When it comes to working with horses, I consider joy to be the biggest reward either of us could get. A treat goes in and out with little to no thought or appreciation. Scratches and pets only last while they are being given. But joy affects everyone and everything. It lingers on, even after the session, and enters into daily life. The bringer of joy is most powerful indeed. So how does one achieve a joyful training session?
1. Keep things simple.
Simplicity is always best. Don’t clutter your session with things and tasks. Have one goal/exercise and work towards it with decisiveness and calmness. For example, I start every session by breathing deeply for a minute or so. This usually accomplishes the task of catching Storm because he comes right up to me when I close my eyes and meditate. You can find a great link to meditation with horses here: The Power of Being with Horses Next I lead him (without fuss or demands) into my picadero where we do 3-5 lunge circles at liberty, improving his posture and engaging his mind. Then he licks and chews and we are done. No complicated procedures, no fighting, no confusion, no disconnection. Horses are like children. They cannot concentrate for hours on end. They can be permanently impacted in minutes.
2. Keep things calm and strong.
Meditating is the beginning of this. Actually, adopting a permanent meditative position and attitude in your sessions will really benefit you. You can see in the picture above my knees are slightly bent, my upper body is upright and straight, and I am actively instructing Storm. As a result, he is attentively trotting with one ear on me. This position speaks to the horse. He reads you as calm and strong, which is important in your relationship! Almost nothing will flutter you or your horse when you can live in this posture. Be grounded and ready, and therefore calm.
3. Keep dignity.
There are several points I’d like to make on this:
- Strength is not portrayed through lots of cuddles. That’s actually a sign of dysfunction. Strength and joy are felt through silence and the enjoyment of the moment. A quiet stroke, a kind word. Horses are really affected by calm and assuring voices. Maybe it’s the butterflies settling in us when we talk, but I speak to Storm often. I encourage you to do the same.
- Refrain from physically touching the horse with your whip/stick when doing any exercise. This is not to keep you from using energy (if you must, please use LOTS of energy), but a primal horse like Storm, or any stallion, will take that as an invitation to ‘hit’ back. Just like a child wonders why their mother has the right to roughly grab him when he doesn’t have that right. Do to others what you would have them do to you.
- Pull on the rope no more. A horse who needs his head tugged is a horse who should not yet be on a lead line. He is not ready to follow you, and to rely on the rope to bring about the result you want is a very artificial and demeaning practice. It’s like locking the bedroom door to keep your spouse from running away. Let us prepare at liberty, with dignity and preciseness, before enclosing them into our world.
This post was edited March 2018.