Developing a True and Deep Connection comes from caring about how they feel about what you are asking them to do as much as you care about getting the task done.
I just thought I would share this little video and story of Flash. Some of you would have heard me talk about him at clinics – he has been a bit of a problem child - a pretty troubled horse. Some of you even know him in person. In some ways he is not extremely difficult – I have had way worse horses in many aspects, but he is/was very complicated. I really had to think, go deeper into the connection and raise my energetic vibration – a feeling of opening and expanding my crown chakra in particular. This also leads our whole energetic state to be more expansive. This made a big difference for him. Sometimes I couldn’t even lead him if I didn’t hold my energy like this – he would “in a flash” pull the lead rope out of my hands and bolt away. I couldn’t control him with a lead rope if he really wanted to leave – I had to build connection. Some people would use lunging horses around a dally pole as a strategy to fix this problem – but to me that is force, not connection. Besides it doesn’t work with a really smart horse because they know when it’s just you and there is no dally pole. So for now we are building connection in environments he feels safe in and not stretching him too far out of his comfort zone too quickly. Got to build up my bank account of positive experiences.
Thinking more deeply about Flash in human terms and thinking of him as a person was the next biggest thing that helped me make a breakthrough. He is a talented horse, he is sound and most things are physically easy for him. He knows what to do and can physically quite easily do most basic groundwork and riding exercises. The problem was he didn’t want to do anything people asked - he had so much emotional angst about it.
He is the horse that I often used as the example when we do the exercise of “describe your horse as a person” in the – Connecting and Fundamental Feel Foundation Clinic. I described him as the troubled teenager causing trouble out on the streets. Angry and defiant at the world, trusts no one, respects no one, happy for you to give him a pat and a feed, but don’t ask him to do anything. Like a kid with a broken heart, from a broken home whose life experience has taught them that being angry and violent is the way to survive in the world and you have just got to look out for yourself and challenge all authority because you can’t trust them. Underneath all of this anger, defiance and resentment was a very, very fearful horse that didn’t feel safe in the world and didn’t feel safe or “good” with people directing him and telling him what to do. All this showed up because he was allowed to express how he felt. He was not being forced into submission and shut down. Biting was his number one way of expressing this and it didn’t show up until he was asked to do something. I was surprised at the depth of his emotion. In the paddock he was friendly when everything was on his terms and he was in control.
Innately I think he is a calm, quiet, friendly, fun loving and playful but with a very deep underlying fear of “not feeling safe in the world”. He could “blow up” explosively and unpredictably at the drop of a hat. He is very athletic and talented – so you wouldn’t want to be on him when he did explode and his energy could be very intense and take a long time to come down once he is escalated. Objects or things that might bother a lot of horses he would be totally OK with but things far away in the distance that seem to be out of the ordinary would trigger him. He is also very smart, a real thinker, he is always watching and thinking. Even in the paddock he will often be watching all that is going on, especially me and what I am doing – not in a frozen fearful way, but a thinking, observing, curious, interested way. Maybe his interest in watching me has evolved since we have developed a better bond – I don’t remember him always doing that.
Interesting thing is I started this horse maybe 8-10 years ago for someone – I would have described him then as sensitive and reactive but not too extreme. He was going pretty good when he left here but needed a pretty confident savvy person. I would never have described him as angry back then. I don’t really know what happened in between but apparently he went to a couple of other trainers and then he was given away to a friend of mine who down the track then passed him onto me. He is a good looking, flashy and talented, warmblood.
This session (this video) was a big break through. Since having him back I rode him a couple of times before this – quite early on in having him. I thought he would be pretty simple – I already knew him and he already knew how to do everything. I thought it wouldn’t take much to show him that he had a good deal now and we would be back on track. That was not the case. He really didn’t want me to get on - he would bite the mounting block, the reins and try to bite my legs. He would be chomping down loudly in a very agitated way on the bit. Even though I could ride him, he really didn’t want me up there. I felt there was no point riding him when he didn’t want it. It was going to be disaster waiting to happen. He would tolerate things until he couldn’t or something triggered him and then things would get dangerous. Riding a horse that doesn’t want to be ridden is not safe, or an enjoyable experience and I was never going to achieve the goals I had of a soft, balanced, engaged athletic performance horse. Beside the fact, who are we (humans) to think that we have the right to ride a horse that doesn’t want to be ridden.
So I decided I wouldn’t ride him until he was really ready to accept me up there. I spent a lot of time building the connection and relationship and paying attention to all the little things like how he was to put the halter on and to be led to his pen to be fed, some liberty where he could leave at anytime and there were no consequences if he did leave. I definitely needed to implement “Leadership with Love” and use a lot of psychology. Not prey animal psychology, I had to keep thinking of him as a person – that is what made the break through because then I could understand him and have compassion rather then get frustrated by him. I didn’t have a lot of time with him and the sessions where often short and intermittent and then there were really big breaks when I didn’t have any time, but they all added up.
On this day there was no biting or any negative emotion, or bit chomping when I led him to the mounting block and stood up there ready to mount. And as you can see in the video, none of that behaviour at all on our little ride. Instead we had yawning, a sign of relief I felt. It feels like he/we have turned the corner.
Now in general with most things his energy when I am around him feels a like a big cuddly teddy bear, it is open and expansive. Before his energy field felt closed and he just wanted to bite everything – me, my hands, the stick, the lead rope, halter, saddle, mounting block – whatever was in reach really. The intensity has gone out of him in most situations. I am not by any means saying he is completely fixed yet. I expect there will be some reverting back to old behaviours when things trigger him. There is still a long way to go but we are well and truly on the road to success and having a happy willing partnership. When you help a horse through some trauma and really have to dig deep you start to build a bond that is very deep. It is a very rewarding feeling.