards no whips and only energy but I feel that could be a ways down this journey. The one rock solid fact though, is I would never use it to hit them with anger or negative emotions behind it. I try to just use them as an extension of my intentions to make things clearer. The fact that my husband is so generous to video once in awhile really helps me see all the things I need to work on and the positive and negative affect I have on them with my actions and the whips.
I am also working on my energy/ki when I feed there once a day mash (vitamins minerals herbs good stuff) I use my energy to keep them from mugging me with the buckets, like the alfalfa flake for you guys, and I am even able to feed my lead horse(I know that’s subjective) last with only my energy. Of course consistent routine helps a lot too.
Please check out Ribbleton.com ( she also has lots of free utube videos from her past, before she started her courses) Paulette is so humble and giving of her time. She has worked with Frederic Pignon and his wife ( the Cavalla people) quite a bit. I have done all her online courses and now she has started a members only FB group, for the participants that have enrolled In her latest course and is doing free webinars about different subjects and all of us get to interact …it’s an amazing collaboration of like minded peeps and we all get to share and learn from each other. You don’t have to purchase anything though her blogs alone are super informative with great nuggets of info. My utube channel also has shorter videos..and features my other two horses Banner (paint) & Bullet ( dark chocolate color). Bullet is actually who got me started down the Liberty journey as he was from a very abused past and was extremely shut down. He loves Liberty and has really come alive and shows me all kinds of joy and happiness when we play together. ?
Again thanks…you and Jini are also very humble and I love conversating and learning so much great stuff from your blogs. I look forward to more. ❤️✌?️?
Hey so this is awesome, you’ve found a learning/working style that really resonates and lets you be you….and does the same for your horses, through you being authentic. That’s about as good as it gets!
And that makes a lot of sense to me, that you’re striving not to use the whip but have it as back up…that’s what I was wondering (I’ve never gotten comfortable with a whip, so how would I know??). I personally think you absolutely have it in you to use your body and energy, because you’re already so expressive and dynamic, and also because Dreamer seems to give you tons of space and doesn’t look like a crowder. But I do understand the part where it gives you the confidence and therefore makes your body calmer and keeps you present. So I’m excited to hearing more about your learning with all this! Maybe you can gradually expand that comfort zone until it’s energetic. Why not??
Have you ever taken partners dancing? I’m thinking salsa or ballroom…I haven’t, got stuck on Aikido classes! But I’m curious if it would grow your sense of solidity between you and your partner (horse)… Just a thought that popped up!
PS I did take a peek at Ribbleton Attunement, looking forward to seeing more…
Thanks for the referral Michelle – I just went to her site and bought her DVD – have you seen it yet? Excellent shoot/picture quality and the trailer looks well done:
Course there’s those darn sticks/whips everywhere… 🙂
And I agree with Kesia – your horses are AMAZING – SO gorgeous!!
When they get all frisky like that it’s hard to feel safe enough to set a boundary without a quirt, rope, etc I know. Sometimes one of my young guys charges at me and kicks out. Now he probably knows he’s striking nowhere near enough to make contact… I once had Montaro kick a rope away (that was annoying him) that was less than 2 inches away from my leg and not touch me. So I know they have a high degree of accuracy, but still! That doesn’t make my primal brain feel any safer!!
Just a couple months ago they were bolting, kicking and bucking around the field and I was videoing them. But when Montaro and Jax ran at me, gave a little kick and veered off I was pretty happy to have a cord in my hand to shake at them. As if a little rope/cord could stop them from kicking me if they wanted to! But somehow in both our minds it does set a boundary. So what I’m working on is to take that same concept – which is pretty much a mental construct as there IS no protection in a piece of cord – and create an “energetic stick/rope” that does the same thing. I think you’re already doing that when Dreamer comes to you and you hold up your hand/finger. You can see Paulette use a similar hand gesture in the film trailer too.
NOW. Just to get this even funkier… here’s what I also learned at Linda Kohanov’s place. She made me be the horse and come at her (in a dominant, pushy way). First example, she used the short whip/quirt to stop me. Second example, she used energy extending from her hands to stop me. And blow me if the energy from her hands wasn’t MORE aggressive and stronger than the energy from the whip!!
So I had a bias that if I just used my own body and energy, that would be lighter, less dominant, less aggressive. But in fact, the whip was! So. Then we’re back to looking at the QUALITY of the energy. As Kesia writes about in this post. So even if I’m just using my body, or hand, or arm to set my boundary, I need to keep getting softer and softer with that ask – both physically and energetically. Oh what a journey we’re all on!
Yes I saw the movie…it was beautiful but not as informative as I was hoping for. I guess I’m just a horse junkie and a learning Junkie and it was more of an explanation of what Ribbleton is all about & that’s great. Like I was telling Kesia the courses for me were great and I have learned so much from all of them and stuff that really applied to my situations & now she is doing these Facebook live sessions with all of us and the collaboration and learning is phenomenal. There are so many different kinds of people from all over the world and from different horsey back grounds that it helps me to see so many different perspectives. I know you gals probably already have access to that, but I feel kind of isolated in my horse opinions and it feels so good to have like minded people. That’s why I love your blog so much.
In regards to the whip after writing my last entry I pondered on my statement about using the whip to feel more secure “if only in my mind ” so I guess that statement right there says I don’t need it. I do however have a very opposite horse to Dreamer and that’s Bullet. His abusive background has a major impact on us both and without a whip for encouragement I know he would not move through his uncertainty and come out the other side with such joyful expression and for me that’s worth it. For now though since personally I am not uncomfortable in the way I use it …I will continue to do so until I can evolve to a place where I feel I am capable without it. Also like you referred to…..I feel no matter what you use whip,stick,rope,or body part…to encourage movement, energy, or space it can be done negatively or positively so that’s what I always keep at the fore front of my mind. My promise to myself and my horses and all species is to just keep evolving and hopefully always for the better.❤️✌?️?
Your last line says it all Michelle! I think the only thing I can add to that – that I say to all beings – is ‘And I know I will screw up. But as soon as I realize it, I will own it and ask forgiveness and shift in whatever way is needed.’ 🙂
love u guys(girls)!
My goodness women, you packed a lot of good mojo in this post. So much that you induced me to lift my gaze from the grizzly-bear project, for a minute. Love your queries and challenges.
I started with horses as a 3-year old. My train r was an amazing horseman who started life in Ireland, went Austria for master’s level dressage training, wound in the Calvary fighting for the US during WW1 in exchange for citizenship, then opened a school in New York. He was awesome.
He taught me to ALWAYS carry a dressage whip in my back pocket, which he referred to as the wand. It’s function was to be a guide for my energy. He told me to practice with it every chance I got with all sorts of critters, including humans.
“Send your mojo through your wand. Point the wand where you want to nudge the energy. When I was little, he told me to send red energy for a shove or STOP NOW order, yellow, for slow down or turn, green for calming and healing, blue for protection. It worked.
The wand was a tool to teach personal energy maintenance and control. Joe wasn’t above giving a horse a whack or two on rare occasions. I’m wasn’t either. The last time I did that, I let go of it as a tool.
It was to get a rescue mare who was beginning to founder moving. She was sore, so the last thing she wanted to do was move. Her owner didn’t have the means or commitment to call a vet. Getting her moving was the only option I had available. She had little training, so chasing her around an arena was what I did.
I hated it. It worked though and probably saved her life. Her human has since learned more and increased her repertoire. Life went on.
When I migrated to California, I became less comfy carrying around a whip. Eventually, I I met the 15′ lead line and fell in love. Now, I far prefer carrying that when dealing with horses I either don’t know or they live in conditions that are suboptimal. I use it primarily as a security blanket
I want my energy balanced, supple and relaxed when i’m among horses. Ideally, their energy is too.
If I need to clearly communicate “MY SPACTIAL BOUNDARIES,” I hold about 5-7′ of the non-snap end and twirl it gently, like a windmill in a light breeze, to demarcate my spatial boundaries in a clear way. If I need to increase the amplitude of my message, I twirl faster. The rope will hum at certain rates. No horse will put its head into a singing windmill.
I use this to move around horses who have picked up bad gate habits. This is a super-common and highly dangerous issue around boarding and school stables. Folks love to love horses through gates. Often well-intentioned people hang out at gates to offer treats and adoration. This teaches horses that we WANT them to crowd their gates. It’s really dangerous for everybody.
I find that taking my windmill through gates causes the horses to stand together a few feet off the gate facing me. Once they do that, I slow down the windmill gradually. Then I move toward them with a still line in my hand and a sharp eye on the band’s dynamics. If they start moving each other around with any aggression, I let the line sing a few bars. Whatever they do, I either reward or shift through the windmill. Stillness is the reward. Singing is “Back off and pay attention.” It usually only takes one session with the line for a band of gate-crowders to get that, “this doesn’t work with her.” Each person using the gate needs to learn this or the horses wind up getting confusing messages. This can result in aggressive behavior.
Horses who are balanced, supple and relaxed are well tended. They’re usually safe to work around without messaging tools for people with the skill to intentionally direct the tone and amplitude of their energy consistently. I like to teach people about moving their energy through objects like longlines outside the horses’ enclosures. The point of this isn’t to generate dependencies on artificial cues. It’s to show the humans how to shape and move their energy consciously. I don’t let them use these tools with the horses, unless the horses are theirs and they’ve asked for boundary help. I know that I’m not done until the horses and people don’t need aids to safely move through and around the gates.
Being a belt & suspenders person, I like having a longline within easy reach when establishing new relationships with horses. It quickly becomes unnecessary as the relationships evolve. My need for it as a tool to direct and manage my energy resolves after the getting -to-know-you dance is complete.
Thank you for sparking this train of thought. Your questions are excellent. It’s critical to explore these issues. Every time we do, more stuff in need of healing or nudges toward enlightenment show up. Yippee for our capacity to evolve!
Yeah! See, this makes perfect sense to me, that you would use the tool as a amplification or direction of your energy – but call it a “security blanket” because it is potentially unnecessary a lot of the time. As Jini says, as if a bit of rope could actually physically stop an animal with that size and power – but our confidence in it sure does!! Do you think it has that much to do with belief?
I have watched my teachers flatten students on the floor and keep them there without so much as an extended arm. I have been thrown into a full speed forward roll with one finger of an 8th Dan black belt. I know – I have physically experienced – the power of human energy when it is believed in and practiced for a long time.
So I still see the value in using a tool, whichever one you feel comfortable with, but for my own practice I’m interested in eliminating them one by one. I guess it doesn’t matter so much if you don’t mind carrying stuff around all the time! It’s simply empowering and delightful on a whole other level to generate the appropriate energy with just me – but then I’m starting from nothingness with my herd, not from a training background.
In a gate situation I tend to move about quietly and ask them to back off individually. Or I take food out beyond the gate. Okay, or sometimes I honk the truck horn when I’m trying to drive through! That’s cheating 🙂
This sums it up for me, and I really appreciate this: “Horses who are balanced, supple and relaxed are well tended. They’re usually safe to work around without messaging tools for people with the skill to intentionally direct the tone and amplitude of their energy consistently. I like to teach people about moving their energy through objects like longlines outside the horses’ enclosures. The point of this isn’t to generate dependencies on artificial cues. It’s to show the humans how to shape and move their energy consciously. I don’t let them use these tools with the horses, unless the horses are theirs and they’ve asked for boundary help. I know that I’m not done until the horses and people don’t need aids to safely move through and around the gates.”
I just joined Carolyn’s Chair Challenge too but I’ve been banking the emails as I’m involved in 2 other webinars at present. I am appreciating your questions and lines of thought and I’m wanting to join in on a few levels.
First, if you don’t want to call it liberty, what do you want to call it? If there are no wrong answers in how you are doing it, then it does fit the definition e) the power of choice. Thank you for providing the definitions of liberty for us!
I think whips do 2 things.
I think they support us visually, as we’re able to show up on a horizontal axis beyond the length of our arms the way horses do(as bipeds we show up on a vertical axis). I like big white TTeam whips because they show up well, unlike the reeds Carolyn was using which are hardly visible on the screen and are really well balanced. I also use them for leading in the “Elegant Elephant” position to create a boundary in front of the horse so I like that the tool and how I use it, is congruent with using it for support in leading and riding.
I also think that there is a difference in the tools we use when we are establishing a relationship or renegotiating a relationship and what happens once we have an established agreement in place in a relationship. I think we all drop the whip when we don’t need it anymore and pick it up again when we do.
I also know the place well of not having the tool I need with me in the moment I need it because I assumed I was past needing it.
There’s something I wish to speak to as well about whips, threat or violence, what I call force. This journey we’re sharing could well be labelled power vs force. I used to call it dominance. I am inspired by your desire to move beyond force and I share that with you. I don’t however, wish to get rid of it. I certainly don’t want to need to use it very often, but it is “natural” in terms of it existing in nature and horses using it on each other. My vision of harmony and balance is based on wholeness. I want to draw from a full deck. I don’t want to throw some cards out because I don’t like them or have a trauma history around them. I do believe we all have a trauma history around the use of force if not personally, then collectively. So perhaps we do need to swing to the other end with the pendulum in order to stop using force unconsciously and develop other tools so we don’t rely on them too much, which is how I perceive your journey.
I want to integrate force and in the process, heal what needs healing so I can feel the difference between use of force and abuse of force. I don’t think force is inherently abusive. When a forceful leader sets a boundary, takes control or initiates an action and it is appropriate in it’s energy level, application and context, all I feel is relief.
I notice too that sometimes my body thwacks a horse and my mind catches up after and it repairs right relationship. If I think to hit and then hit, its hit and miss in terms of whether it repairs or ruptures the relationship. A few winters before I was out skiing on the lake and I was flying backwards through the air paddling with my elbows before my conscious mind realized I had fallen through. This is the level on which I am differentiating between what my body and my mind do. I think people may have lost this ability when they disconnect from their bodies or nature too far and make rules for certain behaviours being “forbidden” or “bad”.
I’m also thinking that this level of physical, assertive dialogue doesn’t only happen with horses I haven’t negotiated agreement based relationships with. They are so in the moment and this behaviour is so natural to them, I think it’s part of their responsibility to check whether that button is functional on us on a periodic basis or whether we’ve abdicated that responsibility ourselves and need to be supported.
I think you’re trying to replace the physical with the energetic and I am saying the answer is “both and”. And I’m clear that is just my answer and don’t need it to be yours.
Love this, Thea! Exactly! I can’t imagine what you would edit out!
Whooooaaa my mind is being stretched and I LOVE IT.
“First, if you don’t want to call it liberty, what do you want to call it? If there are no wrong answers in how you are doing it, then it does fit the definition e) the power of choice.”
– Is there choice for the horse, though? We always have choice, as the humans in the human-horse dynamic. If it’s liberty for the human and not for the horse, I don’t know if I call it liberty.
I only push this because if we go so far down the “no wrong answers” thing, we end up with another useless or vague word. Like “natural”, if Liberty gets to mean whatever we decide in the moment or in our training system, then the meaning of the word is lost. For me this is part of the smoke and mirrors that powers our politics and our human justifications. Our language is such a blunt object as it is, a part of me worries that we’ll lose more of it. BUT! It’s true, that might be my own language nerdiness talking and not necessarily helpful in the concrete reality of what-is-happening – like, right now with a horse in front of you.
“I think we all drop the whip when we don’t need it anymore and pick it up again when we do. I also know the place well of not having the tool I need with me in the moment I need it because I assumed I was past needing it.”
Good point – because what Jini and I are talking about is a long-term process and exploration, I’m not advocating that everyone stop using whips and ropes right now. Knowing where you’re at and what you can or can’t handle – especially from one moment to the next – is, to me, ultimately more valuable, both situationally and for the soul.
And yes yes YES to the full deck concept – which is what I’m after too. In force there can be a lack of subtlety. In sensitivity and softness there can be a lack of direction and clarity. In a fluid balance there can be truth and possibility.
“I want to integrate force and in the process, heal what needs healing so I can feel the difference between use of force and abuse of force. ” – this is powerful and the difference is immense, but so personal. I can take a lot more force from one person, who is not abusing it, and much much less from someone who is. Likewise my predisposition towards that person is a huge factor – my level of mental or physical resistance contributes to my own experience of the force! It’s complex and beautiful as well as scary and really, really rewarding.
I personally believe that force is not, in the end, necessary, and rather than a trauma place for me (though I acknowledge we all carry some degree of trauma here) it’s coming from an experience (my understanding and practice of Aikido). But that doesn’t make force go away, nor am I suggesting it should. Force is energy, too. And it’s neutral; it’s the intention or direction of it that colours it one way or another. There is this third way, the thin edge of the blade, where force and gentleness coexist, along with the harsh and imperfect realities of our world.
I’m not trying to replace the physical with the energetic – but I know exactly what you mean by that. My body is a physical thing and I am using it to work with and explore that balance. Does that make sense? My understanding of energy is super embodied and comes from and through the body. I have no idea how to express it in words, I’m discovering in this attempt! Wow! But yes – this is my own answer for my own questions, but I think we may have way more in common here than I have been able to make clear in my clumsy post.
THANK you, Thea!
Shoot, pushed the publish button too soon. Should have edited more.
This is another great conversation. I haven’t managed to get through Kesia’s post because my heart hurt too much. I’m still processing what that’s about, but I know it’s about me, and it’s about how people–I being the most apropos of the species–judge others when we haven’t walked in their shoes. I’m still working on this and on my feelings about Carolyn Resnick in this. I know that her dementia, and Mark Mottershead’s generosity, have met to develop the Chair Challenge from Carolyn’s old videos–and it’s about that and respect for Elders. But…why so much sadness about the strong words used here, when I myself use strong words and am not a Carolyn Resnick approved anything? I mean, obviously the answer is embedded in the question.
I’ve been to a couple of Carolyn Resnick workshops and make sure to visit her when I’m in the area, but Carolyn told me she never wanted me saying I’m Carolyn Resnick approved, because my own method of liberty work at the time we met was developed enough, and similar-but-different enough, that she didn’t want people to think I was a student of hers. And when I’ve sent my students to her, she’s told them to forget I exist or she won’t work with them. That has hurt my feelings, but…I still respect how she has taken things to a next level for so many, away from Natural Horsemanship and to a more sentience-respecting level, that my gratitude to her and Mark, who is the genius behind the sharing and fame-is huge.
But I won’t explore my reasons further. I want to skip that and go to the discussion about Ribbleton, as I met Paulette when I went on her retreat to Provence to work with Magali Delgado and Frederic Pignon.
So I want to thank you, Michelle, for sharing your appreciation and insight about Paulette’s trainings. I haven’t seen her work, of course, other than through the lens of her working with her teachers Frederic and Magali. But we had conversations and so I’m really happy to hear this insider’s perspective.
I do know, not so much what Paulette, but what Frederic and Magali have to say about using whips, and riding a horse with or without tack, etc. I know because it was a come-to-Jesus experience that I’m still processing. I had a hard time understanding how to work this way–not just with the whips and tack, but that’s part of it. And when I was told NOT to do things my way and start again with a beginner’s mind (That’s not what Frederic said, but that’s my take. He just told me what not to do then asked me to start again), I was worse than a beginner because I simply didn’t know WHAT to do. I couldn’t get around my beliefs about whips and non-force and how to move and interact from a different perspective than the one I’d been using that is so similar to Carolyn’s and so on. And as a result, I was then placed in the beginner’s pairing for our subsequent lessons, and…was ranker than the rank beginner. Ick. That was fun for my ego. As all this was happening, I got sick, really sick with a cold. Coincidence? Of course not.
And here’s what I struggled with. I KNOW these people are superior trainers, and it was a bucket list thing to get to work with them, and I couldn’t hope for a better host than Paulette, a more empathetic professional–who also left me to my own processing. She had a whole group, after all, to manage, and ALL were going through unraveling from vastly different places (three people, for example, were grand prix dressage riders who couldn’t get the lack of force. I was struggling with an opposite view). I can see why the groups are so small–only 6 of us for 8 days.
I don’t have much more to say here other than that I know that this will continue to fundamentally change everything I do with my horses. And not in the less-“force” no-whip less-tack direction. Because for me, what was at issue has also to do with seeing what has led a culture to have a leader like the one the U.S. has…that there is something fundamental that my way of seeing the world (and not just my way) does which leads us to NOT see the Trump coming.
The one thing I can say is I can see superior–other realm superior–results when they’re standing in front of me (and what FUN horses to have in front of me!! Thank you Macou and Lancelot and…Dao’s-son-whose-name-I-can’t-remember who was my mount for those magical days, and ALL the other horses I worked with and observed in Provence!). And so while I’m still needing to process all this in work with my own herd before I want to write more, I know I’m truly grateful for what I learned, and for what I was taught that I KNOW my horses have been trying to tell me for a while now, as they’ve asked for more physical signs of directions and structure and tools from me in riding training. (Much of which I’ve been doing without tack and in large, wide-open spaces within the herd for a while now).
And thank you, also, Michelle, for the line, “‘nothing seems to ever be the wrong answer’ …that is the main goal just have fun …”, and thank you, Pat, for the discussion of whips that is very like the discussion I’ve had now with Frederic.
Love to all, and I look forward to this conversation’s further process!
Lots in here! I want to say, I did hesitate about the tone, but wanted to stay true to my reactions. In fact, I am not trying to discredit any one (quite the opposite!), but tried to follow how my own reactions led to some interesting thought and some really practical and personal changes in how I myself work with my horses.
Like I said, I don’t want to throw out any babies with bathwater. And perhaps this is more of an encouragement for all of us to follow our own north stars and take what we can from the richness of experience and wisdom around us. What I am really, deeply taking in from Carolyn’s lovely program is a new understanding of Beingness and a transformative experience of self and relationship. That’s a whole lot! My own personal discomfort with whips and tools is coming from a place that I re-evaluate routinely, almost on a schedule… As a general minimalist, I totally get what others derive from objects, tools and possessions that I am not inclined to have or use. I think we’re merely asking – is there something we’re missing here (if so, I really want to hear about it!!)? Or can all humans, trainers and experts have possible blind spots that are up to each of us to examine when we get the chance?
I’d love to hear more about your discussion on whips with the Pignons. And I love that you’re open about your process around this – obviously we’re all strongly affected by these things, which to me make them really worth exploring, especially if it moves big stuff and we can learn from each other in the process…
i love meeting other people, especially wombyn who are intimately connected to Feelings, who are in constant self-observation and self-inquiry. doors and windows of the mind and heart open, energy and air flow thru the self, easily allowing the observer to be in the soft state of curiousity, which of course allows for the transcendence of judgement of self and other. It is a joy to read both of you, the dance of your feelings, your interaction and inspriration and query of what if, what about… hmmmm…. I just love.
Energy is our greatest gift, using energy is our greatest effect: with self, with others, with the world, with the entire Cosmos. I’ll remember for-ever a day when a horse, who seemed to have lost its mind over time,, (trying to hide his large self behind a little ) fence post charged the fence i was on the other side of, and I dropped my energy and stepped aside. I honestly feel he was “too far gone” to hear or feel anything. I was devastated that I dropped my energy. (having some training in aikido, and much experience in extreme sports). I also remember many occasions when I could stop a charging horse (ones I knew and lived with) with ‘just’ my energy. that was the most exhilarating confirmation of being ‘more than’ the physical body. I learned lots of energy being with herds of cows, very sensitive and herd-conscious beings, once they’ve calved. Heifers.. spinny young things! Bulls, well bulls in rut aren’t someone I would dare to take on. not yet getting carried away a bit here in my enthusiasm….anyway, great to meet, you, I’ve been playing w. Carolyns’s world from a distance for a few yrs. love her wombynly-ness, loving your expressions here both of you…. I hope you engage Carolyn, I bet she would have big fun with you! we’re in the snow here too, and haven’t sat with my mob yet, way too cold and exhausted from schlepping wheelbarrows thru snow. love ya, Sheila, in langley, bc, canada.
Hey Sheila! Boy do I love your contributions here! Being willing to question everything, even what worked, took me a really long time… But now I shoot my mouth off whenever I get the chance!
Very cool that you have some aikido and sports training as well, and that you can play with your energy in this way too. It is exhilarating! And well worth noticing when you’re in over your head, or when you aren’t going to be heard. We all have our limits. Certainly some people will not feel or hear energy, and it’s best to get out of their ways too!
Cows! I love them and look forward to having some around some day. I’ve also noticed how fluid and energy-bonded they are, how they can be almost like a flock of birds in how they move together, away and towards…they are some of the best people, cows…
Good luck in the coastal snow, and careful on those roads! Sure wish people would get snow tires…mandatory up here and we have way less snow than you! I grew up in Vancouver and have spent a whole lotta time in Langley 😉 muah.
I sense is a clash between two perceptions. I understand it that way because of my own evolution with horses… Starting out not wanting to raise my two foals with the same violence I was seeing at my son’s equestrian school and finally finding out about Pat P and Natural Horsemanship, which then led me towards Monthy, which led me to a whole questioning/disillusioning/breaking of all conceptions phase (because I noticed I could hear my horse, what they were telling me and NONE of these “horse gurus” had ever managed to hear what I was hearing, even thew they had made careers out of training horses.
It was during this re-evaluation phase that I read The Tao of Equus which was a blessing for me; I had finally found a person who could teach me about what I had felt, and my observations and possibly answer my questions. This is when I got validation that what I had felt, and had been led to doubt -following atrocious events with some trainers with my horses- was real. It was also just after reading the Tao that I saw The Path of The Horse -Stormy May’s movie. This movie was another big eye opener; I was discovering a whole parallel universe, like discovering the Garden of Eden. I bought and read all the books of the trainers interviewed in the movie. While it was all sinking in, my own experience with my own horses was still apparently stagnant, I had stopped trying to “train” them, I had got to a point where I had figured out that I just didn’t know enough to impose my clumsy self upon them, all I felt like doing was to just hang out with them.
That’s when I stumbled upon The Independent Liberty Trainers Network on Facebook, Stina Herberg had just put this gang together (all all of them ex-Carolyn’s students). I had seen Stina’s videos on YouTube and I was in admiration with her. Without thinking, I wrote to her telling her I could help her out with their website if she needed and she immediately replied, accepting my offer (Stina is a real doer). That’s how I got to know about Carolyn’s method, Stina did what Carolyn had done with her and she taught me through videos and email conversations. I also followed Ruella Yates Liberty Foundation class which was similar to Stina’s approach.
This kind of approach was perfect for me, although I always carried with me the exact same thinking as you both are sharing in this article. I had begun to feel beyond the training, I had developed an adoration for my horses and I had a really bad feeling in my stomach whenever I was pressuring them, I felt I was not worthy.
My horse Frisson decided to teach me a lesson I will never forget: He had me choose between my old self and my instinctive self. Here is the story:
My horses live with me, they have a 2 acres pasture, a shelter, a wooded area and a sand paddock as their home. Unfortunately, where I live, the snow in the winter makes it impossible for us to go and wonder about anywhere around their field because otherwise I would have to take them in the street (scary and cars flash by) or put snowshoes on them (otherwise they sink in snow up to their bellies). But I had been taking them out for quick walks in the little alleys we had made to travel on the property… Notice the word “quick” here, the walks were short and very full of emotions for both myself and them, especially for Frisson who was only 4. Frisson is very tall and strong (his mom is a Belgian cross) and was wanting more but at the same time, was longing to be free (no rope or halter) I could see he was feeling restricted and frustrated about it.
So we went on a couple of those walks a few days appart all went well without much to mention. But a couple days later, Frisson showed me he wanted to go out for a walk again by jumping the fence while looking at me in the eyes; I was in the house and his stare led my attention towards him standing behind his gate when suddenly he jumped. I went out and asked him to follow me in his paddock, which he did without after just a couple minutes arguing (no rope, no halter) like showing me he was glad to be outside unattached and that I could trust that he would listen to me and stay close. But I didn’t get it at that moment (I am a slow learner).
The following day, my friend and hoof trimmer Laurie (my Kesia) came to do the boys hoofs. I could not get Frisson to wear his halter, he refused point blank. Laurie told me she would come the next day to leave me some time to get through this with him. I tried patience, baby steps, bribes, clicker… You name it. He wasn’t running away from me at all, in fact he was letting me pet his face with the halter as much as I wanted and was super chilled about it but the second I would try to put the halter over his nose he would lift his head in a way I couldn’t reach anymore.
When Laurie came the following day: same reaction, total refusal. She left again, but this time was a bit impatient with the both of us, implying that I had reached a level of softness that had gone too far in my wanting to respect them, and that she respectfully thought that I needed to take a little more control over him. I stood my ground and told her that this time was different; I felt he wanted to tell me something and by forcing him to wear the halter with dominance would just tell him that I was not hearing him: This was going to be the beginning of the answer…
I came in the house to eat lunch and I suddenly had the biggest flash, the perfect a-ha moment… I suddenly understood all of it -I felt it in my body rather than it being like words in my mind- Frisson wanted to teach me that he needed to be free of ropes and halters to explore scary stuff, he told me that he was just as scared as he was excited about going out of his known environment and that he would have preferred to be free to do so and he had clearly shown me that I could trust him to listen to me.
I started to cry from the hugeness of emotions I felt at that moment, I felt so much love for him and for me for choosing to listen to my gut feeling. I went right back to the paddock, told him what I had understood (now I guess I didn’t need to tell him anything, he already knew), went to get the halter and he let me put the halter on him straight away, no question. The following day, Laurie came back to trim and he refused again to wear his halter, I had told her about my experience the previous day and asked her to trim him unhaltered, that I knew in all my cells that it would be ok. I have to explain that Frisson doesn’t like being trimmed, he fusses sometimes and Laurie is probably a 100 pounds wet, so you can imagine how she hesitated. But she did give us the benefit of a doubt and trimmed him free; he was his best self and let her do her job better than he had ever before.
What I got from this whole experience is epic. The way I see all this, and life, is that each we have filters in front of our consciousness. Those filters appear in childhood and beginning of adulthood, they are created by society, expectations, learned behavior etc. and make vision blurry and distorted. The path to eliminating those filters has to go through a gradual series of events and choices. I don’t think I would have understood all that I understand now if I had not gone through this whole process, how could you measure the goodness of good if you never had a taste of bad?
I now recognize the importance of “steps” in learning about “training” or mostly evolving around horses… What this course is indented to show you, you probably already know and your personal experience has led you even further already, so why question it?
Personally, Carolyn’s method has given me a lot, it was the “instruction manual” I needed in order to dare dance my own dance with my horses (literally and spiritually), this approach gave me the abc and I spelled a few letters after that on my own. I can now say my relationship with my horses is more than I could have ever dreamed of and it’s only the begining.
I just wanted to add a few more words on a more specific level, responding to points and questions you have made in your article…
Carolyn Resnick is a trainer who I think has, like you so eloquently mentioned, changed the perception of a huge amount of people about horse training. She managed to demonstrate, in a very accessible manner, that we could go beyond “dominance” in our approach to horse training (meaning traditional ways of doing things which to me includes all kind of “natural” horse training as well… so please bare with me). She also did it in a way that could rally almost any horse owner/trainer because she’s not too “out there” with energy talk etc. (many people have a strong reaction when energy is mentioned, I’m sure you get my drift).
In fact, I don’t know Carolyn personally, so I can’t say anything about her views on energy but her first exercise (sitting doing nothing) is a darn good one in my opinion (especially if one has no clue of meditation, Ki and all that) because anyone who would do that seriously, following the directives precisely ie. without interaction (so no touching, no talking, even no looking) will eventually develop more feel. Hopefully, it was indicated to do this for long enough and for many days BEFORE considering the next step in her training sequence.
On the other hand, I had the exact same reaction as Jini and you had when viewing the video, which is to question her self awareness: she does not, indeed look well grounded in the video and the horse’s reaction is reflecting that. But to give her the benefit of the doubt, she wasn’t alone, there was an agenda and someone else was there (the horse’s owner I think). These are all factors that could lead to what we saw, I would have expected her to mention this though.
THE REED… There’s so many posts, discussions and arguments on the internet over this: to use or not to use a whip, reed or whatever else to “extend the body” “give direction” etc. I find it boring now days, because… Who cares?(sorry guys) Horses sure don’t care! It’s not so much about the stick (ok, maybe a little), it’s about the energy the human emits -with or without- and since so many horse people are secretly scared of horses (I don’t have any statistics on that but this is what I’ve realized) their energy and focus can’t be relaxed and grounded if they can’t “protect” themselves when close to a “free” (not harnested) horse. The use of a reed is Carolyn’s way to resolve this problem without condemning the use of whips (and many horses have known whips in different settings so it carries a heavy load of fear and distrust). On top of that, this exercise requires one to sit, which is not so easy the first times because any horse will come and sniff you out, wondering what you’re doing and wanting to eat the chair. It takes a lot of ki to push back a curious horse when you’re sitting down.
Again… Her teachings are mainly aimed at a certain audience, it has to speak to the “Natural Horsemanship” people.
Quick anecdote about the reed… Something funny happened when I started out learning about this method. I went in my paddock with a reed and my Frisson just wanted to munch on it. It was more of a nuisance/distraction for us so I simply choose not to bother with that (I was already past the need to use objects to feel safe around him anyways).
Regarding the sitting versus standing up: A couple years ago when I took this “similar to the Waterhole Rituals course” with Ruella Yates. It was winter time and the coldest winter we’ve had in history. It was often -30 Celsius in the sun and I had to sit there like an icicle… I had to shorten the duration of this exercise on a few occasions, so I understand your concern. That being said, I think the “apparent non interaction” is completely different from that perspective (sitting down) because it puts the human in a more vulnerable position, looking smaller to the horse. This has an effect on both the horse and the person; the horse sees the person as less of a threat and the person feels more humble because more vulnerable: it’s a new common ground to build on, and for many of her students, this will be a first experience of the sort.
Which also leads me to the discussion about enclosed areas, which in my opinion, are not all that bad. I see it like a classroom, I think it’s good for the horse to know that this is an exercise; we’re learning something here. Liberty or not, this “training” is meant to develop one’s relationship with their horse towards a truer liberty down the line. A young horse (like the one in the video) might not truly “stick with the program” if placed in an open area with friends. A young horse -or any horse not used to this approach- would first be curious and approach trying to bite the chair (or your book or whatever) and move way further at the slightest sign of a push back (reed in this case) and go on with their business. If that were to happen, it would take much longer to get the full spectrum of insights that come from this exercise. Not to say that it shouldn’t be done in a wider, more open area but this can come later on.
My response to Jini’s comment: “What I didn’t like about this video is the amount of ask/pressure she was using, even in a low-motivation environment. By that I mean, there was no food, treats, etc that she was keeping the horse away from. So if that horse has so much energy to be pushy/dominant in that low-motivation environment then I would change the environment first, not ramp up the ask. What would happen if that colt was allowed into a 5 acre field to run around and kick, buck, etc. How about a playmate etc etc. I would try/do a whole lot more before increasing the ask. Kind of reminds me of that time with Linda Kohanov.”
1. What she’s trying to demonstrate (and test) is the horse’s willingness/capacity to move out of her space. This would have been more interesting and educational to see if she was alone, well grounded and not distracted. But one also has to keep in mind that for a lot of her students, this will be new to them (the horse not being tied to chains or ropes or God knows what else) so it’s basically a very first step.
2. Sometimes we don’t have a choice to deal with a high energy packed horse in a closed environment (ok maybe not you and I most of the time, but it could happen) this demonstration was intended at showing how to protect our bubble even if the situation is not ideal, without having to use violent techniques. It’s very “technical” (as in only scratching the surface) and since it doesn’t address the energy in the situation… It’s less that half a lesson IMO
3. Horses will always choose the least pressure situation. I think that a lot of her exercises are not necessarily “comfortable” to the horse at first (although no horse will be hurt), there is pressure involved (there’s quite a bit of sending away involved) but don’t we all have to deal with pressure? The question then becomes about the quality of the message: are we clear and emotion-less when putting pressure on our horse to move out of our space? If so, the horse will regard it as your way of communicating to leave your bubble and will not be offended by it but If we feel like “oh gosh, I’m being unfair, he’s not done anything wrong…” we’re basically saying to the horse “I’m confused, brace yourself something is not right, you have good reasons to be scared”…
So again, coming back to my previous comment, I think it’s all a matter of amount of filters each one of us have; the less filters we have in front of our consciousness, the less we need such basic instructions. But having them in our “tool box” can only make us wiser and lead to a deeper understanding.
Gosh Capucine, you have way too many good points and amazing stories in here!
First off – it sounds like we have had a very similar path with horses, horsemanship, and beyond. From a young age, long before I had horses, I was drawn to Monty Roberts and this seemingly “other” option to brute utilitarian approaches. I had a cascade of disappointments as I threw myself into the horse world, first the traditional and then the alternative. At first I took them very, very personally. I also found the Tao of Equus at some critical point, and it was like a slap to the face. I was so furious I hadn’t been introduced to these ideas before! And yet each thing I came across sounded perfect – and felt and looked different to me once I got in there. But the frustration, disillusionment, questioning….mmhmm…. So. Now I’m curious, open, and a little reserved. I’ll look at anything once or twice or five times. I have found several truths that continue to ring true and many more that I question endlessly.
I love your story about Frisson teaching you (oh so gently!) that he needed his head free to try something stressful. My guy Spero once sent me the feeling of a halter on my face and it was grotesque when I translated it to a human face and experience. He taught me how invasive, distracting, or disempowering a seemingly innocuous tool like a halter connected to a human via a rope attached to your face can feel like. It was so obvious when I listened! That said, I still use halters, though much less often, and with so much more awareness and respect. And my younger horses don’t object to them at all – they haven’t had the chance to develop this wariness. For the record, I trim 10 – 15 horses, and nearly almost always loose. Such good learning for us all. If they’re haltered, they give me way less information and I can’t tell if they’re nervous, unbalanced, stiff, or simply asking to not be trimmed today.
Re: sitting doing nothing, YES! First off, it completely eradicated an aggressive energy in my filly-girl that was, I think now, coming up because I wasn’t being THERE enough. Odd how this is such a powerful thing, and I’ve realized I’ve found it over and over in many different training techniques. I was just re-reading some Hempfling, that obfuscating and philosophical fellow, and it clunked into place (because of the work I was doing thanks to Carolyn) that he’s doing that, but in motion. He even describes being in his center, the way we do in Aikido as well. And when I went out again with this new awareness, I was completely amazed and delighted. That day my filly and I walked in a meditative state out into the backwoods far from her mother, not communicating but completely in connection. It was glorious.
I also thought about the Trust Technique fellow, who has people essentially meditate with their horses until the horses conk out, lay down and go into REM. Kind of strange. But compelling, and not so far from the rest, the idea of simply being present and still and seeing what happens. The next day, I sat in the lay-down spot and soaked in the sun until one, two, three fuzzy bodies eventually plunked down all around me, Firefly so close that we were back to back. GLORIOUS, I tell you!!
So yes, this is such incredible and simple stuff, to simply be – not to send out telepathic thoughts, not to zone out, not to try to connect, but to focus entirely on being in your own body. I hadn’t realized til Carolyn’s course how friggin poor my attention had been lately.
You are, of course, spot on with your breakdown of the who/what/why in the video. I do understand that many of her students are new to this, and that it’s incredibly valuable especially to these people. I don’t think we intended to say “she ought to be xyz instead”, but rather that our reactions told us more about how we could develop in our own chosen directions. I like your interpretation, you’re incredibly observant and compassionate in a very clear and practical way.
Moving along, not in order…! I brought up the liberty thing not to say that nobody should use enclosures, simply that I’m not comfortable with using a word that doesn’t fit (to me). Clearly we all have enclosures, they’re called pastures or paddocks and without them our horses might be roadkill! And then further, you’re saying that we need to encapsulate a learning situation (sometimes) and limit options to encourage a horse to grow and learn that might otherwise refuse or not engage. I don’t have any problem with this! I don’t tend to do it, much, because like you at some point in your journey I don’t get around to much “training” or doing these days – but it’s not this I’m questioning so much as the idea of liberty. I worry that using words that make something sound bigger or nicer than they are can alter the meaning of the word and the perception of the activity. I just call it off-leash, haha! But that’s my own futile desire to see language be as accurate as possible when it’s really just never quite enough…
Aaand lastly, though I’m sure I’m missing some of your awesome points that we could chat about for ages: sitting vs standing. I find I actually DO sit, after I wrote the post – I end up kneeling in the spent hay or squatting down low. For some reason (since long before trying this program) I always end up under or below my horses and I love it. It doesn’t feel vulnerable to me, it feels open and intimate – but, then again, I know how to move quickly from these positions. My horses tend to give me space if I ask them by touching their chests. Today I found myself in the hay feeder. But I hear ya, there is a real point to feeling a little awkward or vulnerable (and also potentially relaxed) in a seat, that makes us more hyper vigilant and aware of the subtle energy changes.
And thank you SO MUCH for all your insight, Capucine, and the experience you bring to the table…I am as always just completely surprised and amazed by everyone’s responses here.
I just want to celebrate this amazing dialogue!! Beautiful!!! So respectful and illuminating. Nice sharing power and collaborating women! Excellent bringing up a topic in such a way we can all respond with our true selves. Yay You!! Yay Us!!!
Agreed 117%! I actually was really nervous about posting this due it it being more loudly opinionated than my usual – what does that say about me! Ha. But then there’s that balance again – to engage or invite change, dialogue, interaction, growth, learning…we all gotta start somewhere. For those of us who are conflict adverse… now I’m already thinking about what you said about force. We need to know it (whether “it” is force, conflict, the “negative”, darkness) and learn to wield it or interact with it…rather than turn away from it and pretend it doesn’t exist.
So thanks again for your big, heartfelt, intelligent, honest and compassionate words. That power and collaboration you’re talking about makes my world go round and round.
I want to come back again and speak to what I’m thinking now that I’ve read your reply, Kesia.
I’ve been thinking about the separation between physicality and energy. You are perceiving energy as physical in nature and I believe that too. I have had less of that experience to challenge my rational materialism but I have had enough that I don’t believe in it either, even though I’m believing(speaking) it because I was trained to.
Energy is physical in nature as it is the vibration created by movement between particles. I had been thinking of them in terms of polarities and all polarities are 2 sides of the same coin and then the question is what’s the next paradigm above the polarities. Like, for me above the polarities of right and wrong, so beyond judgement is acceptance or understanding. So beyond energetic and physical polarities is relationship? and communication?? I don’t know but I’ll sit with that.
I just wanted to let you know that my mind is being blown by our dialogue too and it’s not just a one off. I still want to work on the word liberty as I think it fits in here somehow.
That if the word was liberty but the context was the relationship instead of the pen, then it fits. The fence doesn’t matter if the horse can leave mentally, physically, spiritually or energetically while she is in the pen. What matters is that if she doesn’t want to be there and interact and she makes that clear that she is let out. I will sometimes work with the gate open, so they can leave if they want to. I also have another horse nearby so she can use that horse to co-regulate and gain confidence from so she’s able to stay present, relax and learn.
Just thoughts. There is a video I watched by Nassim Haramein that blew me away recently and relates to this discussion albeit indirectly. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/theconnecteduniverse/189104736
Glad I’m not the only one with my eyes wide and head reeling!
This is the limitation of language – I want to touch, show, demonstrate how energy is physical. Yes, it’s also beyond physical! But the energy we’re talking about here is generated by a body. Posture, tension, thought, and output all affect each other. We each of us have our preferred way in… I’ve been trained to look for ways the body can change, and how to communicate that. I’m still rubbish at it, or it feels that way after so many years!
When you have two sides to a coin (or blade), there is still an edge between them, a middle path or a third option. But it’s very, very thin and even if we find it, we’ll fall off on either side again and again. The thing is, when you’re on that edge is when everything comes into sharp focus and you feel most alive. So I tend to err on one side and then the other, trying to hone it til I can balance again, for a moment…
I don’t think I see energetic and physical as polarities – but then we’re into semantics again!! I think I know what you mean here. What is the edge between these two (or in your words, what is beyond?)…
Okay so, lost for words, I just turned to my teacher, Sensei Williams, and found an article that stated firmly: “One cannot make perfect separation of the spiritual and physical without death resulting. Through the basic idea of physical application, the spiritual input of this theory should follow naturally.”
Huh. In class we’re always translating the spiritual/philosophical to the physical – into our bodies, postures, and physical relationships to our partners – and back again. When it stops being mechanical is when it feels really good. But I have always had a hard time translating all this back to horses. Because they’re not agreeably holding my wrist or hitting me over the head (slowly, repeatedly) so I can practice – they’re just living their lives and trying to be horses. And the less I put them in situations where they do have to physically interact with me consistently (riding and training), the more creative I have to get, the further into my body and spirit I have to reach to find the meaning. Whew.
“That if the word was liberty but the context was the relationship instead of the pen, then it fits.”
– I like where you’re going with this!
“The fence doesn’t matter if the horse can leave mentally, physically, spiritually or energetically while she is in the pen.”
– This worries me, as the horse’s needs are interpreted subjectively by the human. The human holds the key and for many reasons might choose not to see the horse wanting to leave. I’ve often told my horses I’ll listen to them and then, when the time has come, haven’t wanted to or have tried to interpret their message differently. So they leave the conversation mentally/spiritually/energetically… and I feel like a dink.
“What matters is that if she doesn’t want to be there and interact and she makes that clear that she is let out. I will sometimes work with the gate open, so they can leave if they want to. I also have another horse nearby so she can use that horse to co-regulate and gain confidence from so she’s able to stay present, relax and learn.”
-Oh, okay, see this is super cool to me. Creative, compassionate and pretty simple ways to give the horse a voice, an out, and an option to choose to stay if it’s comfortable enough. I’ve found this kind of stuff invaluable in working with my little filly, who amazes me with her confidence which she’s been allowed to grow entirely of her own accord. Inviting her to play and visit away from her mum, but not keeping them apart against their wills has allowed their elastic band to stretch amazingly far without having to break it.
But tell me about your belief and your training around energy and physicality. Can you expand on this?: “You are perceiving energy as physical in nature and I believe that too. I have had less of that experience to challenge my rational materialism but I have had enough that I don’t believe in it either, even though I’m believing(speaking) it because I was trained to.”
Okay! Another round!!
I have been trained by science and my culture to believe that if it isn’t physical or material it isn’t real. Because I have attachment issues and a trauma history I am hardwired to approval seek and snap back into proper alignment when I feel threatened or when “authority” arises.
On the other hand, I keep learning over and over that physical is the manifestation of the energetic or spiritual realms. Kundalini yoga, buddhism and metaphysics all teach that and I have an abundance of experiences reinforcing those beliefs even if I can’t remember them much of the time or particularly when asked to produce them.
So I am simultaneously holding both these beliefs that are in conflict with each other so I experience a lot of cognitive dissonance. Because my memories and to a larger extent who I am in any given moment are context based, I also have a hard time for example, remembering to work with my energy when I’m with my horse instead of pushing for a behavioural outcome physically even though my goal was to go out and find that sensation of pressure in my body I feel when I am moving her away from me using energy.
I also have a hard time remembering paranormal experiences that I have. They just kind of get deleted from memory because they’re so outside my normal that I feel uncomfortable, even if that discomfort manifests as joy and awe. So I’m left knowing I’ve had them but I can’t remember what they are.
So on one hand I see physical and energetic as opposites. In so far as the energy is invisible and I am the one generating it. I do believe in electricity! On the other, I am coming to believe that the whole energetic realm is beneath the physical realm like the unconscious is beneath the conscious and hugely more powerful and influential than the physical.
This whole dialogue has been really informing for me of how I am popping back and forth between rational intellect and embodied experience. I spend a lot of my time with my horse feeling like a dink. I am such a creature of my beliefs and experience.
Here is an example. When a horse spooked or did anything I didn’t ask for, I used to pull back on the reins. Then I had a lesson where my mare spooked, I grabbed rein and the instructor told me I’d just failed the most important test as a rider. I had heard Chris Irwin talking about the reins being a dam that open to allow flow but never close against the horse but….until I was able to control my hands when my horse spooked I was experientially convinced that the horse spooked, I clamped down and the horse stopped. Therefore, in my mind, I stopped the horse. It has taken one restorative experience at a time to build the belief that the horse spooks, I sit deeply and breath out and the horse stops of its own volition.
So many times my friends and I sit and wonder at how being in right relationship with ourselves and each other is “swimming upstream” within our experience. The whole authority, control, partriarchy, dominion over, abuse of power thing is so ingrained since birth and before, let alone the living and ancestral trauma history, oh and lets not forget lack of healthy attachment as children that the undoing that has to happen before something else can happen is just huge.
And look at us go! We’re doing it anyways and with our “inner mean girls” calling us dinks. This isn’t just whips or fences or gates open or closed we’re talking here. It’s a whole paradigm, evolutionary shift, pioneering off into the void we’re talking.
I’ve been thinking about this thread and your last reply, Thea, for the last couple days…
When I gave myself a concussion about 15 months ago, I lost my connection to the “spiritual” – all the stuff I had spent most of my life learning to understand, interact with, interpret, and use as a guiding light to perceive what was beyond this “rational” world we talk about, and to make sense of my own “irrational” experiences. I stopped receiving messages and visions, hearing animal’s voices, and feeling the joy and excitement of connection rush through me – worst, of all, I stopped caring or believing in these kinds of things. It was devastating – except it wasn’t, because I had couldn’t care enough about it anymore to be devastated.
The severing of that connection was painful. I was aware of what I had lost, but unable to reattach or reclaim my confidence in the world beyond the mundane and concrete. As I slowly regrow my spiritual sea legs, I am blessing the fact that I have both the ephemeral and the solid to draw from. My own brand of spirituality, I’m finding, is quite close to the ground. While I can understand and interact on many plains of thought and experience, I find the stuff that comes to me without outside help to be quite gentle, simple, and of this earth. I think your movement from the scientific/material towards integrating the “other” is not an uncommon one, and I really enjoy and appreciate your openness about it! It can be so frustrating to know and believe and want to believe something that another part of you keeps pulling away from.
I think I’m trying to assure you that there is a quiet, unspectacular, and delicious place where the physical and the out-of-this-world connect, though I’m sure you do know this on some or many levels. What I mean to say is, it doesn’t have to be paranormal or far out to have that richness of spirit and that feeling of plugging into the bigger universe. And the more I think about offering an Aikido-laced retreat/workshop up here as Jini suggested, the more I realize can be taught and experienced right in the body. It’s an exciting idea!
This is really interesting to me, as is your awareness of it: “I also have a hard time remembering paranormal experiences that I have. They just kind of get deleted from memory because they’re so outside my normal that I feel uncomfortable, even if that discomfort manifests as joy and awe. So I’m left knowing I’ve had them but I can’t remember what they are.” At least you know you’ve had them, that’s huge! I think you’ll see that change slowly the more you work toward whatever it is you’re working toward. I’d love to hear about it when it does!
Ah the horse spooking thing. Spero used to give me shit for grabbing rein, so he taught me to…grab mane! He said, and I’m paraphrasing, “if you really have to contract and hold stuff in your little monkey hands, just grab the base of my mane and for Christ’s sake leave my face alone!” So I got to wean myself out of secondary-spooking like you did, only I was able to give my reactionary muscles something to do while I learned. Of course I’m way out of riding practice now on his insistence, so I’m pretty much back to knee-jerk reactions when I do ride. Oh well.
Oh yes, the piles of inter- and intra-personal nonsense we get, inherit, and gather are complex and sometimes pretty stinky. Sometimes I’m terrified that nobody will get anywhere fast enough to turn this great lumbering ship off its destruct-o course in time. But we’re also doing fabulously, given that this is the first time and place in a long, long while where we’ve had enough down time from wars, famines, immigration and other traumas/horrors to actually spread that nonsense out and start taking stock. We’re doing a new kind of hard work for generations behind us who didn’t have the time or emotional space to do it. Solidarity! Power to us!
My dad has said to me since I was very small (quoting, I think, zen dude Shunryu Suzuki), “You’re perfect the way you are. But you could use some work.” Gotta love my dad. It’s never not true.
I am reminded again how my path is to grope my way forward quite blindly, following my attractions, exploring and curious, engaging, sometimes furious, certainly vulnerable and fumbling and exquisite and beautiful and brave in all of that humility.
I end up in places I’ve never been, doing things I’ve never seen done, feeling things I’ve never felt. Wondering the whole time if I’m screwing up and wonder filled at the same time. Blown away by the beauty.
If I’ve gone slowly enough and noticed the twists and turns, I can guide others headed in the same direction. I meet up with them along the way because the only place I consistently end up is the same place I started, only different.
Whereas your journey seems to be to dwell in the place I am seeking to discover, then lose your way, then work to find it again. Stories of lost and found or found and lost.
I do hear the voices, feel the connection and have come to notice, abide in and be guided by the beautiful synchronicity and although that is a huge part of my experience it is also a small part of my experience. It comes as a gift, I can’t control it, nor can I access it when I feel I need it. It doesn’t respond to me when I am reacting or contracting. It gives me “pause”.
I continue to be so drawn to the paranormal, extra exciting, proof of the fabulous while I come to understand deeply the immense power of the still, the small, the subtle.
How vast we are to hold such paradox, and how small in our approach to it.
Thanks for the exchange Kesia, for meeting me in this intimate sharing on a public forum. For inspiring such poetry.
I think it’s important too to make the distinction that Kesia and my discussion was never about “training” methods.
If you are ‘working’ with other people’s horses, or your horses work for you in a therapy or riding situation, or you are in an emergency situation (forest fire is coming and you need to get in the trailer now!) then those scenarios comprise an entirely different situation. In any of those situations it may be necessary to use a tool like a whip, reed, or rope.
And yes, any trainer who is showing the mass horse owner market a gentler, kinder way is to be applauded! But you’ll notice that Kesia and I don’t use words like “natural horsemanship” to describe what we’re exploring on this blog. Even though we are both trained in those methods, and in situations like the ones above, we may very well use them.
And in those situations I think we’re all in agreement that each of us would use them as gently as possible to get the job done.
But what Kesia and I explore back and forth – and a lot of the stories we tell on this blog – is an alternate existence to the worlds of ‘work’ ‘train’ ‘job’ etc. NOT because one is superior or more evolved than another, but simply because that is where our hearts/souls are at. And that is where our horses are leading us. And that is what interests us the most – at this time.
For myself, when my 3 semi-feral young ones arrived, I absolutely felt the need and desire to ‘train’ them in certain tasks, like accepting a halter, being led, taking them out on the roads to encounter cars, trucks, bikes, etc. And all of the skills that go along with being domesticated horses. BUT. Having ‘worked’ with horses since I was 8 years old, I was also bored with ‘training methods’.
So what was FUN for me (which equals a light, joyful, no pressure experience for all of us) was/is to work with them in a 10 acre field – with a barn, pastures, woods, etc. and the herd all together. So they could leave and go graze at any time. Or take off running into the woods, or go eat hay in the barn. There was no ‘classroom’ (again, no judgement here, just saying that I find arenas terribly boring and confining and they make ME feel cramped) and any horse could interfere or say “my turn” at any time.
These measures helped keep me from focusing on an agenda, or applying pressure. If the horse can take off (a long way off), or go eat, or another horse can intervene, then these factors act like checks or balances on my natural human tendency to dominate. Having been physically abused as a child I have an even stronger tendency to dominate – so I don’t get hurt. And I can get really attached to ‘finishing just this thing’. Oh look, there’s that agenda-driven behaviour again!
And so, in previous blog posts, attempting to describe my ‘training’ method, the best descriptor I could come up with was “5-Minute Fun”. Cause that’s pretty much it! No whips, no agenda, no arenas, no demands, just pure FUN. “Hey, what do you think about this?” Usually followed by the horses or me doing something goofy. “And what if we try this?” And turning things into a game. This helps keep me from dominance AND horses (and all beings) learn better when it’s fun or enjoyable. When I am trying to teach/communicate something – then coming up with an enjoyable result as they figure out what I’m asking – it can look like this:
They have learned all the basic skills amongst their family in a 10 acre field in this manner – except trailer loading. That is taking longer because we have lots of trauma to unravel. But even then, when I call the trailer guy to bring his rig out, I ask him to come out for some trailer play. He understands there is NO agenda other than supporting them to work through their fear.
But each of these 5-Minute playtimes is separated by weeks or months of just hanging out. In a chair, on the ground, on the feeder, in the feeder, walking/grazing together, exploring the woods together. Lots of itching and scratching and rubbing. And cool stuff initiated by the horses, just like Capucine’s marvelous story about Frisson. Or people coming to visit and having blessed or powerful experiences with the herd – again, these things are driven, chosen and executed by the horses. I am simply the observer and occasionally they ask me to assist with something. Often they tell me to go away! They need to do their thing without being observed, or having my energy around. So I go do chores.
But I don’t earn money from my horses. So I have no ‘safety’ issues (liability, insurance, etc.) to contend with. So I am free to let everything flow or get hairy. As Kesia said, we are not here to tell or advise anyone how to be with their horses! We are simply sharing our experiences, thoughts, experiments. We are telling stories. We are bearing witness.
I love how this opens the door for everyone here to share their stories and experiences!
And as Michelle and others have pointed out, I think the key is authenticity. If you do not feel safe without a whip then use one! But if you’d like to explore relationship and boundary-setting using only your body and chi/ki/prana, then start playing with that. And if you want to be hard and firm because that feels good and real to you. Then do so. One of the closest relationships I’ve seen – with a big, authentic love – was between a chauvinistic, patriarchal, work-driven cattle rancher and his horse.
Horses take us where we’re at. They see exactly who we are and what we’re capable of and their love is non-judgemental. My dad beat the shit out of me, but he didn’t try to pretend that he was ‘doing it for my own good’ or some other twisted excuse. He owned it, he was authentic in his dominance. And I always knew he loved me too, without question. I think my healing pathway with him has been a lot easier (because of the authenticity) than others I know whose parents screwed with their mind; pretending to be loving or supportive parents whilst undermining, betraying or subverting reality – so the child grew up not trusting their own instincts, never knowing what was ‘real’, feeling unworthy, insecure, etc.
Likewise, I see more damage done to horses from well-meaning ‘natural horsemanship’ owners than dominance-based (but not abusive) owners. “I’m the boss, do what I say.” is less distressing to an animal then, “I love you so much, and I’m gonna present all sweet and gentle while I pressure and manipulate the crap outta you”. The first is authentic, in the second, the person is not only lying to their horse, they’re lying to themselves – which is extra manky.
Since when is pressure and manipulation (couched in ‘love’) preferable to honest dominance? So what I love about this discussion here is that we’re each willing to look at our triggers, our default settings, our fears, along with our hopes and aspirations for ourselves and our relationship with our equines. And to acknowledge that we don’t all have the same goals, or likes, or dislikes. That we each enjoy doing different things with our horses, in different-sized spaces.
I think the ONE thing we can all agree on, is that the horse must be given CHOICE.
If we are listening to our horse, then NO is also an answer. Hopefully we can receive that answer with acceptance and love. And like Capucine, risk wobbling along in the place of uncertainty and possibly embarrassment, until we figure out why our horse is saying no, and what he is proposing instead. In my experience, that is where the gold lies.
Really interesting discussion folks. Here’s another view. I have been struggling for some time with this whole thing about moving horses out of our space. What I saw in the video was a relaxed horse become jumpy and less interested in the humans. When a horse allows us into his space and even worse, onto his back, he has to make a complete leap of faith way beyond what his natural instincts tell him. As a flight animal, all his natural predators first chase him then leap onto his back and grip onto him at his withers. With each other horses are contact animals, they warn each other with body language and then bite kick or shove to get their message across if necessary. Obviously, we have to create boundaries with our horses for safety reasons but we also need to remember that they are sensitive beings who can feel a fly on their skin and pick up very quickly on the energies around them. I say that we need to evolve to throw away all gadgets and tools and learn to communicate with animals in a way that makes sense to them and is not goal orientated. I hardly ever ride my horses, I hang out with them alot as they live in my garden, I try to control them with energy, hand signals voice (for my benefit) and a poke with a finger when needed. They are not “well behaved” or particularly trained and all express their personalities freely. Some of them I bred or owned from foals, they have never been whipped bullied or forced to do anything they don’t wear bits. I intend to keep them for life. Thank you all for further insights. XX L
Love this Lynn:
‘They are not “well behaved” or particularly trained’
you go girl! It took me a while to let go of that – mostly because it was so ingrained I didn’t even notice it. The penny really dropped one day Kesia commented on a video we were discussing and she said, “Yeah, it’s just another example of LOOK WHAT I CAN MAKE MY HORSE DO.” And I went, shit, yeah… and WHY is that held up as the ideal or something to shoot for??
What’s interesting is that when non-horse-people come out, they never even question when I say something like, “Oh, guess he (horse) doesn’t want to do that.” For them it is natural/normal that the horse wouldn’t be a robot under my bidding.
.. I wish I could come and meet you some day, girls!!!! ..thank you for your insights.. and for making me (amongst others) not feel alone in the human-horseworld…
I’ve been telling Kesia she should host experiential workshops up at her 500 acre wilderness – where those of us who want to learn more about the Way of Ki with horses can come immerse ourselves in her wild land and learn from Kesia and her herd amongst the bears, coyotes, deer and elk. We could all meet there! Some of us would choose to camp, and others to stay in comfy B&B’s nearby (that would be me!). I think it would be SO cool. I learn so much from just watching Kesia with horses, it would be awesome to receive Aikido-horse stuff from such a master.
I’d be in!
Okay, okay! I’m definitely considering this…
Hey even with just you, me, and Thea it would be an awesome workshop! 🙂
Whether you make it a workshop or a collaborative event toward creating a workshop I would be interested. I’m not sure how I’d fit more time and money into this summer than I’ve already planned and I am highly motivated to spend time with the 2 of you. I think my Eponaquest sister Helen Russell might be willing to join us. We get together for R&D a couple of times annually, an official term for hanging out with horses playing together. A trip to visit you guys would be a good trip. We have talked about coming to meet the 2 of you as a desire we share. Just thoughts. NOT discouraging the workshop idea, just adding an idea for a step between if it feels like too far from here to there. Then again perhaps this is an option anyways. Could Helen and I come visit sometime? We’d camp and do our own food and offer you some comp if you want some.
You don’t have to post this. I’d prefer this was a private conversation and I won’t freak if you do.
Hi Thea, I approved your comment to go live as I think it’s a cool idea. And also cool for others to see the connections that are arising from these conversations. Kesia has already met with one of our readers down in Washington – and had a simply lovely time. I’m meeting with another next week, and then still others in Arizona in April.
Of course, when/if it comes to actually making plans/dates etc we can switch to email for sure. Personally, I am totally open to heading up to Kesia’s place this summer. I know they’re not set up for guests yet, but I will happily stay in a B&B after joining y’all round the campfire in the evenings! I love the way you’ve opened up space here for this hangout to take whatever form it wants. As long as I can video some of it to share with all our fellow horse listeners, I’m happy!
oooohhhhhhhh this yehhh ooohhhhhh I’m liking it,,,,, girls and horses camping and glamping out , in the wilds of northern BC. I’m in. xoxo sheila
This is shaping up!
Just wanted to add if anyone is interested in learning more about Paulette Evans and Ribbleton Attunement she is hosting a free webinar coming in the next week . If you go to the Ribbleton Horse Training Facebook page you can register to be a part of it.
Keisa ~ You mention in this post that you learned much from Chuck Mitzlaff’s Friendship Training. Would you please tell me to how much of his program you actually had access? I am not sure how I first came across Mitzlaff; but he was my first introduction to the horse conscious community. I paid him a thousand dollars, completed the thirty-day food dish exercise, and could get no more from him. I would send a video and not hear from him for weeks. And, he was truly rude.
Yeah…that’s the trouble… I personally got what I needed from the program, but I eventually realized that not everybody did. I had full access to the program. I’m not affiliated anymore but do remain grateful for what I learned with Chuck – your experience sounds awful, however, and I’m really sorry to hear it went that way.
Having worked with Carolyn, I have witnessed her working in much larger spaces and her results were consistent with her teachings. The reed is a piece of grass really …(no one can angrily lash out with the reed).. and this allows the user to focus energy. Not all of us start with an energy background so, as a first step. When Carolyn was not teaching she would use energy with a wave of her hand. Not an easy person to work with ….but she changed my life and my horses….
Horse people that board at a stable where horses have small amounts of property have little contact with their horses in this way.
As I progressed, I used Reiki and breath to replace the reed. I am still a beginner…and look to my herd for direction…
Hi Ruby! So great to see you here.
See this is exactly what I am interested in hearing about. The reed makes sense to me as a way of visualizing your own boundaries and energy, which are there with or without the reed. Through the comments from you and other readers I think there are many people working on this and that makes me really excited, because it’s baby steps for me too. My theory is that Carolyn – and many of the great teachers that are and have been revolutionizing the way we work with horses – have developed their energetic abilities further than perhaps they realize, or are able to articulate. My personal interest is in breaking down that connection, sense of self, physical coordination and so on in a way that it is accessible to all of us, rather than mysterious and elusive and reserved for the gifted. This comes from my own Aikido background – my teacher’s teacher broke away from the old tradition of training hard and never revealing the “secret” of ki to beginners. We train backwards from that, in a way, starting with learning the feeling and then gradually becoming more effective with techniques. It’s a slow and clumsy road but a fascinating and joyful one…
And you’re totally right that not everyone has access to the land, tools, teaching, or mentality that allows for the ideal – in fact, that’s a part of why we started writing this blog as we struggled with those limitations ourselves!
In the end, to be honest, I don’t know if much of it really matters so long as we and our horses find our own ways to be happy and healthy.
I’m really looking forward to hearing more about your experience with Carolyn, and better yet, your experience with your self and your herd.
See you soon!
Where do you buy the reed crops
Carolyn mentioned she bought hers at Michael’s craft store – that’s all I know!
great discussion. I wanted to thank the discussion and Michelle for bringing up the Ribbleton “thing” I ended up watching their webinar and signing on to do the course which was very unexpected. For some reason it held my attention and so far is filling some spaces that were waiting to be filled. 🙂 I actually never watched any of their stuff because I did not care for the name Ribbleton… My prejudices often keep me from interesting things and i think it is funny to observe that about myself.
The first time I watched a Carolyn Resnick Video I had a really negative response. I felt that she was very sharp and spiny and ungrounded in the approach though I really appreciated the words describing the 7 waterhole rituals. I have worked with CR a few times in online classes and studied her blog etc and find her to be a great genius now. A friend kind of talked me into giving the WHR another chance. Again I let my preconceptions keep me from something that I later find very valuable.
Good discussion on whips. I use a whip that I call a wand ala TTEAM and Connected Riding and am happy with that for now though i sure see that using ki and allowing my energy to be as finessed and clear as a “wand” would be something to develop. Also when working with people who are not versed in energy, the wand, reed etc may be helpful though…. even with the tool it can be a challenge at times for myself as well. so thank you all!
My mom calls it “Internet shamanism”…when you get led down a rabbit hole to something you were looking for all along! Glad Michelle helped nudge you onto a new learning opportunity… 🙂
I’ve since watched other of Carolyn’s videos in which she’s very connected and graceful, with and without a whip. Everyone has on and off moments, though I’m still curious why this clip was used. I too had some preconceptions or resistance to Carolyn Resnick’s method (I simply didn’t learn about it, so had nothing much to go on), but it makes a lot more sense to me at this point in my journey than when I first ran into it (while being “leadership-indoctrinated” :P) I’m not 100% in, but I think that’s the lesson for this age. There are so many teachers, so many methods, but only one you to synthesize and filter what makes sense to your conditioning, your goals, and what your horses are telling you.
As for whips and sticks and wands and reeds, I think that rethinking them requires us to take a good look at ourselves, our communication, and what we’re hoping to achieve. For me, whips just became a nuisance to hold and handle, plus I wasn’t doing much to “drive” my horses (which was how I was taught to use a whip), so it was natural for me to just…forget to use one. In Aikido, we work with a staff or sword to magnify and hone our ki – but we spend most of our time working with our hands and energy alone, and we don’t get to use the wooden weapons til we have a certain handle on our own bodies (like, years in to our practice). But I also see how using the tool (like with your wand) helps develop the energy in the person, or create the calmness or confidence to communicate clearly. Oooh, aliteration. Thanks for your thoughts, Kate!
internet shamanism. I love it! thanks for the descriptive “word”…I guess we are all rethinking everything at all times for the good of ourselves and our animal friends.
Why not?? The world is a huge and mysterious places the more we rethink and let go, the more we get to experience!
Love reading this interchange… but the practical side of me just has to ask — How should I go about getting my young horses to have their feet trimmed? They were traumatized as youngsters by rough handling and came to me nearly wild. I genuinely want to give them the best life a horse could possibly want within my own limitations. I love being with them with no restraints, but I must admit that I do usually have an agenda. I have not advanced spiritually as far as everyone else here… I feel as if I have just discovered this world. I have followed Parelli, but have been secretly embarrassed that the techniques often leave me feeling as if I have just abused my horse and broken their trust. It is necessary that they accept handling of the feet. I can just now get them to let me hold the front feet long enough to clean, but any longer and they get adamant and demanding of having them back, dangerously so. I had a farrier out that immediately started throwing ropes around my mares head, which sent her through the roof. He then proclaimed that he could do nothing with them until they could accept this. I could not stop thinking how I myself would feel if a stranger who spoke another language came to me, got in my face, restrained me and insisted I accept some intimidating physical display with strong intentions thrown in my face, without so much as a hello! I felt as if I had failed my mare! I was guilty for weeks, and still feet not trimmed. So then I started working with the rope with more intention, even though she would check out immediately. She would eventually accept it, but I felt as if I betrayed her. I have since also been told to run them both around in the round pen until they accept me as leader. I have a difficult time getting them to run around, as they keep stopping and asking to just play, stopping to put their feet on things, pawing at me, etc. I am nearly to the point that I MUST have the farrier out again, and am picking a natural balance guy, hoping against all hope that he will be able to calmly accept their behavior without ruining the relationship I have built up over months. How do you handle this? Do your horses go through some minimal amount of training for procedures, or do you just try to live without these procedures?? In the past I have always had trained horses who accepted the farrier without question.
BTW, I am so grateful to read your blog, as I feel validated in my feelings that I cannot impose my will without question on these beautiful creatures. I want to help them to live their best life! It has taken me months to get to where I am with them, using mostly techniques that are friendly, but quite often make me feel like I have crossed some line……a conundrum, for sure!
You ladies are awesome!!
Yes those damn practicalities! They often cut the theorizing and philosophizing short. I don’t have a magic bullet for this one as it’s something I am still working on in my own way… I *used* to have horses that accepted the farrier, until I started asking them what they really wanted. Turns out that holding up one foot for ages at a time while being immobilized, wrenched around, hacked at and pulled on is not a good time for most horses. Their survival wire gets tripped and it’s our job to help them expand their trust and curiosity so that it doesn’t. Training simply teaches them that they must give in, so many “good” horses have simply tuned out the discomfort.
3 of my horses will let me trim them, but I have to be in the right headspace and not have time constraints. I trim them loose, let them eat, let them take breaks, often work on my knees or in awkward positions to accommodate their bodies or preferences. I let go of cosmetic perfection and aim for hoof health. I’ve used a combo of positive reinforcement with treats and/or scratches, some basic pressure and release in which the pressure doesn’t escalate (just rubbing/tapping on their legs to get them to pick them up, then praise and release). Mostly I’ve focused on taking the fear away, but I do that by giving them a choice to move away or say no if they need to. It’s long and convoluted, and more about our relationship than the trimming. Luckily I trim them myself, so I can make that time (and accept and integrate my own mistakes). My 4th horse is a rescue and just getting used to being touched, fed, loved up. I did a quick job on his little sultan-shoe toes during the icy season, but I think I ruined his generous trust by being too goal-oriented. Now I have to work from the basics again to see if he’ll relax.
If you want a more how-to approach, you can look up clicker training or positive reinforcement training ideas for working with feet. You basically break the behaviour you want down into little, incremental steps in order to reduce stress and communicate more clearly what you’re on about. Try a Google search with search words like “positive reinforcement picking up feet horses” or “clicker training for farrier”…that kind of thing. Running your horse around the round pen, as you probably have realized, has very little to do with picking up their feet in their minds. They either decide to go the learned helplessness route (“do what you will to me, just stop bugging/scaring me”) or they think you’ve really lost your mind and especially shouldn’t be trusted around their feet! They’re asking you to quit because they know you know that it isn’t the route you want to take. They offer play or “change the subject” to diffuse the pressure you’re both feeling.
In the mean time, give yourself a break and remember that we all got where we are through a series of mistakes, big and small, and learning from them. Horses forgive. The forgive especially when they see us trying to do it right. Try the natural balance guy, see what he says. Follow your gut and don’t let him do things you don’t feel comfortable with. Pay him for his time if he comes out. Some of my clients have offered to pay me hourly to take the pressure off “getting it done”. One even pays me just to work with her wildies and slowly help them understand that trimming is a good thing. Find something that works! Consider learning trimming yourself, or bullying a friend or partner into learning 🙂
I’ll see what other resources I can find for you when I get a minute. For now, you’re doing awesome even thinking about this stuff. And we’ve got your back (at least symbolically) – we’re a weird and wonderful bunch of horse listeners just feeling our way through the wilds of relationship. xoxo
BTW, I just read your story, and loved it!! I had the same experience as a child — I lunged the family’s poodles until I found out that one could lunge horses. My family could never allow me to own a horse, but I insisted on being around them somehow from an early age. I feel as if I am launching on your journey, but I am much older and will never reach your stage of enlightenment! Good thing I can read your stories!
That’s what they’re there for! If my learning can help anyone else, it all means so much more to me…
Hi Dawn…just wanted to add to what Kesia said. I am by no means any kind of expert about hooves but I have researched for years and paid for some online & DVD resources to learn as much as I can about hooves. Kesia is a much more experienced trimmer then I, but we both have shared it’s an ever evolving journey on trimming. I am 48 and use to have my horses shod by a farriers, then went bare and were trimmed by barefoot trimmers, then by my husband for the last 4 years, following my guidance of course ( even though we didn’t always agree I am obsessed about hooves?) & now since I finally found a tool, my smaller hands can handle I have taken over. Its the Radius Rasp (you can find it online) and it’s really a great tool and very user friendly and well made. It makes getting the roll on the hoof so easy and so far I’m really impressed on how strong my horses hooves are since I have been using it. Its also holding up well and is still quite sharp after 6 months I use it for 3 horses. It’s not easy for me to trim, becaue its physically Challenging but it’s a great work out. I just try an do what I can. One day I might just get fronts or backs done on one horse…..probably not ideal but it’s working out ok. Sometimes I just rest a lot and get all 4 done. I find just having them free like Kesia said works so good. I just make it part of groom/nap time or throw some yummy hay in a pile, it works great to keep them happily standing in one place and just munching. If you try and have lots of patience ( it’s hard when your just learning) and take lots of breaks it becomes something the horses don’t seem to mind. I don’t have wild ones so I can imagine that has to have its own added challenges, just wanted to share what seems to work the best for my guys who are not wild but definitely behave much better when I approach trimming this way. Also try not to hold on to the bad feelings about letting your horses be handled badly. We feel so at the mercy of people we hire because we need them to try and help us take care of our precious horses…why is that? They are suppose to be working for us? I once let a so called very highly rated barefoot trimmer lady hit my horse in the bottom of the chin with the rasp ..TWICE…because he was so lame and couldn’t hold up his hooves long enough for her standards. I had even trailered him 45 minutes to get to her..because I wanted her so called expert opinion on his lamness…what a bad experience.??I cried all the way home and promised I would never let anyone treat my horse that way again, my husband was even upset about how she handled Banner…but we both said nothing ..definitely not my proudest moment. After that I found a very sweet trimmer and then she even helped teach me and my husband what she knew, until we felt we could do it ourselves. I think if you find a good one..they are willing to help there clients learn. Anyway I just wanted to share with you what works for me now…& let you know your not alone. We all will always make mistakes and learning with horses is the best journey. They are the most forgiving souls✌?️❤️?
Great stories and great perspective Michelle – thanks so much for sharing! And Dawn, it’s so nice to have you and your wonderful honesty around. Looking forward to more of it! Here’s a vid of Kesia working with my semi-feral mare, in case you haven’t seen it:
You guys are expressing my same thought, and my same… WHY???? Being an eponaquest instructor I have struggled myself to figure out why would I use a thing as an extension of my arm when I actually do have arms that work… I have taken Linda salinas clinic, I have in my earliest times taken monty Roberts first level, I have looked up hempfling and all kind of trainers. Still the whip thing bothered me sooo much I have almost never used it with my horses. I say almost never because in a couple of occasions it was a matter of reaaaallly being safe. Now, I am like you and many other that commented in here. My horse are not trained in the sense that 5 of them are rescues and have had training, bad badder and awful. My youngest 4 yo Merensx is still untouched still running around like a 2 yo and … he is growing up beautifully, respecting my space…when he’s up to. Following me, when he is interested, standing still when I give him or the other healings. Having 6 of them running toward me and keeping still and steady with my heart race at its peak to then seen them swirl around at about 2 meters from me exactly when I stated out loud Guys you are fast big and I’m scared… obviously there my intention was just at its strongest. So thank you for in a way helping me validating what and how I’m doing things with my horses. Here in Italy people think I’m crazy not training or re training them, not telling them what to do. I always answer its my herd and I want to do things right by them, listening to them, and to my own body messages. If I need to run believe I do run…and fast!!!!
Emma, you’re not crazy – but if you are, you’re in good company here 😀
This cracked me up: “I have struggled myself to figure out why would I use a thing as an extension of my arm when I actually do have arms that work…” – it’s like we can’t see the forest for the trees! Or that we are so used to using tools we forget we were born with the most important ones.
I’m just so glad that we’re all asking these questions and that they don’t fall on deaf ears. I am always open to being wrong (now, after being wrong many times), but for now I can’t see any harm in exploring in this whipless, non-training direction. I think we doubt our own power quite a bit, as well as our ability to connect and communicate. Good on you for finding your own way. Validation from others is huge (as each of us here can attest to) but at the end of the day it’s how you feel with your horses and how you feel about yourself…
Much love from Canada to you and your lovely herd – they sound pretty amazing 🙂
LOVE it Emma!! Your story of your herd running towards you reminded me of something that happened the other day. My dog bolted out of the woods and the horses wheeled and bolted away from the edge of the woods – towards me. The rest of the horses flow around me, as you described. But I saw our boss-man Montaro gunning straight at me and KNEW he was playing a game of “chicken” with me – who is going to give way? And there was the very real possibility that he would knock me or clip my shoulder. Without thinking – because there was no time to think – I threw my energy at him through my arm and swept it/him to the side of me. Believe me, my body was in full fear response and I hurt my arm a bit with the force at which I threw it out to the side. But he followed the line of energy and swept around me. Whew.
I did not have any stick, whip, etc. with me and there was no time to pick one up even if it had been lying at my feet. So THIS is another reason it is useful to not rely on whips and to become fluent with energy.
Here’s another example. So Montaro drills me on energy work frequently – getting me to practice and making my energy stronger. A few weeks ago, I slipped on the ice (on my driveway) and slammed so hard on my sacrum I thought for a few moments I had broken it. I had my older dog and my 9-month-old, 170 lb puppy with me. Now my kids have taught our puppy, Kumba, that when they lie on the ground, it’s time to wrestle! So when he saw me hit the ground, guess what he thought?
He came bounding towards me, fully prepared to launch himself on top of me. I was in such shock and pain I could hardly move or speak. But thanks to Montaro’s training, I merely opened the five fingers of my hand closest to Kumba and breathed out (no ability to talk much from the pain/shock), “Back” and he slid to a stop and laid down right beside me. So again, another HUGE benefit from learning to use your energy, rather than being reliant on external tools.
I would LOVE to see some pictures of your herd!! Can you upload some here for us to see? We don’t often get to see horses in Italy 🙂
Thanks, everyone, for all the suggestions! Who do you believe is good at teaching clicker training, website-wise? I have tried it with little knowledge about it, and my horses seem to react favorably. They are extremely treat motivated.
Thanks for helping me feel less guilty about their previous handling and handling by those we pay to help our horses. I wish practitioners would have more feel. I am finding that it is rare (in my area, at least). I know they have a difficult job, though!
I wanted to share a moment of brightness that I had last weekend–
I watched a cowboy at a colt starting challenge who gave me hope. I usually avoid these types of events, but happened to be there for other things, and my friend wanted to go. Among the craziness, one cowboy dressed completely as a cowboy, so there was no question — proceeded to get his colt bridled, saddled, ridden without the use of a flag, whip, rope, etc. to chase the horse around. He spent a good hour just walking around in the pen using his body language and eyes to talk with that horse. It looked at times as if he was doing much of nothing, especially compared with the other wranglers, but that horse began to calmly move his feet in step with the cowboy. Eventually, he calmly walked up and petted him, then left him alone for a while. After that everything was easy for him, and made it look like that horse was already trained. Compared with the pen next to them, where a horse flipped and got his legs stuck in the fence, it was a wonderful thing to see at such an event.
I wish I was as enterprising as you all, and could learn to trim feet. I feel there is so much that I don’t know! I’ll let you know how the next farrier fares……
G00D Wishes from my herd, Pepe the Andalusian and Lulu the Andalusian/Friesian
I’m sorry, I know so little about clicker training that I can’t help you with a name – I am a shameless dabbler, and I tend to just do a google search based on my needs and scan through videos or blog posts til I find something that sounds do-able/not soul-destroying 😛 – then I’ll invariably alter it further to suit my non-conformist nature!
Empathy for trimmers – it’s pretty scary and vulnerable to be under a horse and working hard all bent over, and I have certainly lost my temper and done stupid things in the heat of the moment. Not to say it’s okay, but it’s definitely a thing! I keep trying to make things less and less stressful for both me and my horses – it’s working, but it’s not easy to do when you have a string of clients booked in a day!
Glad to hear you saw something different at that expo… it does take some guts to dress like a cowboy and act like a gentleman around horses 😀 😀
Upload some pictures of Pepe and Lulu! We love Andies around here…
Hi Dawn, the beauty here, I think, is that we’ve all had the same reflexions about hoof trimming and everything regarding pressure ie. “having to handle no matter what” so you are indeed, not alone, you’ve probably just entered the “rabbit hole” which is when we discover this other “layer of consciousness” (geez… I sound like some guru, please know I am just a normal woman).
I am writing that because you wrote: “I feel as if I have just discovered this world. I have followed Parelli, but have been secretly embarrassed that the techniques often leave me feeling as if I have just abused my horse and broken their trust…” We’ve all been there! I know I have, and felt (and been made to feel) as if I was “too soft with my horses” “not leader material” and I believed it, because they believed it so much, they had me convinced… And then I “grew up”, with the help of my horses, I started to trust myself (my gut instincts) more and started to follow it more… And it paid off!
I too have two young horses, and I’ve had to teach them everything (getting their feet trimmed included). When my youngest was 5 months old, he hit a farrier with a hind foot and the farrier hit him back with his rasp, very hard; the farrier yelled at me and told me I would ruin this horse, that I didn’t have enough experience and that he would basically become a danger to society. I felt ashamed and it led me to really doubt myself, but at the same time, my gut was telling me HE was the one who didn’t understand something.
It took me a few years to realize profoundly enough how much my gut was right on this one. Like you, I was then afraid of having people over to trim their feet (or the vet or trainers), both because I was afraid of being judged and because I was afraid of my horse’s reaction towards them or theirs toward my horses (after being hit by a rasp, how could you trust a trimmer?)… This can be a vicious circle because the way YOU FEEL affects the outcome of the events and it can take some time to really understand that.
What I mean is that if you apprehend a certain situation (hoof trimming) and you are tensed, your body is speaking to your horse (even if you try your very best not to show it); it is saying there’s something scary and unsafe going on, brace yourself. Horses pick up on such small cues (to our human eye), they are wired that way (for survival). So, for trimming and everything else, it all comes down to you trusting and being trully confident inside.
How to get there? Repetition is the key. You can start by picking their hooves everyday and praising them when they give them easily. This will make you more confident with the feet handling all together and will get them used gently to having their feet picked up. You could use clicker training if you prefer but I tried it and have found it to be more of a burden (they would be too impatient to get treats and would not hold their hooves long enough at a time, being stressed by the idea of a treat) or maybe it was me who wasn’t patient enough to do the whole clicker training thing seriously enough.
When those moments come, when you have to be a “parent” and “force” them to do something they don’t like, you need to have the relationship that makes it ok and that will make your horse think: ok, it’s her, I trust her even if I don’t like this I know it’s gonna be fine. The only other alternative there is (apart from conditioning ie. Clicker), is to use force and be scarier than whatever you’re trying to do, which backfires one way or another in ALL cases (horses ending up shut down, colic, diseases, dangerous behaviors etc).
In order to build such a relationship, one has to spend as much time as possible with their horses as they can and letting go of “having to do stuff” because regarding horses, less is more. The less you pressure, the more they will give easily. Practice breathing deeply and mindfully and learn about horses subtle communication (here’s the article that opened my eyes to the subtlest parts of it :https://annablakeblog.com/2014/04/18/calming-signals-are-you-listening/). This blog we’re on is also probably one of the best mixed sources of experiences/references to the subject.
It basically boils down to trust, confidence and mindfulness, it is simple yet difficult and a long road on which we sometimes stumble but the road is so gratifying because we eventually find out it makes us better humans, better parents to our children and better towards ourselves.
Fabulous article Capucine – thanks for sharing it! And I love everything you said too 🙂
I am more and more building up on the “if i don’t trust myself how can i expect them to trust me???” Training with whips to me it’s like playing god with them because I’ll be always able to force them to do stuff. And I’m saying training. I do give clients that are not confident or have never worked with horses a little tool. Explaining why how when. But that’s it.
I want to come to horse camp in BC!!!!!! JEEZ you are too far!
I’m with my phone and can’t seem to be able to upload. Will definitely do next week from home!!!!
I’d just as soon come to horse camp in Italy if I could just get there…!! Looking forward to those pics 😉
Found some pix from last year. Not the best and not all of them. But…and yes horse camp here it’s something we do with kids and adult. So you are very welcome!!!!
I love this one though – cause we also get to see your land! It look gorgeous!
This is super magical! Like they’re leading us out of the woods and into the light…
This is better. This is my big Trotter Ghemon. Rescued from the track where he finished his career and was going to become dead meat for dogs. He’s 14.
What a handsome beast! <3
Is that a really common (awful) thing, Trotters being discarded?
We have Standardbreds here, amazing horses (over)bred for pacing on the track and then...well the shelters get flooded with them and they sell for peanuts, and I bet that's not the worst thing that happens 🙁
It is very common unfortunately. By 10 yo they can’t race anymore, by racing rules (wtf?) and most of them get sold to you know who. That’s where we got him, from the hands of the butcher. He’s an awesome boy that still after almost 4 yrs that he’s with us has an emotional imbalance I haven’t seen in many horses. Sometimes he thinks he’s a stallion (he’s been castrated at 9 for a testicular torsion that could have been fatal) somethiimes he still think he’s a colt. Mind that he spent the whole time at the track in a box, when he wasn’t racing or exercising. Never ever loose or never a contact with other horses if not on the track. He’s super G (his name is Ghemonmac) and we love his goofiness.
What a love! I would imagine he’s been halted a few times in his development without the option to integrate and develop his horse-ness. So glad he’s got you, and I bet he is too!!
Hey, I want this course for $15! It’s currently $75 on her website.
Looks like they made the videos private and increased the price. Sign up for their newsletter and maybe they’ll offer a discount at some point…
Hi guys I just found this post and am absolutely beaming with joy at the wonderful discussion here. What a beautiful bunch of women communicating with such grace.
I am still reading through all your comments and interesting discussions. That could take a while!
I was initially drawn here as I too have often puzzled over the practice of working with a horse in an enclosed space and calling it “liberty”. You guys have voiced my ponderings, and so eloquently!
I guess as humans, we have traditionally viewed the world from the human perspective i.e. the perspective of the dominant controlling species. So if we look from this perspective we see this approach as very free, as liberty, as we are comparing it to the control of bits and bridles and whips. In comparison it is so much freer. If however we switch perspective to look from the horse’s viewpoint, what they see is a practice that is “less controlling” than the traditional way, but nonetheless it is still controlled.
When I look from the horse’s perspective I usually see our four-legged friends kindly chuckling quietly and with love at their silly ego-filled human feeling so very proud of our abilities in giving our horses a better life by working so freely and respectfully with them!!
Our love that our horses give us the amazing opportunity to take our blinkers off, put down our human arrogance and our ignorance and our general disconnection in how we interact with life, and learn how to truly connect with humility, heartspace, energy and flow. Sounds like aikido! Sounds like the beautiful way you guys play with your horses!
First off, YES, there is an INCREDIBLE crew of (mostly) ladies and (several lovely) men who frequent this space and ask the hard questions and tell amazing stories and keep us on our toes. I love all of you and this is why I never tire of it – the conversations just get deeper and more interesting.
I haven’t revisited this post in so long, but you’re absolutely right. We have ourselves so deep into our conditioning that we are easily convinced that anything “less bad” is good. As I pointed out in this article, I’m not wholeheartedly against these practices – I don’t see the point of them, but I don’t have to “get something” to respect that others have an entirely different -and likely valuable- experience with it. I hope the same for the horses but I’m not sure there either. BUT, I do encourage all of us to be honest with ourselves and all everything what it is. There are times I am dominant or controlling with my horses, and I literally do say to them something along the lines of “I’m being a jerk because I don’t have the skills or energy to do this differently right now and I really think it needs to be done.” And then they either shrug it off, or the challenge me until I find a better way. But the point is, they (like us) actually prefer congruence to incongruence. If we’re calling something that isn’t liberty, Liberty, how does that translate to our horses?
But most of all I’m really digging your reminder that our horses will keep nudging us where they need us to go, so long as we lead with love and flow. I know I’ve had my fair share of equine eye-rolls and umpteenth-chances as I stumble my way towards some kind of grace.
Thanks for stopping in Rachel, can’t wait to converse more with you 🙂
Thanks for your reply Kesia. I totally agree with all of it. I’m constantly stumbling (hopefully) towards some sort of grace! Love and flow, connection, harmony and alignment my aim, but many a time I fall short, pick myself up, dust myself off, and ask for another chance!
Apologies for my very slow response….I went away and then totally forgot to get back to you. Rather than adding more here, I will head of to more recent discussions, as I have opened up an oldie thread haven’t I.Thanks for your warm welcome. (Apologies for leaving the guys out, I only saw girls names in the thread!)