2 simple activities that will change the relationship with your horses forever

IMG_2008

Focus your attention on the area of the heart… and say yes if you find horses there! 

If you are here, you want to experience a wonderful relationship with horses, right? I guess you would describe it as a relationship that is safe, respectful, and fulfilling for both you and the horse. 

It’s easier said than done! Every horse is a world of its own, how do we know what feels fulfilling for one or the other? Plus, we all have so many things on our plate: You probably want to improve your riding, your horse’s muscles, get his nutrition right, and give him the best environment possible. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for yet another exercise you should be doing every day, right? 

I know, I get you, I really do. I have 7 horses, 3 homeschooled kids, a partner, a business, and a social project – no order in this list 😉 

2 simple activities that will change the relationship with your horses forever

Keep all this in mind when I tell you, that you do NOT need more time, you do NOT have to do another course, or hire a trainer. These exercises are so simple that it almost hurts, given the huge impact they create in the herd. When I noticed the immense change these exercises have created in NO TIME in dozens of herds, I was blown away. 

As you might know, I teach Horse Guided Empowerment®, an innovative method for coaching and therapy with a herd of horses. In the course, all my students have to study Natural Horsemanship and learn to collaborate with their horses. For some of them, that comes easy and natural. Others are athletes and have only seen horses in the box or in the arena. Others have rescued a couple of horses, only to find out they are terrified of humans and flee to the far side of the paddock every time they approach. 

Over the years, I have coached hundreds of horse owners with their herds and the results are the same, every time. Once they apply these two simple activities, their relationship changes. The horses become more interested and more engaged. They trust, they seek our company, and they express their opinion (which is very important for me). 

So what are these two miraculous activities I am going to teach you step-by-step? 

First of all, they are not miraculous. These activities are based on natural horse behavior and herd psychology. Several horse trainers I like, such as Carolyn Resnick, Stina Herberg or Pat Parelli, recommend them to their students. KF Hempfling talked about these activities 20 years ago and Linda Tellington-Jones applies them throughout her entire philosophy. 

Yet, they are so simple, that every horse owner can apply them today, without making any major changes to their daily routine, schooling method, or activities.  

IMG_1943

“When we do nothing, we allow the herd to include us into their world.”

Activity 1:

The first activity is Sharing Territory, a term introduced by Carolyn Resnick in her Waterhole Rituals. 

Carolyn says it is about developing a relationship with the horse by doing nothing. Pat Parelli (later) called this Undemanding Time. 

You will do this not with one horse, but with your entire herd. 

It sounds very easy and it is, as soon as you let go of your mental chatter, or your expectations and your previous knowledge. 

That´s right. You need to let go of your expectations. I know that I promised a changed relationship, but FIRST, you need to “want nothing”. 

The best strategy to achieve this is to focus on something else and not pay attention to your horses. Did you know that a herd will choose the least needy as their preferred partner to hang out? You need to be the least needy in the pasture. Which is SO HARD and completely different from your previous interactions with horses. When we visit them, we have a plan in our head, such as riding, checking on them, feeding, feeling loved, or taking care. 

This time, YOU WANT NOTHING. 

Carolyn Resnick recommends bringing a book into the paddock and spend about 30 minutes reading. You should not look at the herd, not even mentally (thinking about them). 

Why? Because this gives the herd a chance to check you out, in their terms. You will become a curiosity, and horses are naturally curious. It will give shy horses the space to feel safe and make their own, informed decisions. 

It may take several sessions before the horses actually come close to you, but that is not even the goal. The goal is to do nothing for at least 30 minutes and have your horses notice that. Like, “oh, look at that, the wiggly human can sit still, that is so soothing!”

Troubleshooting: 

  1. My horses are all over me!
    Right, that can happen. Especially if you bribe them with carrots all the time. Stop doing that! You are not a feeding machine, you are a companion. If the horses are pushy, send them away. They need to learn that you have boundaries and you need to learn to set them. You can bring a long driving whip or a Parelli Carrot Stick and make them go away. Don’t apologize, don’t become angry. Just protect your space as a lead horse would protect his grazing space from intrusive mouths.
  2. My horses walk away, I don’t even see them.
    Your horses are either independent or scared. If you can walk between them and touch them easily, they are independent but trusting and you have most likely been doing lots of sharing territory already. Thanks for reading this anyway! You are awesome.
    If they flee, try the activity in a smaller paddock, where they are always in sight but free to roam around. They will come, but it might take a while. The less you want it to happen, the more likely it will happen. Give them 5 sessions – if there is no change, book a free consultation with me and I will help you find out what is going on. 

Activity 2: Greeting the herd

Once my students have learned to do nothing with their horses, it is the right moment to introduce a new greeting. We also do this greeting with every client in our therapeutic sessions. It sets the tone for the session, it creates connection and is also a moment of diagnosis for the facilitator. We get to observe how the client makes contact, how he manages his energy, if he is outgoing or introverted, demanding or respectful, self-secure or shy. You would be surprised how many details we can actually collect during the greeting of the herd, especially if we know our horses well and become aware of patterns. 

But you will be doing this for yourself and your own relationship with the herd, so there is much less you need to know about it. In session, the client chooses his individual approach of greeting each horse, making contact, and then moving on. 

You will do it in a specific way for better results. 

The key point is that horses do not approach each other in straight lines, unless they are attacking. They do not stare at each other, predators do that. And they do not lift their heads (even less their arms) unless they are alert. 

You will copy that: Approach each horse in a normal gait, but keep your head down, in a relaxed way. Look at the ground, find flowers, walk on a wiggly line, and stop about 2m away from the horse. Do not lift your hand to pet the horse on the head. Extend your hands in front of you, and bend down just a little. 

  • If the horse looks at you, approach him one more step and wait. Stand still, be less needy, breathe, bend a leg, relax, and then walk away. 
  • If the horse approaches you, stay and let him sniff your hands. Do not pet him, stand still, breathe, bend a leg, relax, and walk away. 
  • If he ignores you, wait a moment. Maybe he needs time to find the courage (or motivation) to look at you. 
  • If the horse walks away, walk away too in a big circle, and approach again after a short while. Repeat the activity, but keep a little more distance this time.

It is absolutely fine if the horse does NOT come over to check you out. Looking at you, and going back to grazing is very healthy for a horse.
Give him the chance to acknowledge your presence in a relaxed way, and be happy with that. 

This is exactly what creates the shift in your relationship: accepting the horse as he is and asking to be part of his world, for a change. 

Troubleshooting:

  1. My horse turns around and tries to kick me!
    Share more territory and greet with more distance. Do NOT bring a halter and hide it behind your back! In fact, try not to demand anything from your horse before he allows you close without feeling the need to defend himself. Please book me for a free consultation and I will help you get to the root of the issue. 
  2. My horse walks away calmly, he never sniffs my hands or gets close.
    I guess you are also having trouble at the catching game? Stay in a distance that does not motivate him to walk away, stay for a while, pick flowers, mentally invite your horse to connect* then leave. Do this for several occasions. Then bring a carrot, and offer it to the horse before you walk away. If he takes it, DO NOT halter him, but bend down and greet him with open palms, then walk away. 

* yes, you did read that correctly. Think something along the line of “I want to greet you. You are free to acknowledge me your way”. 

In sessions, we tell our clients that “seeing you and walking away” is a greeting too. It means that right now, your energy and that one of the horses is not a match for closeness. Which is fine! We all should have an opinion about who we want to come closer to and who we don´t?

Ultimately, this activity will tell your horse that you are respectful. If he is OK with you at a distance, you will not push it. You will respect that. That will increase his trust and he will tolerate you at a closer distance. This activity also invites extremely shy, abused or even terrified horses to connect to you. I personally do this activity a lot and respect the answer whenever possible. I have 7 horses, so if someone does not want me close, I can always work with another.
When I do need something from a specific horse (such as haltering for treatment), I communicate that as well and stay firm. “No” is not an option in that case. I look at it as I would look at a child who refuses to brush his teeth. Not your choice, buddy! 

In my experience, that kind of firmness will seal the deal. 

No yelling, pushing, roping, cornering, or other aggressive techniques needed. 

Here is a photo series that I have used in my book as well. It illustrates the process with Sol, a former trail riding horse, who was destined to the slaughterhouse. He had no interest in people AT ALL. It took him almost 6 months to participate in sessions, but then he became a very valuable member of my therapeutic herd. You can read the post with Sol´s Story here

Sol greeting

“This girl and the horse are interacting in a greeting ceremony. She will only approach him further when he looks at her. This ritual increases trust and will make the horse easy to handle afterwards. The ritual has also proven to be helpful for shy or hesitant horses and even for hyperactive clients.” Horse Guided Empowerment Manual, Christina Marz, 2015

Now, off you go to share territory and greet the herd!

I can’t wait to hear your success story. Please send me pictures, I might hire your herd into our program and facilitate a Horse Guided Empowerment® workshop with them! 

Next week I will tell you all about my uncommon paddock structure and the ONE essential exercise you should teach your horse for safety and rapport. 

With care, Christina

Do you want more? Become part of the community!

What does it take to rehabilitate a horse so it can safely be part of a therapeutic session? In this group class I will teach you the process, what can go wrong and how we will benefit from taking the time to do it right. I also share and explain why de-sensitisation is not my preferred technique, and what the rescue process has to do with traumatic stress. This class has a special price this week!