The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Connecting with Horses; Horses Never Lie; Zen Connection with Horses

These three books, which I have read in rapid succession (and partially on the beach), are getting dangerously jumbled up in my head.  However, they share certain important things in common. Which gives me the confidence, once and for all, to reaffirm (sing with me, Jen-ska): "Dominance shmominance!"

The flip side of dominance, of course, is submission, and something from Connecting with Horses really says it all:  "A horse that is submissive due to being fearful or dominated is not the same as a trusting horse." (p.62, emphasis mine)

Zen Connection with Horses makes a distinction between dominance and leadership. Pearce points out that "horses don't co-operate willingly with the dominant horse" (p.88) whereas a horse "just simply does what the leader wants, smoothly and easily."  (p.89) She describes leadership as the ability to control speed and direction without force (p. 90) and also lists 22 ways to "give leadership away."(pp. 93-96) However, she believes that it is not necessary even to be the horse's leader; if you have trust and co-operation, that can be enough.  She describes a boy, Asbrandt, and his horse, Harry:
Eventually there will be much more stuff that they do together that Asbrandt will be the leader in, with Harry still the leader in other areas.  Sometimes they'll even swap leadership, without need for argument, just because that's what the day brings them.
If Asbrandt gets to be a truly brilliant horseman, if that is his dream, he may become Harry's leader in everything that they do together.  BUT THAT MAY NEVER HAPPEN. So who cares? If he reaches his dream, whatever that is and he's safe and enjoying himself, who cares if he's not the leader?
I feel that although KFH talks a lot about dominance and submission, he is actually demonstrating leadership.  However, most of us (especially me) are simply not up to being the leader the whole time.  Pearce's comments about Asbrandt and Harry are a reassuring reminder that most leaders are not made overnight but must gradually learn the necessary skills and confidence.  We're not in the army here, and it's ok to take turns being the leader. It won't lead to our horse taking advantage of us.

Mark Rashid's book Horses Never Lie specifically deals with the difference between the alpha horse and the passive leader horse (called "passive" because he does not seize power on his own initiative but is appointed).  The alpha horse is always causing a commotion, driving his subordinates around, and making them anxious.  The passive leader, on the other hand, is a quiet, consistent horse, who is both tolerant and confident. The  most telling story Rashid relates, I think, is about a horse called Buck. (pp. 58-62) Buck, on being introduced into a new herd, was unfazed by the dominant horse's aggression and gradually wore him down until he let Buck join him at the feeder.  Buck himself, however, never ran another horse off.

The way Buck wore down a dominant horse - and this ties into something I'm sure many of us have been warned about - was not by refusing to let the dominant horse move his feet. When the aggressive alpha charged at him, he would move away - but only as far as necessary to keep out of harm - and then he'd proceed to move forward again.  He did not react with anger or fear but with patience and persistence. On one occasion, an aggressive alpha mare ended up following him around like a puppy.

Margrit Coates, in Connecting with Horses, is willing to step forward and make some very radical and poetic statements:  "Horses are willing to trust when offered unconditional love.  Then the heart of the horse will be light." (p.62) This, of course, is no particular help at all to someone looking for concrete advice, but Mark Rashid, in his more down-home cowboy tone says something similar when he declares,
[O]ne of the most important parts of horse training really has nothing to do with training at all.  It has to do with being able to look at, and understand, the possibility that our horses just may have a different perspective on life than we do. (p. 81)
Margrit Coates reports one of her students saying, "Being with the horse is about creating a feeling space, not a thinking space."  (p. 69)  I think this is key, if we are following a way which has "nothing to do with training at all" and which involves throwing away the desire to dominate the horse. There is no road map - which is what we've all been discovering.

It's not that Coates, Pearce and Rashid don't train their horses.  They do.  And - especially in Rashid's case, it seems - their horses follow more or less conventional lifestyles.  But I think the thing is that they don't start with training.  They start with relationship.

The most challenging thing for me to think about after reading these books is Coates' and Pearce's belief in inter-species communication - not just the ability to trust and cooperate with each other, but the ability of the horse to communicate (by images, words, or ideas) specific information directly to the human's mind, such as past events in the horse's life, or suggestions for the horse's training. To be honest, I've always thought of "animal communicators" as a bit on the flaky side. However, while I remain dubious, I've decided to open my mind to the idea.  We'll see.

So - here's what I've learned:

It's ok if your horse moves your feet.
It's true - you really don't have to dominate your horse.
You can try to be a leader, but don't worry if you can't.
Never get mad.

There's other cool stuff too - such as Pearce's "Chew".  But those are the important things for me.

I think next stop on the Book Train has to be something by Resnick.  Any suggestions?

1 comment:

  1. June, I have only recently started reading your blog as I am quite new to blogging. I agree completely with what you say here. I think it's more important to be in a feeling space with your horse than following 'the rules'. If it feels right in the moment, than how can it be wrong? I read Carolyn Resnick's Naked Liberty. In this book she describes a summer she spent with a herd of wild horses when she was young and how she managed to connect. Sandra