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The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range

One trainer

No tools

Just body language

 

The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

 

 

 

No Boundaries – Just Trust

Myrnah and I walked out the gate and past all the fences yesterday; we have reached that point of trust in each other, and it feels amazing. We walked out of the paddock, through the front yard, and down the drive to the edge of the property: no fences between us and the rest of the world, no boundaries – just trust. Myrnah could have run away, but she didn’t. At the end of our driveway she looked longingly down the road, but acquiesced when I told her it was time to head home again- that was far enough for our fist venture beyond the fences.

Trust has to be earned. All of us intrinsically need to feel safe. When Myrnah and Cleo first came home with me, trust was built between us in small incremental steps. As a human I am a natural predator; horses are natural prey animals and as such we have very different instincts. Prey animals have a tendency to run from fear; predators have a tendency to attack and control when faced with fear. If we are going to work together, we have to build trust in a way that allows us to act like partners instead of predators and prey.

Boundaries such as ropes or fences help us predators feel in control of prey animals; the lack of boundaries makes a horse feel safer, because they can run if they need to.

Living as I do in a small island community where horses would not be welcome wandering free wherever they chose, I have to use fences to control them. It is a very predator-type thing to do, so I have done my best to make the paddock as big as possible and always give them room to run away from me when we are working together.

In the beginning we had six-foot-high fences. Once the trust between us had built to a point that lowered the intensity of their desire to flee, we moved things around and the fences are closer to four feet now. A little while later the horses trusted us enough to stay in enclosures of a single electric line.

If the fear is high enough, horses will jump or run through almost anything. If a human’s fear is high enough, we will enclose and abuse horses in an effort to feel safe around them. Written like that it seems rather obvious neither tactic is in the best interest of a functioning partnership. Yet going against our natural instincts is a constant challenge.

Trust is built with time and understanding. The ability to make requests of each other and have those requests honored is what builds trust.

Simple things illustrate this well. Humans like to pet animals. Horses don’t naturally like being petted (though domestic horses often do because they have been taught). A wild mustang enjoys being groomed by a partner, but being petted by a not entirely trusted predator is different.

For a partnership to develop, the human can request permission to pet the horse and, if allowed, respect when the horse requests the petting action to stop. Now if the horse reaches out with their nose and asks the person to stop and the request is ignored, the horse resorts to instinct and walks away. This is a very quiet example of distrust instead of partnership. In order for trust to build, requests have to be heard and honored between partners.

That is a great deal harder than it sounds. As people we like petting and it is hard for us to remember horses may be asking for something different. The next time a horse moves away from you, ask yourself what might the horse have wanted? What was he asking for that you didn’t hear? Sometimes the horse is asking that you follow when they walk away, because being together like a herd feels safe. Usually though, I find they are first asking us to be quiet. Just exist and be quiet together. As the saying goes, “be a human being, not a human doing”.

As a human, when a horse walks away we want to control it with a rope, or trap it with a fence, or chase it so it knows that is “wrong” or stand back and take it personally that the horse doesn’t want to be with us. If we can think like a horse though and follow, playing with advance and retreat as a game like a horse would, until the trust is built on understanding the horse’s request for a herd in that moment, then we are back on track to building a strong mutual trust, and it’s our turn to make a request. Asking the horse to move, or asking him to let us pet him, the important part is to listen for when he thinks it is his turn to ask us for something.

Mutual respect of requests is the basis for mutual trust.

So when Myrnah and I began to go out walking, we started with a boundary of high fences. If the fledgling trust between us should have plummeted in its first flights, the boundary fence would have kept us together somewhat. I aimed for a balance: fences intact to keep my predator instinct feeling safe, fences far enough away to allow Myrnah her prey animal instinct to flee should she need it.

As time moved on and the trust grew, the boundary fences became smaller and farther way. Yesterday our trust allowed us to let go of the boundary altogether for a short period of time. The freedom of knowing there were no fences to catch Myrnah if she ran was simply exhilarating. Although we are so bonded now, that I never doubted her. I think she and I agree, exploring the world is most fun, with someone you trust.

No boundaries – just trust – is an ever evolving concept. Yesterday was just a milestone along the way. Here is to the many more ahead of us.

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

4 Comments

  1. What a great moment of trust you two share now. When I read her this posting, Jodi said, “…a significant plateau in Elsa’s project!”
    Myrnah resisting basic curiosity, the need to explore her newly expanded environment until you are ready to share that aspect with her is very significant . Lead on! 😉 Michael

  2. This is indeed a milestone you have reached with Myrnah! I wish I could do this with my horses, but I live in a very small and crowded country with lots of traffic around every corner, so an experiment like that just wouldn’t be safe here.
    It’s wonderful how Myrnah clearly sees the two of you as her herd. Would you say she’s a very independent horse by nature? Is she for example not very ‘herdbound’ with Cleo? In my herd of seven I see large differences between my horses when it comes to being or not being herdbound.

    “Mutual respect of requests is the basis for mutual trust.”
    That is a very important statement we cannot hear often enough when dealing with horses!

    • I would say Myrnah is a very independent horse by nature, neither her nor Cleo seem at all herd bound. Saavedra my first mustang does tend to be however, and I am familiar with your observation it really does seem to vary from horse to horse.

      “Mutual respect of requests is the basis for mutual trust.” I am only just beginning to wrap my head around that, thanks for your support and agreement that it is indeed important.

  3. Elsa, I see more clearly now how your journey with Myrnah allows you to see deeper into how horses think and what they need than is normally possible in a conventional horse-human relationship. We who seek to know the mind of the horse look for new information so that we too can give more to our horses. Your insights into the meaning to horses of fences and tack help me to modify my behavior with my horses to give them more security when they are with me. Your radical method of developing trust with Myrnah gives me more understanding of what trust means to my horses, so that I can look for similar ways to form that trust with my horses Folly and Chance. This blog of yours is contributing as much to my horsemanship as my studies and practice of liberty work. I am so grateful that you are doing this.


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