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The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, communication through body language, tools used only for safety, never to train.

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The Goal:

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

 

The Eight Hour Challenge

How deeply do any of us know our horses?

 

I once read that to feel loved is to feel known and I think there is some truth to that. To really know someone requires an intense curiosity and an experimental willingness to take action and adjust action depending on the response received.

 

I believe there is some degree of love in every relationship, including our relationships with our horses.

 

In most horse training we ask a horse to know us and pay attention to how their actions and choices affect us as humans. We expect a well-trained horse partner to be in the right place at the right time and to adjust their behavior to suit us perpetually.

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In Freedom Based Training® I start from the other side of the equation. How well do I know my horse? How well can I express that understanding to my horse?

 

If I know my horse doesn’t like it when I stand too far away, then a short amount of standing far away may be interesting to them, but if I stand far away for too long or too often, my presence becomes a burden on their experience. If I deeply know my horse I will know how long it is appropriate to do anything, and where the line is between interesting and irritating. I will be able to take action before I become irritating, and I will be able to regain our state of harmony in good places and ways frequently.

 

To really know my horse, I have to put aside my personal desire that my horse know me. In Freedom Based Training®, I have to trust that what I give will come back to me. Or more directly, once I have given enough of my attention and I know my horse deeply, I have earned the right to ask them to know me in return.

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This depth of relationship building is the foundation for what I do in Freedom Based Training®, and I have found there is an awesome side effect to this work. The more time spent really knowing a horse, and taking actions in a way that prove to them that they are known and understood, the more they seem to make this same effort towards others. Then all their relationships improve, both with people and other horses. This deeply affects the quality of a horse’s life with the other horses in their herd.

 

This week I noticed my mare Cleo had gotten in an emotional rut. I don’t know why, I just know that as I was watching the evidence of action in the herd, I was seeing a downward spiral. Cleo was angry and quick to pin her ears and push the others, then instead of yielding to her and finding harmony together, the other horses in the herd would simply walk away from her to find harmony with someone else instead. Cleo was so grumpy and unpleasant no one wanted to be with her, no one wanted to be curious about what she needed and no one wanted to help her lower her stress by being her partner. The more disinterest the horses showed, the more ugly Cleo’s behavior became and the more ugly her behavior was the more disinterest it created in her friends.

 

I do work with Cleo for an hour or so each day, but my usual Freedom Based Training just wasn’t seeming to make much of a difference to Cleo in the rest of her life this week.

 

I decided this was my perfect opportunity to prove my worth as Cleo’s partner and see what happened with some intense investment in attention from me.

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The challenge:

 

Eight hours in one day spent in the best mirroring, matching, flow and harmony I could manage.

 

The means for me to do this were based on the first two leadership styles in the leadership spectrum:

 

Passive Leadership and Supportive Leadership

 

Passive Leadership is the most important, because it is where I am curious about how to shape my actions around Cleo to know her deeply.

 

Where can I place myself in harmony with Cleo and then when it is time to change, where is the next place I can place myself in harmony with Cleo. If I know her, I can make decisions of where to stand and they will feel good to her, if I do not know her well enough, she has to move her own body until I am in a place that works for her. By deeply knowing a horse we take the pressure off them to make themselves comfortable and we take the responsibility to be in the right place at the right time. The more consistently we do this, the more they feel they can trust us and the lower their stress levels become.

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Sometimes though, I am going to make mistakes and the place I choose to be will cause Cleo to make a counter decision to let me know I was in the wrong place for the wrong amount of time. That is when I would get moved into supportive leadership.

 

Supportive leadership is where I start taking action, by walking around my horse (or stroking or petting or rocking my horse), experimenting with distance from my horse and my style of action. As I experiment with all this I am aware of the surroundings and being deeply curious about which place I am in when Cleo starts to think more and show better feelings. When she does that it is my clue to come back into harmony with her.

 

If I deeply knew Cleo I could have gone right to that spot directly before she got uncomfortable. When my feel and timing is off, Cleo shows that discomfort by moving in ways we cannot move together. However, knowing someone is always a process of experimentation, and if we don’t know where to be we have to simply try things until we get positive feedback from our horse that we are now in the right place where harmony can resume.

 

Every “right place” we choose to be with our horse has an expiration date. Our job is to change places of harmony before the one we are in becomes stale.

 

This process of choosing the next best place of harmony and flow with a horse perpetually is an awesome challenge. Try doing it for eight hours and you might be amazed with what you learn.

 

Now, this is not normal behavior in a horse herd or between a horse and a human because this intensity of perpetual awareness and responsiveness is exhausting. I actually have only attempted this intensity of training and relationship a few times in the many years I have been doing this. Even when I was in the depth of training in the first movie, my norm with Myrnah was between four and six hours a day, not eight.

 

Watching the development in Cleo blossom in this eight hour challenge this week changed my mind about my personal willingness to dive deeper and work longer. The results were so interesting with Cleo, I find I want to try it again, with different horses and see what happens.

 

For the first four hours Cleo was often grumpy with her horse friends in the herd, and I moved often and experimented heavily to find the right places to be. After the first hour, I was exhausted from the effort so I chose to go have a bit of a nap in the shade of the hedgerow. About fifteen minutes later I was wakened by a soft nuzzle from Cleo on my leg. It was interesting to me that of all fourteen horses in the herd, Cleo was the one who came over to wake me when she felt I had slept long enough. I stepped back up to my challenge and resumed my efforts in matching, mirroring, harmony, and flow with Cleo.

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Then, all the horses took a nap under the deep shade of the cedar trees and my job got much easier, standing in harmony and flow with Cleo as she slept. When all the other horses chose to leave the shade and move off to their grazing on the other side of the pond, Cleo chose to stay in the shade with me, sleeping longer than everyone else. I believe it was my company that allowed her to stay longer and rest more, without me there I don’t think she would have taken that time as I have never seen her off by herself, she always goes where the herd goes.

 

After that nap Cleo’s mood improved dramatically and she seemed appreciative of a greater variety of things. The better her mood was the greater likelihood I had of making the right choices and being at the right place at the right time. We rejoined the herd and then Cleo spent the rest of the afternoon taking me away from the herd to graze in odd corners of the pasture away from everyone in a way that seemed very unlike her normal behavior. We would be off by ourselves for twenty minutes or so and then wander back and pair up with one of the others for a while, before wandering off by ourselves for a few more minutes.

 

Cleo’s mood and positive outlook on life seemed to perpetually improve all day. By the time it was getting dark and we were in the last hour of the challenge Cleo seemed happily paired up with her best horse friends in a way I felt deeply good about. It was time for me to walk away, find my bed and think deeply about all I had learned.

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I hope my personal challenge inspires you.

 

How well do you know your horse?

 

How many hours would you be willing to spend with your horse without asking anything of them, and challenging yourself to your best feel and timing, resulting in the maximum amount of flow and harmony possible? What would you learn if you did that?

 

Are you willing to take the eight hour challenge?

 

Or perhaps six hours, or four hours would be a good challenge for you?

 

I picked ten hours the first time I did an intensive session of passive leadership; you can find the blog about that here:

https://equineclarity.org/2016/11/29/it-takes-time/

 

Eight hours seemed more manageable this time with Cleo.

 

Just remember, this work can be subtle, and sometimes you won’t see much change in the first few hours. So if you are interested and you can dig a little deeper, spend a little more time, and see what happens.

 

If you find yourself inspired to try it, I would love to hear how it went for you. Perhaps you could write down your experiences and share them here as a guest blog?

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

 

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