In this photo: Laura with the affectionately named “Crunchy.”
My lessons are never soft and comfy. Never easy, never simple, never just handed over and told, here you go-this is what you need to learn. Nope, not me, if there is a more challenging way to get my lesson, surely that will be my direction. And the horses seem to know this as well. And, well, so does Anna. As a teacher myself, I can only confess I must say the words every teacher loves to hear. So….here it is…..Yes, Anna you are right. Now, to be honest, she knows this, but I am saying it anyway, because it is true. I never doubted it, but sometimes a teacher can appreciate the honest acknowledgement-so herein, my acknowledgement. (I will explain this in more detail further on). In an end of day wrap up session, I listed off the variety of horses I have worked with in courses and clinics, and it was really one strong challenge and challenging horse after another. So, live and learn, I grow and thrive, and I believe that this foal gentling was one of my most powerful, profound, and successful ROTH experiences. In this very moment in time, as I sit at my desk at school preparing my next lecture, there is nowhere I want to be more than back with my foal-he was almost pushy, if you will, in reminding me of my lesson of being in the moment. And although I must be in my moment now, I confess, I’d much rather be in that moment-with him J.
So, I really prepared for this. Did my homework. Watched and watched the videos. Remember- the farrier prep, the TLC, the haltering, the reach out, approach and retreat, grooming, back of the hand, not a claw, etc, right—got it, really prepared! My horse was assigned to me: Crunchy. Hm….not sure about the name-unique, quite the big personality, for a 4-month old still on milk….and oh, by the way—surprise! He’s dropped, too……
It seems my boy Crunchy already had a home and had been there for 3 weeks- he came back to us because his owner couldn’t catch him or really even get near him….and I quickly discovered he was a clever lad; he had learned exactly how to escape and knew just what would work—he knew to pin his ears, nip and bite (or, threaten it more than anything), and now and again, turn his bum… a clever boy indeed. So-he absolutely pushed me to learn and grow.
Day 2 we connected, he quickly grew bored of me and I became his plaything. He was amused, but nothing more-at least I was getting close. Day 3 was the rough one. Something happened during lunch-maybe because his little buddy —- was out and free, and he wasn’t. He became extremely riled up, and when I came to work with him, his energy hit me and I absolutely became jittery. I was then in the pen with him, insecure and edgy, definitely ‘turnt up’, but not in a good way. He immediately knew it, saw it, and took advantage of the situation-pinning, threatening, man he absolutely caught me and I was fearful of getting bitten or worse. My confidence was low and he was indeed in charge of the pen and surroundings. Sara was teamed up with me, and kindly volunteered to work with him. With more confidence, she was able to approach and do some desensitizing, and we discovered that with her, his escape was to put himself into the corner, whereas with me he would pin ears, etc. Interesting and helpful to discover.
On the upside, I had a golden moment that day anyway. The little horse that was quite gentled came over to me as I sat watching others while my youngster slept-she came and stayed with me-to say, hey, you’re ok, it’s ok. And so, when it came time for her to go-she had to get on the trailer, I asked if I might help. As we began, I was told she hadn’t ever lead, and we would just herd her in—I asked if I might just go ahead, give it a shot- see if we couldn’t make it happen. And sure enough, step by step, she came with me- we got her to the trailer, no panels, just a little help to motivate her from behind with a bit of energy-and I got her front feet onto the trailer with me-her caretaker gently lifted her back legs on-we did it!!! We lead her onto the trailer in a halter- a new trick for the caretakers involved! My spirit flew. Success for one foal- a new trick for the caretakers to see. Chalk up another for the ROTH team!
We had our end of day wrap up, and everyone was more than kind-wanting me to open up to discuss the situation, and in a wonderfully supportive manner. The conversation brought out my recounting several of the horses Anna had allocated to me throughout my studies, I named each one in turn, even surprising Anna with how many ‘challenging’ horses I’d had.
As we moved forward, I determined to face him with my teaching energy. And thus….he began treating me the same way as he had Sara. He stopped threatening….we actually started to communicate, bond, create trust…and learning. I recall struggling with an attempt to get the halter on. Anna watching….called out, ok if you don’t’ get that halter on I’m coming in to do it. Perfect. Just the motivation I needed-nope. NO WAY! My horse, I will halter. And magically, I got the halter on….
…And the moment I got to his off side, He had blocked and blocked me, I finally asked, just the right way, with a little halter help-and there I was rubbing away on his neck, his head, his belly, all the off side. Beaming proudly I called to Anna to see-and a quick little bugger he was-knew I’d left the moment set out to nip—what a reminder! What a powerful communication to remind me to stay in the moment-to remain totally and completely-with him. Powerful lessons. Powerful experience…even at 4 months I have nothing but great respect and admiration for the equine world and continue to be awestruck at the lessons, the journey, and the phenomenal ROTH experience.
On the final day, Crunchy’s owner came to see him and bring him home. He walked over to the side of the pen where she stood, allowed her to touch him…she was blown away! She had chased him for three weeks and never got near him. The trailer loading was a bit difficult. I really wanted to try to lead him, but perhaps he just wasn’t ready. So we herded him in, but the sun was so directly in eyes that I kept waiting for him to get out of that sun spot—doing something of a rather inconvenient dance—and I confess, as a teacher with a doctorate and I like to think with a few smarts-it never occurred to me to tell Anna the sun was blinding me-finally she noticed it, and came in to help-so the loading wasn’t as smooth as we would have liked, and unfortunately I had lost some valuable time with waiting for him to move out of the sun-but eventually we found success and he was headed for home.
I think about him often…..wonder how he is doing, hoping his owner is a bit more cognizant of his bold personality and awareness of his person being in the moment with him.
And with this awesome experience, I was recently reminded of something I had written for the ROTH newsletter my first time at White Stallion Ranch in AZ. This was a few years ago, earlier in my ROTH journey. We often struggle with our own abilities, insecurities, why am I doing this, etc etc….and yet I continue to pursue my path with ROTH. Albeit slowly-something continues to compel me to remain on the journey.
My year with horses last year was a very exciting and rewarding one. Prior to the foal gentling, I had a few very encouraging experiences along the way. I had returned to White Stallion and was given a different horse to ride- a very forward Arabian named Cash. I’ve never had particularly strong feelings for Arabians—but this one caught my heart. And….saved my bacon (so to speak).
We had a newer guide on a ride, and all things being considered, hey, everyone has to start somewhere, so I have no qualms about that. She didn’t, however, quite have the gist of stopping a galloping string of horses. And I must say, as much as I adore Cash, his gallop gets pretty wild. It’s definitely a hang on style of run- so we were galloping pretty hard, and suddenly we see the horses in front of us completely stopped. He spied it about a split second before I did, and honest to goodness, I heard him say to me “Oh Shoot!” (word edited here for courtesy). As he did his best to skid to a stop, there was nothing he could do to not slam bam right into the horse in front of us- so he planted his front feet as best he could, and did an almost rodeo style massive flip to the left- landed in a bush (thank God not a cactus!) and as my friend Tori came up behind me (in a better position to see and slow down)—she said I have no idea how on earth you held on to that and didn’t go flying right off. I said, I don’t know- he told me. Somehow he just let me know he was going left and I just rode it over. And I had the connection. I got the message-I heard the whisper (although it was more than a whisper…..)
And then I was at Anna’s clinic in West Virginia. A few amazing, and frankly, life changing moments there. One in particular stands out: The night before, several of us helped bring a client’s horses into the barn/pasture area. I was there barely in time to man the wide gate—and 1 horse, Visionquest (whom I had met earlier that day and knew she was powerful with a big, bold, and commanding personality) came bounding past the 5 people placed to hold her-straight toward me and the open gate. No time for me to close the gate, and not a good thing for her to escape-I stood in the middle of the opening-and as she headed my way-we made eye contact. And in that amazing 3-8 tenths of a second I heard the whisper. I saw that 3/10 of a second hesitation in her eye. And I looked right back and said, yup, that’s right; I’m not going to let you through this gate. And just as she got to me, did the most amazing 180 turn back into the barnyard. My heart was pounding, but in that crazy, defining moment-I stood my ground, because I had caught the whisper of hesitation. She slammed around 5 other people (horse people, at that-who later, by the way, told me they weren’t about to stop that charging horse!) but I caught it. And I stopped her. And that, simple small, amazing moment, was defining. And—here Is the part where I say Anna, you were right; you can’t teach feel you just have to feel feel. And as I continually grope, and struggle to get that- I knew, at least in that moment-I had gotten it. One brief, fleeting moment-but it gave me just enough, just that feeling to say, yea, ok, I get it. I still have a lot of work to do-but in that moment, I got it. And what a WOW moment! Funny how one split second can provide so much. And, it then gives you the drive, the courage, the desire to carry on, to know that you can learn so much, and maybe, just maybe….make a difference. Might not be big, but that one moment-was worth a great deal. That moment says; keep working, because you want another moment like that. And that moment could make a difference for a horse or a person.
And so the journey continues. And I am more than grateful for the opportunity to continue it with the truest and most authentic and sincere horse whisperer around. Anna truly does this all for the love of the horse (and all animals), for the opportunity to catch the whisper and be the voice of the horse-while training people with life lessons and opportunities that simply don’t exist elsewhere.
Interested in Foal Gentling or working with the Untouched Ones?
Check out these DVDs offered by Anna to help give insight into successful handling methods and training techniques that take the whole horse into account.
If you really want to experience the experience then join Anna on one of these courses in either Bend, Oregon, or in Shingletown, California this year!
Or if you prefer the wilder side of things, Reach Out to the Untouched Ones with Anna in Shingletown, CA, this August. Space is limited for this one-of-a-kind experience in gentling mustangs with one of the world’s greatest equine behaviorists and linguists.