Restoring Balance

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As unsettling and frightening as these uncertain times are, I also feel something amazing. The whole place feels quieter, a sense of less overall busyness. The air is clearer. There’s less traffic noise. More activity of families at home.

All the spring projects people usually scramble to do on the weekends and never get done in time, are getting done. Because there is less opportunity to travel, I might even get my garden planted in time to grow cool season crops! That would be a first in the more than fifteen years I’ve lived here.

While it is challenging to go to the store and find what I want, the truth is I have plenty at home. I’ve just been too lazy and privileged to trouble with what I have. This crisis pushes me to be creative and resourceful about  my meals, to prioritize cleaning up leftovers, eating the most perishable things first, and generally being less wasteful. We even cleaned out and organized the freezer so we can plan meals around what we already have.

We never planned ahead much because we didn’t have to. It’s easy enough to make a quick run to the store and grab something. We live close enough to town that before you know it it’s a habit to just make a run to town each day, adding to the traffic, the noise and general busyness out there. It’s been nice to plan ahead and go to the store less often.

I want to catch up on all the projects around the house and with the horses that I never get to. It’s rather a blessing to feel less obligated. Just stay home, connect with people I haven’t spoken to in a while. Rest a bit more.

As a dear friend of mine says – I’ve been ‘grouchy as a bear’ lately. Yesterday, I finally figured out that I’m grouchy because not much has changed for me in the wake of the coronavirus restrictions. I’m busy as ever. And all I want to do is stop moving and rest into this sense of quieter times. Every fiber of my being says ‘slow down’.

It can be so hard to know what to do with all the unknowns. So much anxiety around what could happen. All I can do is take responsibility for myself and my actions to protect others. Be as prepared as possible and take good care of myself so that I don’t get sick. The best thing for my immune system is tap into this feeling of quiet.

To live life at a pace that’s sustainable.

Sending peace to all my friends near and far out there. I hope you can find your opportunity in this crisis! Stay healthy and take care of each other.

You know where you’ll find me. Hopefully sitting under my elm tree in my bare feet with Georgie more often!

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Softness Begins and Ends with Me

Any physical connection between horse and human is a living, breathing phenomenon. This is no room for static, rigid, or inflexible. Even within apparent stillness, there is motion.

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Screenshot_2020-03-16 Settings - Developing Softness to Trim FeetResistance lives in the places where motion ceases. There is no ethical way to power through a brace. The only way forward is with compassion and grace. Discover the source of the brace, facilitate it’s release, then offer soft connection once more.

 

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Forward together, that’s the goal. Forward can’t happen if either partner stops breathing within the embrace. Together we explore, seeking the balance point of potential shared movement. Hovering in the spaces where all things are possible and then – all at once – we both break free and flow forward together in harmony!

 

Screenshot_2020-03-16 Settings - Developing Softness to Trim Feet(1)This is not softness I have to train into my horse. He knows how to move in synchrony with other beings as innately as I know how to breathe! It’s ME! I’m the one that has to learn how to feel, sense and then boldly take the step when the door opens. I focus on cultivating my own softness and he matches me!

He matches ME. If there is a brace it begins in me. If he cannot go forward it begins with me not giving him room to go. Softness begins and ends with me.

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Join me for a free online introduction to Tango with Horses, beginning Saturday March 21st at 8 am Mountain Time!

The Roots of Softness: Prepping an older horse for hoof trimming

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  • Grooming as massage
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can help most horses find their balance to stand for hoof trimming with greater ease after just one session!

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Mutually Negotiated Boundaries and Touch

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In horsemanship it is considered a basic thing that horses respect our boundaries and accept our touch anywhere, anytime. When I think about it, I never recall hearing that I should be respectful of the horse’s boundaries and seek their permission to touch them. When a horse does not readily accept our touch or our physical boundaries, they are considered anything from being naughty, to rude, to downright dangerous. But it is perfectly acceptable for us to do whatever is necessary to get our hands on our horses and keep them out of ‘our space’.

How would it feel to explore boundaries and touch in a mutually safe way, by mutual choice? What kind of relationship would that foster between horse and human?

In all honesty, I may not have given this much thought if not for Feather. Now that I am interacting with a severely traumatized, fearful, wild born horse I think about negotiating contact and having healthy boundaries all the time. His fear is so intense that it is all he can do, working out how to touch me and feel okay about it. The first four weeks he was with me he made it clear that he couldn’t handle having me in his paddock with him and he couldn’t handle even the smell of my hand reaching for him, so I simply engaged from outside his paddock and didn’t try touching him until he made it clear he was ready. Now all he wants to do is figure out how to overcome his fear and touch me.

It blows my mind the intensity of the fear radiating off of him when he considers touching my hand, or allowing my hand to touch him. He makes me keenly aware how big of a deal this is for him. I am learning how to be trustworthy in his eyes. It is more than just showing up and not causing harm. It is being predictable and appropriately responsive to his curiosity. I am enrolled in Feather’s master course in how to be fully present with him in each moment. Anything less and he wants nothing to do with me. Not only that, but he becomes a basket case of spookiness and fearful aggression. I can’t say I blame him. I know I can be intense! If my emotions and thinking mind are busy forget it. What a gift he gives me as I show up twice each day and practice being in fully embodied in each moment.

The thing is, he scares me too. Part of the reason we interact through the mesh fencing is that we both feel better that way. When his fear overcomes him and he lunges I can stand there and in the face of that, with the fence between us, and not react at all. No need to back away. No need to back him off. Just stay engaged and allow him to express himself. He is learning to modulate his energy and he is not always successful. I feel the thrill of fear and the intensity of the anger he has toward humans all blasting in my direction. Just as surely, he feels my fear.

Together we negotiate every aspect of our relationship. He lets me know when I come in too hot or am not fully present by lunging at the fence between us. I acknowledge my error and try again until I find a way that suits him. By the same token, I let him know that I’m not willing to let him touch my hand if his teeth are showing, or if he comes in hot and intense. We are learning together how to be gentle with each other. How to communicate with each other when something is too much. We do this in extremely subtle ways. Ways that allow our nervous systems to settle and be calm as we find a way to do this unique, inter species dance together.

There is nothing that compares to the feeling of this kind of negotiation. To know it is his choice. On his terms. To know he and I are communicating in this tangible, intimate way is beyond words to describe. It truly is a multi-sensory experience. We are tangoing – the dance between hand and nose. The dance between movement and stillness. Allowing emotions to swell and flow. Communication in all its raw honesty. I let him know if he scares me and he lets me know if I scare him.

We treat each other with mutual respect and integrity. We touch one another by permission only. He has his territory and I have mine. We don’t invade each other’s space or willfully take each other’s territory. We mutually agree every step of the way.

This experiment in progressing on his terms is paying off in spades..

If you would like to learn more about my approach to interacting with horses..

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Olympic Level Lessons in Patience

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The little things matter. He’s all wildness and instinct with no concept of what partnership with a human could feel like. The kind touch of a human hand is not part of his life experience. His senses are keenly tuned to every nuance of movement and gesture. I have no doubt I am like an alien to him. As tuned in as I aim to be, my senses are not nearly as tuned to the environment as his. He tries to find meaning in absolutely everything about me. He seeks to interpret my behaviors and take appropriate action every second we are together.

I have no desire to dumb this horse down to my level. Instead, I aim to upgrade myself so that I am more finely tuned. Spending time with this wild horse reminds me of one of my favorite lines from the movie, Joe Versus the Volcano when Angelica tells Joe:

“My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.”

That’s how I feel when I step into his world, fully present in each moment, fully present with him, fully engaged with my senses. What a gift he gives me! Once I embraced his way of being together with me everything changed for the better. In my heart, with every fiber of my being, I know that if I stay the course and work with his timing I’ll be able to touch him in no time.

But domestication creates its own set of pressures for us human caregivers. The desire to trim those feet that are getting long. The desire to have those teeth checked, as he tentatively and deftly grabs the bits of tumbleweed from my fingers with the only two incisors that actually meet in a mouthful of broken teeth. And then there’s the elephant in the room…. The halter and lead he had forced onto his head when he was purchased at an auction nearly a year ago.

I feel the internal pressure, the sense that my window for being able to work with his voluntary cooperation to remove the halter is closing. Even as I write this my throat closes and my shoulders migrate up around my ears. We can put a lot of pressure on ourselves and if I show up out there carrying any of this angst, he feels it, and I lose precious ground.

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It’s a daily effort of will to show up each day and pretend that halter and lead do not exist. Those feet that are getting longer each day, they don’t exist either. Don’t even worry about the teeth! I’m in this for the long game, that’s what I tell myself. Talk about patience. This is a lesson in Olympic competition level patience! Not my strong suit, but by necessity, I learn.

The first week all I could think about was how to speed the process of getting him to let me touch him. He made it quite clear, the more I focused on touching him, the more fearful he became. I marvel at human hubris. I would never dream of invading the space of a wolf or a mountain lion. Never dream of walking into an enclosure with them with no relationship in place and stick my hand out for them to sniff! The idea seems ludicrous and yet, that’s what we do with wild horses all the time.

When I started treating him like a wild animal and stopped pushing my agenda everything changed for the better. He stopped looking at me like an unpredictable, unfathomable alien. He looks to me now when he gets scared. A few nights ago my neighbor stopped by to visit the burros who live in the run next door. In between the two runs is a narrow alley choked with dried up tumbleweeds. As Feather and I hung out together, the neighbor’s German Shepard decided to crash her way through tumbleweed alley – a dark, shadowy, predator in way too close proximity. His instinct kicked in and he bolted, snorting and blowing, tail twisted over his back!

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But then he looked to me, saw me standing calmly and came right over to breathe with me. We stood together and watched the commotion unfold. He touched my hand with his nose and took a deep breath. This is what it’s all about. I know with every fiber of my being that if I stay the course and keep working at his pace, we’ll find our way together. He’ll allow me to remove that halter because he trusts me to do it. And from there our whole world opens up!

I could push it. I have a whole backup plan in place if I decide that his welfare is going to be compromised by those teeth, feet or halter and rope. But for now, the window is still open for us to find our way together. We have a little more time. And so, I resist the temptation to push past his threshold and continue to be patient! Hard as it is.

The little things matter. That we can walk side by side together. Stand together and he’ll let me touch his nose. Take bits of food from my outstretched hand. Just breathe together and find a place of peace in each other’s company, even when there are ‘wolves’ in the tumbleweed! These may seem like small things but they are huge. In the long game, these small things are everything. They are the foundation of the relationship that will carry us through all we decide to do together.

Yesterday he was on high alert, standing near his shelter, staring intently at something off in the distance, so involved he completely ignored me and his breakfast. Once the other herd members were fed, I walked over to see what he was worried about. First, I looked where he was looking. I could see cows moving off in the distance and asked him if that was it. It didn’t seem to be but I couldn’t see anything else.

I got myself grounded and expanded my own sensory awareness. I could feel his fear and anxiety to my left, it was palpable. Taking a breath, I started feeling out around us, specifically in the direction he was focused. All felt fine and I attempted to share that feeling of safety with him. Then, to my surprise, as my awareness continued to expand north, I felt fear and anxiety ‘out there’. I have no idea where it was coming from but it was, indeed there. This was a revelation to me – that he wasn’t just seeing something, he was feeling something that would rightfully put a wild horse on alert.

I showed him how we can support others to feel for safety and help them let go of their fear and anxiety instead of just getting swept away by it. To my delight, he took a step back, lowered his head, cocked a foot and went into a state of deep relaxation. I left him to it and went back to the house to eat my breakfast. Half an hour later he was still standing in that same position. Not on alert but clearly holding space. An hour later he finally went and ate his breakfast. My mind is blown.

So, I keep listening to this wild one, letting him teach me. He is waking me up and I live in a state of constant and total amazement!

I’d like to take a moment to thank Susan White for these amazing images from that evening with the dogs. This image of us walking side by side means so much to me. I’m grateful beyond words to have so many memories captured so richly.

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If you’d like to hear more about my journey with this mustang named Feather, you can follow us on Facebook or learn more about how and why I do the things I do by becoming a Patron on Patreon or joining my online immersion course called Tango with Horses.

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The Tango with Horses Tribe is a private Facebook Community where we talk philosophy of giving our horses a voice and finding our own voice in the process: The Tango with Horses Tribe

Gandalf Gray Feather is a public page for fans of Feather the mustang where I share the occasional photo and updates: Gandalf Gray Feather

If you want to learn and become part of a growing community of supportive fellow seekers, you can join the Online Immersion Courses here, where my work with Feather is a case study you can follow: Tango with Horses Online Classroom

Or you can support Feather directly by becoming a Patron and follow our journey together on Patreon. I record all of my interactions with him here, some free and for patrons I include audio and video of my sessions with him: Andrea Datz Tango with Horses

 

What’s in it for the Horse?

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What’s in it for my horse?

A question that often comes up when someone seeks to partner with their horses in a way that gives them a voice. It’s easy to assume there isn’t anything in it for them. When I first explored the idea of allowing my horses more choice I was faced with a seemingly endless stream of ‘no thank you’s’. Does ‘no thank you’ mean that there isn’t anything in it for them to partner with me?

It is a valid question. But let’s dig a little deeper…

We humans tend to be a bit black and white in our thinking. All or nothing. As my husband likes to say: ‘Go big, or go home. I don’t do subtle.’ What my horse is likely telling me, when I give him the opportunity to share his opinion, is more like: ‘no thank, not interested in what we had before.’ Fair enough. Obviously, I am seeking something different, so I wasn’t satisfied with what we were doing before either. Why would I expect my horse to tell me he loved it when I didn’t!

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The current ‘no thank you’ is nuanced. It’s not a hard ‘no’, it’s feedback. In the beginning I came to our interactions filled with doubt about just this thing. What if there isn’t anything in this for my horse? What if I can’t find a way to interact with them that they can get behind? I learned that doubt is the kiss of death with horses. If I can’t see what’s in it for them to spend time with me, how can I can expect to convey the opportunities for partnership to my horse?

A horse gives me feedback based on his expectations. His expectations for our interactions are based on what we’ve done before, or what he’s experienced before me. He may not have any context for a relationship with a human that could enrich his life, but that doesn’t mean the possibility doesn’t exist. It’s up to me to be creative, to show him I can be different. To show him that I embrace a new way of engaging that is mutually enriching. I say get creative, because when I started down this path I didn’t have a good example of what I sought to model. There’s a lot of good horsemanship out there, but none of it was going in the direction I felt was possible. It was uncharted territory.

If you are on this path of seeking to give your horse a voice and wondering if there’s anything in it for them based on the appearance that he wants nothing to do with you – consider – what were you doing before? What are your horse’s expectations of your relationship? Could it be that in your effort to give him a voice the pendulum swung so far the other way that all your horse sees is a mass of confusion and angst with no clear direction?

Honestly, I feel it’s a valid question to ask – what’s in it for the horse? But don’t stop there.

If what you’ve been doing doesn’t feel right, and what you’re trying now seems to illicit nothing but ‘no thank you’s’, please don’t give up. There is a whole array of possibilities somewhere between black and white, passive and aggressive. Somewhere on that continuum lies the perfect path for you and your horse to build a relationship that is reciprocal and mutually beneficial.  Keep digging until you find what’s in it for your horse. Become the person they want you to be. I can tell you from personal experience, it’s worth it.

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Need a more objective example? Without fail, when I start doing body work and ground work, interacting with my horses, and asking them to share movement with me, they glow. No really, they glow. Their coats go from a bit dull to gleaming. They play with each other more. They move better and enjoy testing their new moves out in the pasture. They nicker when they see me, and they meet me with enthusiasm to dance together. It doesn’t happen overnight. If they’ve had a bit of time off they can be a bit reticent. So am I when I’ve been sedentary. It doesn’t always feel good to start exercising again. But once I get over that hump and I’m moving again it’s a joy. Always. The same appears to be true for my horses.

So don’t give up. Keep seeking. Enjoy the ride as your horses ask you to dig deep and find a better way. A way where you can see what’s in it for them without a shred of doubt. _____________________________________________________________________________________________

If you’d like to join like minded people who share your passion for finding what’s in it for the horses, come join The Tango with Horses Tribe on Facebook!

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Sensitizing Humans

Gin and I in Carbondale

Gin and I back in the day…

It is common practice, when training horses, to ‘desensitize’ them to certain stimuli. Time is spent ‘sacking them out’ or some similar tactic designed to derail the horse’s fight or flight instinct and make them less reactive to outside influences when we work with them. Paradoxically, we then want them to be extremely efficient in responding to the slightest aid. We ask them to be less sensitive, but then want them to be selectively more sensitive. Imagine how confusing that must be? Don’t react to ‘x’, but respond instantly to ‘y’ or else.

Personally, I think we ‘desensitize’ horses when should be ‘sensitizing’ ourselves.

Horses are wildly intuitive. Finely tuned senses perceive the subtlest nuances of thought, emotion, gesture and energy. Fully inhabiting their bodies, they respond to their environment without thinking too much about it. Survival in the real world demands appropriate response instantly. Rarely is there time to stop and ponder. React or die, you can think about it later.

I just had a flashback to riding Gin in a reining clinic. The steers we were meant to sort were in a small, anxious herd behind two gates at the end of the arena. The gate latch was broken so if the steers pressed hard enough, they could open the gate, streaming into the arena. The single steer that was reluctantly separated from the herd had one goal, and one goal only, get back through that gate to be with his fellows. The solution to keeping that steer in the arena, and the rest of the herd out, was to line all the riders up side by side, butts to the gate, to deter the steers should either side determine to make a break for it. The result was a line of nervous horses, with even more nervous steers crowding the gate behind them, a handful of people on foot with flags holding the gates closed.

Many times, the steer would succeed, racing through the line of horses, rider’s scrambling to herd him back into the arena, people with flags on sticks behind the gates flailing in a mighty effort to make that spot scarier than the arena. The result was a chaotic swirl of panicked steers, waving flags, and a mob of horses. Gin would put her head low and back up. There was nothing I could do to stop her. She continued to back up until we were well clear of the mob where she stopped to stand quietly observing the ensuing mess. Suited me just fine. In my estimation she was keeping us both safe, and I thanked her kindly for getting us out of the danger zone. The clinician acted as though I was letting her get away with murder…

Sometimes, the horse’s idea is better than the human’s idea. I wish we were trained to listen better.

When I stop thinking in terms of teaching the horse to be less reactive and start thinking in terms of becoming more sensitive to them, a whole new world opens. I work less on the horse and more on myself. The way I see it, I’m the reactive one that needs to refine. They are perfectly sensitive, the kind of sensitivity that can turn into a dance. But only if I don’t teach them to be less responsive.

I think we seek a horse that is safe to be around by trying to get them to be less reactive to things that might happen outside of our control when we ride. We attempt to teach them to be more like us, to stop and think before they react. We want a responsive horse that isn’t reactive. It’s a big ask given horse’s brains are literally built to prioritize the coordination of movement to fight or flee. By attempting to teach them to stop and think we ask them to go against their natural instincts, and that can be quite stressful for some horses. They might learn to contain those natural instincts but that doesn’t necessarily mean it makes them safer to be around.

The thing is, we can have an exquisitely responsive horse that is also safe to be around by cultivating their trust in us. They may not have the same capacity we do to stop and think, but they do have an incredible ability to read emotions. They can learn to look to us to determine if there is something they should worry about or not. They naturally match the energy of those around them.  Especially a trusted ‘leader’. I become that trusted leader by being awake and aware of our shared environment. If my horse knows I’m paying attention then he can relax and follow my lead.

Communication with one another on the level of the horse’s sensitivity is a magical thing. Conversations about simple things, like standing quietly while I approach with a halter, allowing me to touch them or pick up a foot, become nuanced sensory experiences for both of us. The greatest gift my horses give me each day is sensitizing me to see beyond the obvious, to feel more and think less, to be fully present in each moment. There is so much wonder to drink in. I feel fortunate to be part of their world for a little while and they reward my efforts by joining me in the dance and being my dependable partners.

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If you want to learn more about this way of connecting and communicating with horses we’d love to have you join The Tango with Horses Tribe on Facebook!

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Skillful Negotiation

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Trimming Wamy last summer with an audience

People often ask me – how do you do the things that must be done with your horses, and still allow them to have a voice? Trimming feet is a great example. The farrier is coming, what if my horse decides not be caught that day? What if he decides he’d rather not pick up his feet? How do I navigate that without resorting to doing what needs to be done to make it happen?

Yesterday I drove an hour and a half to trim my friend’s two horses for her. It’s not like I’m going to drive all that way and not trim them if they aren’t in the mood today. Jean had them penned up already. As I approached Scratch with the halter, he was clearly wary, in his quiet way. His head came up, eyes widened, nostrils flared as he moved away, subtly evading my touch. Had I touched him anyway he would have moved to create distance between us, I would have broken his trust, setting the tone for the rest of our interaction.

Never underestimate the power of those first few minutes with any horse. How we negotiate the first touch and put the halter on sets the tone for the rest of our interaction.

What I had here, was a horse who was kind of wired and jumpy. Potentially reactive. Not an ideal frame of mind for the focused task of trimming feet. But I’m here, and it’s going to get done today. Within the time we have, it takes the time it takes, to negotiate initial contact and allow him time to agree to being haltered. It’s a silent negotiation. My intention is crystal clear so that he picks up on why I’m there and what I want to do with him today. Imagine what it would be like to have someone show up out of the blue and approach YOU with a halter if you had no clue what their intentions were? It must be quite disconcerting, so it seems like common courtesy to make sure he knows why I’m there with that halter hanging on my arm.

It takes him a few minutes to let his guard down, allowing me a brief touch. How I touch him is important too. He needs to feel my intention in my touch. He needs to know I won’t get greedy if he gives an inch. It doesn’t take all that long to negotiate enough understanding between us that he allows me to put the halter on. It wasn’t enthusiastic, cautious, so I know he’s not totally comfortable yet. Fair enough. I take the opportunity to prove to him that I am trustworthy by not simply dragging him off to a dry spot and going to work because he has a halter on, giving me control. Instead, the conversation continues with an invitation to follow my lead. He needs time to consider if he can be all in on my idea. It takes a few tries to find the way to move and connect that feels good to him and he follows me into the dry shelter.

I love trimming feet. I think it’s one of the best places to have cool conversations with horses. A great place to refine our communication and connection. So much has to happen for trimming to go well and feel good to both the horse and I. I never take for granted that it might be hard for some horses to balance on three legs for any amount of time. I created a sequence for doing things that allows for that so they are, in a sense, warming up and finding their balance point on three legs before I get to a point of needing to hold a leg up for any length of time. It feels like a dance on a good day.

Yesterday with Scratch and Wamy was a good day. Once Scratch realized what I was doing and that I wouldn’t force anything, he embraced my idea and cooperated beautifully, practically lifting up the next foot before I was even there. I love the way it feels to move with them and find the best way to support their foot so it doesn’t bother them, and at the same time is easy on my own body. It’s a moment to moment feeling in and negotiating. Negotiating contact, points of balance, fluidity of movement, and strength.

When I really listen, the horses give me instant feedback about how they like their manicure. Placing the newly trimmed foot beneath themselves, exploring how it feels to put weight on it, sighing and lowering their heads. If it isn’t quite right, they might shift positions a bunch or stick it out in front and not want to put weight on it. Then I know I have more fine tuning to do. The better I am at listening to their feedback, the more willing they are to participate freely in the act of getting these feet trimmed.

I had two horses yesterday who were not particularly enthusiastic about the idea of having their feet trimmed. We were able to negotiate a way through it while still allowing them to express their opinions, having a voice in the dialogue. In the end both horses walked away more relaxed then when we began. They were able to stretch outside their comfort zone and increase their adaptability. These conversations around things that have to happen can be brilliant ways to deepen the trust and communication between horse and human. It requires doing more than just listening to your horse’s opinion and honoring that, it requires skillful negotiation.

If you’d like to learn more about these kinds of conversations with horses:

Join the Tango with Horses Tribe on Facebook

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Join my online immersion class where we delve deep into the art of conversing with horses humanely. Contact me to learn more: Andrea Datz