Become the Person Your Horse Deserves

I am in Kemptville, Ontario this week-end assisting Chris Irwin at a 2 day horsemanship clinic.  Last night, Chris gave a demonstration called “Evolve Your Horsepower” to about 150 people.  The focus of the demonstration was how horses can help with the development of human potential.  Before this event, I answered many phone calls and emails from people asking what exactly this meant.  I often find it hard to put into words the magic that can happen between horses and people – if we allow it. And it is magic having a horse willingly give himself or herself to you – no questions asked, totally trusting, respectful and attentive.  No matter how many times I see it happen, it still amazes and inspires me.

So, how DO horses help with the development of human potential?  Whether developing leadership skills, communication skills, team building, increasing self-esteem or any kind of personal growth and self improvement, the foundation is about RELATIONSHIP.  Relationship to others and relationship to oneself. 

To get a horse to become our willing, trusting and respectful partner, requires us to develop a positive relationship with the horse.  To do that, we have to become BETTER.  We have to become the person that horse needs us to be.  We have to EARN the right to be the leader.  We have to EARN the position of authority.  We have to EARN the horse’s trust and respect.  It is not something we get through demanding nor through assuming nor through dominance.  It can not be taken from the horse, but is something the horse must give us.  It is the same with people.

If you have read my earlier blogs, you know about my mare, Jewell.  I sold her several years ago and my husband just bought her back for me last fall. In the time that she was “away” (code for the time after I sold her), Jewell had been through some tough times and has lost her trust in people.  She is head shy so I had been keeping a leather halter on her at all times.  It broke recently & I had to remove it.  She has been living out in a large field with the mare herd.  I haven’t had any time to spend training Jewell, but I do take some time each day checking each of the mares and giving them a pat and a scratch. They knew something was up the other morning when I come into the field with my tape measure and clip board for recording their weight before worming them.  As I walked towards Jewell, she left – just walked away.  I spent several minutes pushing her around the field and keeping her out of the herd.  Eventually, she stopped and allowed my to approach her.  I approached at her shoulder, scratched her, and asked her to bring her head to me by bending around me (pressure to the girth “button”) so that I could put the halter on.  All was going well until I had the halter just over her nose.  That’s when I discovered how she really feels about halters.  Up went her head and away she went leaving me in her dust.  We played the same game again until she let me approach.  Again, she left as soon as I lifted the halter to her nose.  What I learned that morning is that her trust of me only goes so far.  That over the 5 or 6 years she was “away”, people have mishandled her head enough to create a total distrust of being haltered.  She has learned that it is not safe to give her head to people and allow them to put a halter on because it will be a negative experience for her.  I absolutely know that her issue is related to the halter because later that same day, Jewell did give me her head and allow me to rub and scratch all over her face and ears.  But, I didn’t have a halter in my hands.

So what does Jewell’s story have to do with horses helping with human development?  In order to get what I want from Jewell, I am going to have to figure out what she needs from me and give that to her.  It will happen in her time frame not mine.  It will happen when I have shown her that I am trustworthy.  It will happen when I have done what she needs me to do to earn her respect.  In order to get that from Jewell, I have to become a better person.  I have to have patience and empathy for her without feeling so guilty about the experiences she suffered while she was “away” that I become an ineffective leader.  I understand that she has learned this undesirable behaviour through the hands of people.  To gain her full trust and respect (I have already gained a bit of both – but only a little), I need to commit time to building our relationship.  I need to become a better person so she can become a better horse.  It’s reciprocal, you see.

As Chris Irwin says “Don’t ask what your horse can do for you. Ask what you can do for your horse.” 

Become the person your horse deserves.


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