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Tag Archives: Horse Rescue

The Project:

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

 

_I0A3935The Goal:

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

 

Counting Breaths

Mouthful after mouthful of hay, ripped clean out of the hay net with hardly a pause, Atlas has figured out that eating here in his new home is good. The protruding ribs and hip bones are starting to look softer and his muscles are starting to take on curves they didn’t have a week ago.

I notice this, and I notice the raven flying overhead. I notice the deer walking through the yard to our right, and the late insects twirling around in seamlessly aimless spins through the air. I notice the leaves starting to change color on the oak tree outside, and the dead limb on the cherry tree that needs to be trimmed off.

This week I have found I have a great deal of time for noticing things as Atlas buries his head deep into his food and eats like there will never be another meal.

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On the one hand it is good that he is eating; he needs it before the weather starts to turn cold and inhospitable. On the other hand, there is a level of obsession that could use softening, and that is where I come in as a leader to help out.

In the first days, anytime I moved too much he would become very afraid and start to run and snort. So my job was to invest in as many hours as needed using purely Passive Leadership. That meant moving as little as possible and making very good decisions about how often to move and how long to be still.

As we moved from the first week to the second week Atlas began to sometimes show disinterest in my company by looking neither toward me nor away, and by completely focusing on what was in front of him as if I was not there. This was exactly the next step I was hoping to see and it gave me permission to start using Supportive Leadership.

Supportive leadership at this stage of the game means I am moving around more than Atlas is. It might be cleaning up the manure from the paddock, it might be trimming the branches of the trees, or taking a walk or stretching my body. As soon as I see a focus change I like (which is pretty much ANY focus change at this point in the process), I return to flow and harmony, matching Atlas to the best of my ability. He has the power to bring us together as partners, and he is learning how to use it.

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When Atlas takes that brief moment to look up from his hay, changing focus before reaching for his next bite he is taking an action that brings me back into flow with him, my feet the same as his, my body stillness the same as his, and my focus complementary and watching out for danger while he is vulnerable eating. This enjoyment of togetherness is something Atlas has learned to enjoy over the last week, and now he is learning that something as simple as a focus change is how he can ask for this flow in partnership with me.

Every yin must have it’s yang, and every like must have something in contrast that is less liked. So in counter to the Passive Leadership, pure flow and as little change as possible, we have Supportive Leadership which is movement and change, not a direct request for Atlas to do anything different, simply a set of actions that allow Atlas to realize he can ask for a return to flow and Passive Leadership with a positive change of focus, when and if he chooses.

At the start of this process it was easy to get the paddock cleaned of manure, because Atlas would dive deep into his eating and I would walk back and forth with a manure fork cleaning up and putting everything in the one pile I do hope he starts using more of the time.

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Then Atlas realized he had the power to ask me to be still and he started to use it. It also seemed he learned to count. I had decided eight breaths was a reasonable amount of time to be in harmony with Atlas while he fixated on eating hay. If I got to the eighth breath and he had not looked up to notice anything different yet, I went back to whatever job I wanted to get done, then he changed focus and I took one last step and fell back into flow with him. This was all fine until Atlas learned that looking up and around every seventh breath kept me nicely in quiet Passive Leadership with none of that less desirable extraneous movement.

Once Atlas learned that, it started to take me close to two hours to complete the paddock cleaning I had in mind, instead of the five minutes it should have taken. For ten or fifteen minutes at a time Atlas would remember to look up every seven breaths or so and keep me still, then he would forget and become immersed in his hay eating and I would get a little work done before he asked me to came back into flow with him again.

On the one hand I am internally cheering for him that he figured out the pattern and he knew how to positively ask me for what he preferred. On the other hand I was honestly frustrated with how long it took to get a simple job done.

It won’t always be like this though, later on I might have a six or four breath limit on how long I will stand quiet while he hyper focuses on his hay, or I might require two or three or four focus changes before I come back into harmony with him. For now, I have to keep the game simple and easy for Atlas to figure out the rules.

This is about strengthening Atlas’ desire to communicate in a thinking way.

When horses come from stressful pasts they know how to communicate with fight, or with flight, and while we have to listen and understand, that kind of communication is not the kind we want to nurture and support. The thinking kind of communication is what needs to be fostered.

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Before I start asking for anything from Atlas, he needs to know that he can ask for what he needs, in a way that is good for both of us.

When we take away all the tools that might be used to cause pressure or direct reward we have no way to manage the fight or flight anymore. In Freedom Based Training® our only course of action is to strengthen the thinking ways of communicating until they are so habituated and normal for the horse that fight and flight don’t feel like good options anymore.

This week I thought I was doing so very well with this process, and we had worked our comfortable flow distance down to half a horse length frequently. I could imagine the feel of Atlas’ fur in my fingers and I thought the touching distance was mere days away.

Then the incident with compost bin happened and I changed my mind.

I was standing a fair distance away, surveying the territory while Atlas dozed next to a big green plastic compost bin in his paddock. He decided to turn around, so I also decided to walk around him in a big circle until I could take the last step and find flow again. Only, Atlas misjudged his distance from the plastic bin and it ever so slightly brushed against his leg as he turned. The speed at which he went from sleepily turning to firing out with a hind hoof and putting it right through the side of the bin was shocking. The loud noise of the plastic breaking sent him in a snorting trot circle that brought him right back to stand next to the now broken bin. It seemed he wasn’t afraid of the bin, only the noise it had made when he destroyed it, once the noise was gone he could return to his nap.

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While Atlas returned to his nap, I returned to my watching of the territory, but this time with a newfound respect for the touching distance. I have taken a hint from the hole in the compost bin and I will not be brushing up against Atlas’ body casually any time soon.

When it comes time for us to touch it will be when he is fully awake and aware and has told me he is ready.

For now, I will count my breaths and watch the world go by as Atlas adjusts to our new partnership. Everything will happen when he is ready. Right now he is ready to explore these transitions between Passive Leadership and Supportive Leadership and I will show up consistently to play that game with him for as long as he needs.

There will be a point where he is ready for the next step and it will be natural and easy because I didn’t push for too much too soon.

Count my breaths, pay attention, and respond, respond, respond. This is how we build the foundation for everything in our future.

If you are curious to see the next piece of the relationship puzzle falling into place, I am thrilled to share the journey with you all!

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Every Friday for the duration of this project I will be posting a video of our progress on Patreon:

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

Dates are not firmly set yet, but within the next ten days we go pick up the Mustang stallion that will be joining Atlas and I on this journey. I am so very curious to see who stands out in the crowd and comes home with me to teach us all so much in the year to come.

Hooves and Heartbeats,
Elsa

Taming Wild.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Hurry up and Wait

“Taming Wild: Evolution” has started filming!

After so much planning and organizing and working to get all the pieces in place, the first horse is finally here. Now I wait with as much presence and skill as I can muster, for Atlas to realize his life is better with me.

Atlas is over sixteen hands tall (I roughly gauge that as I watch him from my safe distances) and he is rough as a horse who has been through the rodeo circuit as a bucking bronco has every right to be.

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When I met him he was living in a herd of stallions in a pen, all of them heading to slaughter shortly as the unwanted category of horses that don’t buck hard enough to keep working in the rodeo, and horses who are now too aggressive and distrustful of humans to find a place in gentle society.

Breaking my heart as it did to leave the others behind, I chose Atlas out of the group as the horse that might come home with me for the filming of “Taming Wild: Evolution”.

Under extreme pressure some horses shut down and take all their feelings and expressions internal, they just stop relating to the world. That was mostly what I saw in the group of stallions that day. Atlas was a little different in that his ears and his eyes never stopped moving. He didn’t like us humans there anymore than the others, but he was willing to take action without provocation to put himself where he needed to be, while the others seemed to wait for a bite or a kick or someone to scare them into a response.

Freedom Based Training® is the slowest way possible to train a horse, and if I am going to film a movie about this incredibly gradual developmental process, I need to pick horses that are reasonably extroverted in their actions and emotions. Atlas fit the list of requirements.

The horse dealer that sold him to me was colorful on the phone, but a man of few words once we were in person and the recording started. On the phone I got, “that horse is a fucking psycho, why do you want a horse like that?” In person it was the more toned down version of “Like I told you in the beginning, I never ever let these kinda horses go out in the public, cause I don’t want no blood on my hands, I don’t wanna see anyone get hurt.”

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Loading, I watched the horse dealer skillfully keep himself safe on the other side of metal panels as he used a flag to push Atlas into my horse trailer. The very same trailer I used seven years ago to bring Myrnah home for the first Taming Wild movie. I have learned so much since then, and I have a feeling I am about to learn so much more.

This horse was afraid, with every reason in the world to be afraid. Now he and I just needed time to ease that fear, soften that aggression and start over.

The trailer ride home was supposed to be six hours in total, but we hit traffic and missed our ferry, so my day turned into a fifteen hour marathon of events from the time I stepped into the car in the morning until we unloaded Atlas into his new home in the dark of the evening.

I didn’t mind though, listening to Atlas snort his huge dragon snort again and again as he moved around his new paddock in the dark of that first day, I was glad he was safe. My exhaustion was a small price to pay for this chance for him to start again. He and I together.

Now it was all about feel and timing between us.

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In the morning I started outside the fences, making responses to Atlas’ movements. I needed him to learn that what he did mattered and I listened. My responses might be different from other people he had met in his life, but our communication would be consistent and he could count on me.

What I see often in horse human relationships is that people push a horse when they see it is already afraid or in flight, and when a horse gets aggressive or pushes into a human there is a momentary instinctual freeze or backing off in the human that gives the horse a moment of relief. This is how horses learn to be aggressive.

I need to change that conversation with Atlas from the very beginning, even if it only subtly from outside the fences.

Here are my ground rules:

If any part of Atlas moved toward me (eyes, ears, or any part of the body) I would move toward him.

If any part of Atlas moved away from me I would move away also.

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I needed to be smart and take small enough steps toward him that I did not provoke an aggressive reaction. Also I needed to be wise about taking big enough steps away from him that I remained working at a distance range that was acceptable to him.

Those simple rules, with good feel and timing, plus time equals success in partnership.

How much time? I don’t know yet, but I am going to find out.

On the first day we spent four hours together broken up into short sessions throughout the day. I worked mainly just inside the fence where I could duck through to the outside if I needed to, but I never did need that escape.

This conversation Atlas and I were having was a new set of rules for him, so there were moments where my decision making felt dicey like perhaps I had pushed just a little too close to him too soon, but I wanted to maintain my consistency stepping toward him when he came toward me. He would look at me and I would take the smallest possible slide of a foot toward him. I was being consistent, but tactful as the tension in his neck and back and eyes, along with the planted feet told me he would fight back if I pushed in too close.

It was almost as if he expected that one of us had to scare the other one. Either I was supposed to chase him, or he was going to have to chase me off. This conversation of subtle movements and distance changed all the rules he knew.

Day one was all about long distances, and only sometimes working in as close as two horse lengths from him, but mostly farther away than that slowly and gently working my way around his body in circles.

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Day two there was considerably more ease in his body language and I spent more time at the two and three horse length distances.

Day three there started to be some yield to Atlas’s movement and he was comfortable with me walking along with him (at an appropriate distance) instead of the circles around him from the previous days. He nibbled grass and watched the world go by while I stood guard next to him, vigilant about everything so he could relax. Occasionally we even got as close as one horse length of distance between us.

From hour to hour it doesn’t look like much is happening between Atlas and I, but if you know what you are looking at you can see a deep and meaningful language building.

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I am feeling the “hurry up” because I desperately want Atlas to trust me enough to trim those big overgrown hooves. Yet, I know I will wait for as long as he needs because overgrown hooves are nothing to worry about in comparison to the life we just pulled him from.

I will put in the time, and he will tell me when the time is right for us to take the next steps into doing more together.

For all of you who are curious about the process with Atlas and the mustang stallion that will be arriving in a few weeks, consider joining us on Patreon where I will be posting update videos each week and answering questions about all the details of the process as we develop together.

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

There is so much to learn and I can’t wait to share it all as it evolves in “Taming Wild: Evolution”.

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Blind Date

Yesterday I went to a horse auction. It was a small auction with only twenty-two horses being sold, and it was not very far from my home, so it was a comparatively gentle opportunity to do this thing I had heard about, but never dared do. I watched the crowd measure up the animals and I watched the animals cope with the noise and the chaos and the dust. I watched, and I listened, and I learned, and I mostly kept the tears at bay.

 

There was a big sign on the wall, “all livestock sold by the pound unless otherwise stated – 73 cents per pound”.  I watched as a big untrained quarter horse mare came across the sale pen. No one seemed to want her for more than $400, and the man leading her around bluntly told the crowd, “Either one of you buy her for over $500 or I sell her later for meat.” The crowd stepped up and someone handed over the necessary $500 to take her home. She was a big mare, so I think it is possible that buyer turned around and sold her for meat at a profit later that day, but I hope not. I hope she has a chance to live the rest of her days in a pasture with friends.

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As I prepare for this next film “Taming Wild Evolution” I am searching for my horse partners. One Mustang stallion directly off the range that knows very little about people, and one stallion from the domestic world that perhaps knows too much about people and needs to learn to trust again. It is the search for the domestic horse that sends me on blind date after blind date, looking for the right partner and wishing I could save them all as I walk away again and again with tears in my eyes.

 

I am going to spend a year with this horse and spend countless hours going through pictures and video footage to tell a story. This horse can’t be too white or too black because that makes the filming infinitely more difficult to do in a way that is easy for people to see. It can’t be too young because if all goes well I will be riding at the end of the year, and I feel strongly about not putting weight on an undeveloped spine. It can’t be too introverted, because a horse that pretends everything is fine until it can’t take it anymore, only trying to kill you in a last desperate attempt to survive, that subtlety of character will film as a willing partner in most people’s eyes and they won’t see the danger I hopefully never trigger in the course of Freedom Based Training®.

 

I need an extroverted stallion, over five years old and coming from a background of human handling that has led the horse to lose faith in humanity.

 

The problem is not that they don’t exist in America, the problem is there are too many that fall outside my particular parameters. Too many horses that call me out on blind date after blind date and I have to see them, hear them, give them my time, my space and my blessing, while I still have to walk away and hope they land on their feet with someone kind.

 

As I watch the plight of so many sad horses, I am not proud to be human right now, but I am determined to be a little bit of light in this human world, in the best way I know how.

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Last week I made the effort to train and hone my skills with a rescue horse I had never met before. This was an effort to pour considerable time into a relationship with a horse I did not know, and I might not meet again. I wasn’t there to change him or train him, I was only there to get to know him, while I developed my own skills of feel and timing.

 

The SAFE organization was happy for me to come and spend a day with Mason, a beautiful red bay thoroughbred, out in his paddock and they were happy to tell me as much or as little as I wanted to know about this blind date we were setting up. It was a relatively kind situation for me to walk into because, while Mason showed a body full of scars that spoke to a hard life in his past, his future was bright. He was a horse who seemed to resist training with difficult explosions of flight when he got overwhelmed, and yet he was one of the lucky ones who had found a person who wanted him in their life regardless of his difficulties. Mason was currently living at the rescue, but would be soon moving to his new home.

 

I was there to learn from Mason, and I had the calming knowledge that he had a person who cared greatly about him and would be there for him, even when I walked away at the end of our blind date.

 

In this particular situation I had seven hours to spend with this horse before he went into the stalls for dinner, where guests were not invited to linger. My normal training challenge this past month had been eight hours spent with one horse in one day, but there was no particularly good reason for this time frame, it was just an arbitrary number. Seven hours was going to teach me a significant amount also.

 

It was important to me that I listen to the horse in the current moment more than I tried to understand any of his past. I didn’t mind that I was told he was explosive in flight when too much pressure was put on him, but I didn’t need to know why. I could see he was covered in scars, but I didn’t need to know the stories behind the scars. I simply needed to be present with this horse, asking nothing of him, while I listened to him deeply and made choices around him, so I could hone my personal understanding of feel and timing to a sharper point of accuracy.

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Now at first I started by harmonizing with Mason from a medium distance while he grazed, perhaps a horse length away from him or a little more. This is my most comfortable distance and it is where I feel I have the best rhythm in my movements as I respond to the thinking twitches of ears and subtle shifts in mental awareness as the horse looks from one thing to a different thing.

 

Mason seemed reasonably comfortable, sometimes getting close to a fence and letting me know I had stayed on that side for a bit too long by forcing me to choose a different place. Other times edging closer and closer to me as we stepped our way into a touching distance. He for the most part ate grass and seemed to accept my presence, only occasionally giving me any attention at all.

 

His pasture mate on the other hand almost seemed to be in competition with me (I have no idea if that assessment has any place in reality, I am only relating what I felt as I observed). I would match Mason’s feet positions and steps from where I stood about a horse length away, and repeatedly Mason’s pasture mate would step neatly between us matching his feet to Mason’s as well, while making sure my only next choices could be farther away not closer to his friend.

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I noticed more often than not they matched each other in mirror image, opposite hooves moving in harmony like kids running a three-legged race instead of the left foot – left foot, right foot – right foot I feel like I usually see in horse partners.  I don’t know what significance this holds if any, but I made a mental note to keep my eyes open for the kinds of situations that seemed to bring out one way of partnership versus another.

 

A few hours into the project Mason was moved from the grazing pasture to the dirt lot with hay to eat and a larger group of horses to interact with. In the new space I spent an hour or so partnering at my most comfortable distance and then I decided it was time for me to experiment with my distance partnership.

 

Distance is not usually something I practice, because I love being close to horses, and most of my horses love being close to me. However, I know the new stallions for this next movie are not going to start out that way, and I need to hone my distance partnership skills!

 

Mason ended up being the best teacher I have ever had in this distance partnership. As soon as I was on the far side of the paddock it was like his brain unlocked. His ears started gently and easily changing focus all the time, his eyes started seeing things and changing focus categories with effortless ease. All of a sudden Mason was a million times more involved in being part of life around him. I had thought he was perfectly happy with me at the medium and close distances, but only when I stepped out to the farther distances did I see him really come alive and dynamically enjoy the world in a different way.

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Now, on this particular day it was interesting to note, it wasn’t just me, it was the other horses also. When they were close, Mason shut down a little. He did not seem unhappy, simply less involved in living. When Mason had space, it was like his brain woke up and he could fully enjoy everything he saw and heard around him. He liked his friends, he just changed who he was a little and seemed to become smaller and less involved when his friends were close.

 

I have never seen anything quite like this in any of the horses I have spent time partnering, and for me it was the perfect experience to hone my skills in the area Mason seemed to most enjoy my company.

 

In hour number five, I am often most tired, so when Mason stepped under the apple tree to take a deep nap, I let myself step in close and work at my happiest distance, almost touching. For about an hour I stood or crouched next to Mason while he slept, watching for nonexistent danger so he could feel safe, and changing position around him to assess the safety from a different place each time he flicked an ear.

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Then Mason woke up and I saw that the slight freeze habits of the morning were greatly minimized after his long freeze of napping and rest.

 

In this optimal state of rested awareness, Mason and I were joined by the people at the rescue who love him and care for him, and I was able to share the things I had seen and learned throughout the day.

 

I continued to work my partnership from the far side of the medium distance, while his other human friends played with partnering him from various places of closeness and we talked about his responses.

 

You could see how stepping in close led to an instant freeze and his eyes and his ears slowed in their responsiveness to everything, as if his brain was working through peanut butter.

 

For the rest of the day I talked theory with the humans who came to join Mason and I, and I think I was able to shed some light on perhaps why he explodes into flight when he feels the pressure of training, but it seems his brain is stuck in slow motion. If you can’t think your way to a solution in training, the only option that seems left to relieve pressure is to run like hell or fight back. Luckily for everyone Mason wasn’t a natural fighter, he was more likely to run like hell. He wanted to be with people, he seemed to like people, his brain just moved really slowly when they were close to him and that caused him problems trying to learn the kinds of things people expected him to learn.

 

I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg. Was Mason born like this which led to people abusing him? Or did people create this by causing Mason so much stress every time they were close that he developed a habit of freeze that then led to him getting abused more. I don’t know, and I am not sure I need to know. I simply know that we can help.

 

With good feel and timing Mason can learn to think as clearly in close partnerships as he does in distance partnerships.

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This process of Freedom Based Training® where we help horses be the best version of themselves voluntarily is slow to develop, but it often works where other types of training have failed.

 

I know I learned a huge amount from my blind date with Mason, and hopefully I left a little light and understanding in the hands of the humans who work with him every day.

 

Now, I just need to find my partners for the Evolution project so I can put all I learned from Mason into practice in a long term experiment for the world to share with me. I want to show how Freedom Based Training® can be effective in rebuilding broken trust or building trust to begin with. Domestic or wild, untouched or abused, the concepts apply equally regardless of the horse or their history. I want to show how good feel and timing and a deep well of patience can be applied to create the kind of relationship with horses we all want: collaborative, voluntary, deep and rewarding.

 

For any of you who might want to watch the Evolution project up close from week to week, I did just open up a Patreon platform where I will share weekly videos and insights on the process with the two stallions. I would love for you all to join me on this adventure.

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

 

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

ps. for those of you receiving this via email, I do have a short video attached to the end of this blog post that you can see at EquineClarity.Org