My greatest challenge as a horsewoman is finding my own voice. It is there, but it still struggles to be the dominant voice amid the wisdom of my mentors. Good teachers are a blessing, and I am blessed to have had some of the best. They are good people to want to emulate, talented horsemen and women all.
I’ll never forget going to a symposium featuring Mark Rashid, Harry Whitney, Deb Bennett and Dave Siemens. Mark and Harry did several demonstrations together. Watching them side-by-side made it abundantly clear they had quite different approaches to horsemanship. Two clearly effective methods, distinct to each gentleman, a succinct demonstration of the personal development of horsemanship as a product of life experience. Their message hit home. I will never work with horses exactly like them because I will never share the life experiences and perspectives that shaped their style of horsemanship.
There is so much wisdom to be found from those who walk the path longer than I have. I believe in the importance of passing wisdom from generation to generation. My mentors shared their personal ways with me. The technical skills and philosophy they learned from their mentors, and those that came before. The sharing of their knowledge set me on a solid foundation. Their guidance helped me stay safe, and be a reasonably effective horsewoman in my own right, while I began the slow process of finding my unique voice.
By virtue of where I lived, my exposure as a young adult was primarily the newly popular Natural Horsemanship world. I had Gin as my primary horse dance partner and she was having none of it. In fact, none of the horses I ended up with in my younger days thought much of natural horsemanship, which put me in a bit of a quandary about who to learn from! I don’t recall how I heard about them, but I ended up auditing Mark Rashid and Kim Walnes in the same month. The rest is history, as they say. I hosted clinics twice a year with each of them so that I could learn an approach to horse training that seemed acceptable to my horse.
Kim and Mark were both so different in their approach, while still compatible philosophically and technically. The things I learned from them still form the basic framework of my understanding of working with horses. Each person I learned from over the years provided essential bits of new information, validation of things I was discovering on my own, and a deeper understanding of why what I was exploring at the time was working, or not. Mentors and coaches help us learn basic, sound skills, and help us refine, but they cannot define who we are.
The horses that came into my life shaped my path more than anyone. I’ll never forget when I finally took Kim’s advice and called an animal communicator to talk to Gin. She was incredibly challenging to work with and had no interest in connecting with me on the level I so desired. Theresa told me that it took three days for Gin to acknowledge her presence, and in the end, the only reason she agreed to talk with her was because the idea of talking to a human who wasn’t physically there intrigued her.
She told Theresa that she just didn’t think much of humans. When Theresa asked her ‘what about Andrea?’ Her response was ‘she’s better than most, but she’s still a human.’ Theresa did her best to explain to Gin that I wanted something different for us than what we tended to see in the horse human relationships we were exposed to at the time. Gin asked that I please let her know, or show her examples of the kind of relationship I wanted. From then on, every time we encountered other people and horses doing things together Gin would stop, look at me, look at them, with her best ‘is this what you are wanting for us?’ look on her face. Each and every time I had to say ‘no, that’s not what I mean’. And each time she would sigh with what seemed like relief.
I never did see an example of what I hoped was possible…
Gin is 29 years old this spring. We first talked to Theresa when she was maybe 6 or 7. We found ways to work reasonably well together over the years but it took me this twenty plus years to discover the level of sensitivity and tact Gin sought all along. Only now can I genuinely show her what I want from my relationship with horses. She shaped me more than any mentor I could ever have because she is the one who was there every single day asking me to dig deeper!
This journey to find my voice, guided by the horses, is a long game, a lifetime journey.
A host of other horses came along over the years, each sensitive in their own ways. Somehow I always managed to attract the horses for whom all these other methods just didn’t work. I remember, during a lesson with Mark one time, saying that what I really wanted was a 50:50 partnership with my horses. At the time I had to settle for 60:40 because there was no model for a way of interacting with horses where the human wasn’t in the dominant role, no matter how tactfully.
It’s not easy to step outside the box and find my own voice when there is no model for what I have in mind. In the last five years I found a way to access the kind of collaborative, co-creative relationship with horses I always felt was possible. First I had to discover who I am. I had to uncover my own talents, my particular way of seeing things based on my life experience with horses. What have I learned from this quarter century with horses? I finally understand what Mark and Harry meant all those years ago. My personal style with horses is a product of the things I’ve done, the people I’ve learned from, but now, most importantly, the horses I’ve had the privilege to spend time with.
What I know is that the horses respond to honesty and heart. Paradoxically, I had to step away from horses to find myself. Who am I as a human being, not as a horsewoman? I had to learn to stand in my own sovereignty and find my personal identity before I could show up for the horses without falling into mimicking what I learned over the years. How do I see things? How do I move through the world? What are my strengths and weaknesses as a human being? What is my inherent value, and what do I have to offer that is mine and mine alone? As I enter my 51st year on this planet I stride confidently into uncharted territory as I forge my own path with horses. And yea, it is possible to have a 50:50 partnership, a co-created, collaborative relationship with a horse.
Gin, in her typically quiet way, lets me know she is pleased. And that is all that matters.
If you’d like to learn more about my lifelong journey of ‘slow horsemanship’ come join our online community of fellow travelers or attend a live workshop: andreadatz.com