Horse Psychology Project
Reach Out to Horses
Holistic Horsemanship Comprehensive Program Part I
November 28, 2014
This paper explores some of the lessons that surfaced during HHC, at Zuma’s Horse Rescue in Littleton, Colorado, and how they can support and bring about continued growth as an equine learning facilitator. The learning opportunities I found with these horses created a safe space for me to recognize awareness, body language, intent, energy, telepathy, relationship, what words I used, and any challenges experienced by the horses. What I received from working with Fancy, Dan, and the Tribal Yearlings begins to create the foundations for a relationship and connection with myself, with the horse, and with a client.
The horses I used live at Zuma’s Horse Rescue:
Fancy Quarter Horse Mare age 35
Dan Quarter Horse Gelding age 5
Tribal Yearlings approximately 8 months or more in age
Events, location, and time of day:
Fancy – TLC in the arena – pm, Walk on the property in the morning, Afternoon in the paddocks, and Spook Busting in arena – pm
Dan – Round Pen in the arena, late in the day
Tribal Yearlings – Approach and Hello in their paddock, early afternoon
The events, location, time of day, student, and horse will be used to observe awareness (self and horse), body language, intent, energy, telepathy, relationship, the words I used, and any issues for each horse.
Fancy was my allocated horse for the week as well as the horse I used in TLC and Spook Busting. I met Fancy on the first evening of the program when I went to her paddock with a halter and lead to bring her to the arena for TLC. In my mind I understood TLC as the beginning connection to earn trust, understand challenging behavior, and relaxation. It was just getting dark as I led Fancy from her paddock and she came willingly, however by the time I entered the arena she was shoving her head into me and swinging her body at me. When Anna asked us what we thought of our horses, I said “she is a bully and aggressive.”
Fancy was fearful and anxious in the arena. Initially when I brought her closer to the group of horses the more anxious she became. I kept her at the far end of the arena and walked her. Elaine helped me to feel into my own anxiety and fear as I stood next to Fancy. Fancy mirrored my feelings and felt my body language – I was not aligned with her. As I relaxed, took deep breaths, walked with a slower, stronger step, and put myself in a safe place with Fancy she started to relax. She was curious around the pile of shavings so I stopped to let her smell them, and eventually she stopped to look at the horses at the other end of the arena. Fancy is smart, kind, quite agile for 35, and gave me a try when I asked her. Fancy felt the words I used to describe her in the beginning, and her actions with me reflected them back to me. When I felt her wisdom, the body full of life, and a willingness to try she slowed down, and walked with me. I had to earn her trust.
I do not know Fancy’s history other than she came to Zuma’s three years ago after a bad divorce. She was not comfortable in the arena and anxious to leave when we turned towards the gate. It was dark when I took her back to her paddock where she tried to jerk her head out of the halter when I tried to remove it. Elaine helped me understand it was not acceptable so I held onto the halter until she was calm and then removed it. I thanked her for being calm but I missed the hay waiting for her when I brought her into the paddock. It was dark but I knew I took her into the arena before her dinnertime. Perhaps I could have supported her more by remembering her hay was there and turned her away from it to remove the halter instead of facing her towards the hay.
Walking Fancy around the property on Day 4 for 25 minutes created a new dynamic for me and for her. I hand walked her and allowed her graze as we walked. At the beginning her lips were tight, heavy breath, flared her nostrils a bit, and showed some of the whites in her eyes. As I walked her down the road towards the gate her lips began to soften and her breathing slowed. When we got close to Kennedy she started turning her head to look directly at this paddock and continued to look until we turned towards the outdoor arena. She also turned her head to look into the paddocks in front of the outdoor arena. Perhaps her vision is a challenge and I also noticed her hind legs do not have normal movement, not sure why. Fancy heard a car come up the drive way as we walked on the other side of the outdoor arena. Her head went up; she started blowing, and swung around towards the noise. I brought my energy into my feet, kept breathing, did not hold her too tight, gave her time to bring her head down, and stop blowing. I kept my energy down and quietly asked her to do the same. We continued our walk down past Atticus and on over past Kalvin, letting her graze as we walked. She did not want to go back into her paddock, she side stepped the gate to graze on the grass. I gave her a few minutes and asked her to come with me, and she did. There were no problems removing the halter, she let me remove without moving her head. She stood with me, and followed me around her paddock. After I thanked her for the walk and rubbed her withers she walked away.
At the end of the day I spoke with Jodi about Fancy and found out her pasture mate, Cookie, is recovering from surgery in the barn. Jodi also told me very few have been able to quietly hand walk Fancy. I had no expectations for my walk with Fancy and it was a great walk. On Day 5 I spent 20 minutes with Fancy as we walked the paddocks in the early afternoon, she let me touch and rub her. When she was done, she walked away. Fancy is alone in her paddock, now I know why I felt she was lonely.
Fancy was great when we painted her with the parachute and laid it across her back and head in Spook Busting on Day 5. She even walked toward the group with the parachute on, a big step for her. Fancy was far less curious about the other horses this time, yet she was still anxious being in the arena. As I walked her at the end of the arena I focused on being grounded and being less anxious as she shoved her head into me – using the line to move her head away and not my arm. I asked for patience with myself and with Fancy. Fancy went to the shavings pile during TLC and again during Spook Busting – the shavings pile is her sweet spot in the arena, so we did the spook busting there. Becoming aware of what supported Fancy was the key to her relaxation (and mine) and her acceptance of the parachute.
Fancy and I shared the same feelings during TLC – anxiety and fear. When I stepped away from my fear so did Fancy. I had no expectations for my walk with Fancy, and quietly met her with kindness, and respect. During Spook Busting my anxiety came up – “I want to do it right the first time” anxiety. It helped me when I thought about my walk with Fancy and brought those feelings into the arena with her – vision and intent. Now I felt the connection that earns trust, began to understand challenging behavior, and how to move into relaxation. In the heart not the mind…
Dan is a beautiful gelding with Uveitis. He spends his time in a stall during the brightest hours of the day, and then he is turned outside from dusk to dawn. His stall is dark which makes it difficult for Dan to adjust to the brightness of the aisle way and the arena, and on return the darkness of his stall. I did not pay attention to where I hooked the line to the dually, and put it on the side which applied pressure to Dan’s nose. With his Uveitis, pressure on the nose affects his eyes so he stood there and did not move. As soon as I realized where it was hooked, I put it under his chin and he walked out of the stall with me. Dan’s challenge is his eyes. Awareness of Dan’s challenges helped me understand what I needed to change to help him be comfortable, and trust me to lead him to and from the stall.
Dan is a very special – he is strong, confident, kind, willing, and very charming. I immediately found myself feeling relaxed and grounded with Dan. He stood quietly while we waited for our turn in the round pen with his head up taking in his surroundings. Dan was generous and forgiving with my less than smooth orientation and exploration of the vulnerable areas. So willing to listen and try, and when I removed his halter stayed with me after the session ended.
Hearing and telepathy were important to Dan. When the change in the cadence of my feet did not bring him down to a walk, adding the vision of the walk and sending it to him brought him to the walk. His eyes might be a challenge but he always knew where he was in the round pen.
Dan’s confidence and response helped me see myself more clearly. Dan showed me what confidence looks like and taught me to trust my abilities more – using my energy, telepathy, the eyes, attention to my body, and how I moved my feet. My energy with Dan felt more consistent and kind. Energy is important.
As I came to their paddock, I saw the yearlings (I think there were six of them) along the gate cleaning up all pieces of hay they could find. Calm and sweet. I slowly opened the gate to let them step back, walked into their paddock, and moved about 10 feet away from them. At first I stood with my legs and arms straight and tight. Anna reminded me to relax. When I shifted my body a chestnut yearling approached, I put out my hand to greet him and he touched it with his nose. After he greeted me I walked closer to the group – a head turned, another head came up, eyes made contact, horses moved, ears moved, and tails swished. While I was watching the group, the young chestnut came up to me again, but I was too quick to turn so I missed the try as he moved away. The young chestnut generously came to me again and I did not miss it the second time.
Approach and greeting might appear to be subtle, it is not. It taught me about my body language (stiff arms, shoulders, and legs), where I was in relation to the young horses, when my energy was acknowledged, awareness of the connection (raised head, eyes on me, ears moving, tail moving), and honesty when I missed the young chestnut’s try. Giving and receiving.
To be honest, my experience at Bitterroot stopped me in my tracks and asked me to look at what blocks my confidence and self-trust. It also kicked the door open and shed light on what was missing in EFL and what it might take to shape EFL for me. I let the obstacle course and other exercises hang like a weight around my neck. Over the summer I made a conscious decision to use that experience as the energy to push me forward to see and feel the possibilities. I brought courage, determination, and enthusiasm to my HHC experience.
Spending time with Fancy, Dan, and the Tribal Yearlings allowed me to recognize the words used, the challenges experienced by the horses, body language, energy, and intention in relationship to the horses.
Fancy asked me to look at what holds me back, and what that looks like. If I am aware of this in myself, I can see and feel it in a client.
Clients will show me Dan’s blinking and insecurity moving when he moves in and out of the light. Dan also taught me what confidence and trust looks like….I am able to show them to the client.
Tribal Yearlings revealed my willingness to acknowledge what I missed and to open myself into breathing my energy to “see” the next try. How to see and feel the possibilities presented by a client.
Tribal Yearlings also showed me how little it takes to make a connection. Softly connect to a client.
Time spent with all of these beautiful horses showed me the skills I need to learn to evaluate a horse’s readiness for EFL.
I am much more aware of the horse’s behavior with me and understand how to find a two communication. Time will allow me to find a consistent two way communication with horses and work the client’s energy, body language, and vision.
Most of all I am learning patience, flexibility, and confidence which supports me, the horse, and the client.
The power of the relationship with horses has begun to shift my reality into the present and away from thinking into feeling. Without the increased awareness of myself and the horse, I cannot ask. These five days have taught me a better understanding of my energy, how to respond, and how to earn the right to ask and receive. Healing is taking place as this connection reveals my vulnerabilities and the lessons to be learned.
Coming into the space of horse-human relationships has begun to heal the heart, expand my energy, mirror my strengths, and fill with me with ease and grace.