Thursday, September 22, 2011

Two little ponies

Two little ponies recently entered my life by way of a dedicated rescue team and their new carer - and presented me with one of the most challenging missions of my career.

Who would have thought that two terrified little equines would have such an impact on me? We've all heard that our horses are our best teachers, and nothing could have brought this message closer than this pair of ponies ...

I'll be publishing the whole story of Jumper and Blade in a chapter of my upcoming book (so watch for it!) - but in a nutshell, these petrified ponies had probably seen many of the herd they had been part of, decimated, chased and shot, so they have every right to fear any human!

Being a horse means many things, the most important of which is to survive and be safe - and that instinct is tightly embedded into the DNA of every horse. The most appropriate word to describe these ponies was 'petrified'.

Yesterday, after hours of approach and retreat, recognising and rewarding the tiniest try, lots of soak periods, careful timing and patience, I was able to approach, touch and unhalter/halter these little guys.

The challenge was largely in part to the environment in which I was working. A large paddock with wire and electric fencing that is boggy, muddy and slippery; windy, wet weather; a makeshift yard with one strand of electric tape and pigtails; ponies that have a reputation for jumping anything when scared enough or cornered; and fear so strong it was scary in itself.

Some would have said to corner, grab and manhandle the little guys into submission. While this may work - once - it is certainly not the Horsemanship with Heart way. The HWH Way is to work on oneself - in this case, myself - to convince the ponies that I understand them, will not hurt them and am worthy of their trust, confidence and respect.

My biggest ah-ha after all this, was really just a renewed belief in The Process. The Process being to believe and trust in yourself and your skills, to humbly ask a higher power for help, and to take each moment as it comes. It's an emotional process, and I cried with relief and joy when those ponies first reached out their little noses to smell my hand. They both jumped back when their whiskers brushed the back of my hand, and I had to smile through my tears, as we made that all-important First Contact, a mutual discovery of the most beautiful kind.

(You can follow more on Jumper and Blade on my Facebook page).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

For the Love of All Equines

I was reading the book of another trainer the other day, and something he said really struck me. He said that he always tells a student the truth about their horse... that if that horse is ugly or misshapen, he is direct and offers them some reality. It was his intent, he said, to not give false illusions to the human, but rather to have them see the truth. This all sat uncomfortably with me, because while I respect this trainer very much, I couldn't imagine how any horse lover could see ugliness in any equine!

Every horse I meet, I fall in love with. I see them all as God's beautiful creatures, even the skinny ones, the sad ones, the sick ones. My love and embrace extends to miniatures, ponies and donkeys. They are all splendid!

When you look into a horse's eye, you see something that is beyond us. There is a gentleness, an awareness, a knowing, something that stirs our spirit. While I don't advise anyone to go staring at a horse, which can cause the horse to feel uncomfortable (it's a human predator thing) there are moments where we get a glimpse of that inner spirit and deep emotion that is within those eyes. I get goose bumps thinking about it!

When I ask someone to tell me about their horse, what I am really asking is, What's your horse's Character? Most people I ask give me the horse's height first, then his colour, then his markings. They then launch into his breeding, his previous owner, and what they've been able to 'do' with him. While this is interesting and I do often request this information from students, it still doesn't tell me anything about the horse herself.

In my Horse Psychology and Behaviour Workshops, students are asked to discover their horse's Personal Character. They learn how to avoid anthropomorphising. Who is our horse, really? Are they a reflection of our goals and ego? As a sentient being, do they deserve more from us in the way of respect and understanding? I think yes.

A true horse lover has an unconditional love for our equine friends ... it crosses breeds, types, colours, shapes and sizes. And that's the Truth.