Five years ago, I dove down a rabbit hole with my herd. It seemed time to stop taking lesson after lesson, attempting to implement other people’s ideas about horse training. Now was the time to integrate what I had learned and find my own path.
Best laid plans.
I became a student again, but this time the horses became my teachers.
The herd had quite specific ideas about what I needed to learn. Over the period of a year they carefully shaped me into the kind of person they felt good about interacting with. That rabbit hole just keeps getting deeper. The further I go down it the more I realize how simple and straight forward horses are. All this time I labored under the misconception that I needed to ‘train’ them when it was me that needed the training.
My herd is comprised almost entirely of horses that do not fit the mold. In their humble opinion they are not the ones needing training! The best decision I ever made was deciding to let those horses teach me. Their lessons included everything from how to be still, to how to be present, how to move, how to palpate, and do bodywork that is led by them. Now they are starting to teach me how to do work in hand and ride. It’s the most rewarding thing in the world to learn directly from the horse!
Thanks to the horses and their prodding, I’ve focused almost entirely on training myself, upgrading myself to be a better partner for my horses. My whole life I’ve focused on the horse more than myself. The most basic question horsemanship seems to consider is ‘how do I get my horse to do what I want as efficiently and effectively as possible?’ To that end training centers around ‘fixing’ the horse. Shaping their behaviors to suit our needs.
When I interpret/implement that style of horsemanship I transform into a bit of a control freak. When I am rehabbing injured horses, well, then I turn into a control freak on steroids! It is all about fixing the horse…
And I get results.
But they don’t stick when the horses go home.
Because it isn’t the horses that need fixing. Their lameness and health issues are a reflection of the things that go on in their lives that aren’t working for them. Those things must be resolved in order for them to fully recover. ‘Those things’ are many and varied, encompassing everything from diet to management to training and more.
I rarely travel to work on horses away from home anymore, but when I do, I marvel at how magical if feels to connect with horses other than my own. This weekend I feel fortunate I got to spend time with a horse that new me from my rehab days. As I began interacting, I felt how he softened the more he realized I was not going to try to make him do anything. He showed me exactly where he’s struggling in his movement, body and mind. Responding to what he told me (through his behavior, posture and movement), I gave him input I thought might support him. By the end of our short in hand session he was floating along beside me in a bitless bridle, responding to the tiniest of adjustments in my body position and tone.
The feeling when this happens is indescribable.
Yesterday I went to consult about a mare with lameness issues. She’s quite uncomfortable and it makes her justifiably cranky. Thanks to the training my horses gave me I learned how to approach this kind of situation with tact. This mare, who really did not know me at all, took one look at me, saw that I responded appropriately to her communication, and was all in from that moment on. She showed me exactly where she needed support and then worked with me to facilitate everything she needed to feel better in her body.
It’s easy to get bogged down in training theories, learning theories, the finer points of biomechanics, anatomy, physiology and brain function. Easy to get lost in which tools to purchase, what tack to use, whether or not it’s even ethical to ride. In short, it’s easy to get all bound up in the details, in our mind, losing sight of what’s most important to our horses – connection. Something shifted in the last few months. I let go of the control freak (no really, I did) and show up ready to listen. And it’s all so very simple and uncomplicated.
I’ll leave you with a quote I think should be spread far and wide:
From Katy Bowman’s Nutritious Movement (ReAlignment ReEvolution)
‘Watch your habits, for they become your posture.
Watch your posture, for it creates your boundaries.
Watch your boundaries, for they restrict your growth.
Watch your restrictions, for they create immobility.
Watch your immobility, for it becomes your illness.’
If you’d like to join the conversation about learning directly from horses come join The Slow Horsemanship Revolution with The Tango with Horses Tribe on Facebook.
I’ll be launching a whole new version of my online class in the next few weeks where I’ll share in depth what the horse’s have been teaching me over the last years. Joining the ‘tribe’ is the best way to stay informed of upcoming courses and events, as well as letting me know if there’s something you’d like me to design a course around.
Look forward to seeing you there!
Andrea and the herd