Horsey Therapist

Thursday, March 30, 2006



Rusty. My teacher. The one who has prompted me to think, and think, and think some more about what is a horse, what matters to a horse, how does a horse understand, what does a person do to confuse a horse, to upset a horse, to calm a horse, to direct a horse, to gain a horse's trust, to elicit a horse's willingness to be together.

I can blame myself and take credit for all he has become over the years. We're at a new plateau now, one where he listens and responds with more readiness than before, with more attention and comfort in my presence.

We have a long complicated history. And our relationship keeps getting simpler and more fun.

I've been committed to keeping his 'horseness' fully intact. I've done a fairly good job. He certainly is lively and is comfortable showing his opinions. My task has been to accept his opinions AND be kind and skillful with directing his mind when I've wanted or needed to, like when he's haltered or tacked up or mounted. If he's doing his own thing in the herd, he's got freedom to act however he likes. When he's attached to me via tack or at times merely my intention, he's free to have his feelings without intrusiveness, and I've got a responsibility to engage his mind and involve him collaboratively in doing the things I want us to be doing together.

I remember friend and mentor, FB, of Piper Ridge Farm, saying to me, "Rusty is a horse that will make a horseman out of you." It took a few years to really understand what she said. I'd fallen in love with a weanling in a stall -- wicked cute fellow, lively but very willing to try to get along with me. That was the beginning. Many moons later, we do enjoy some trail riding, and once again because *I* am in a new place regarding relationships, empathy, and understanding Horse Nature, and I'm riding him as if it's the first few rides.

I'm looking to regain that original unassuming presence between us that I recall from the actual first few rides. So far, so good. Treating him like he's been confused by me (I've asked for too much too soon too quickly) instead of getting irked that he's not doing what I asked. Keeping in mind that HIS MIND is what I want together with me. Surely his feet will follow, but without his mind involved with my requests, at least curious about what I'm doing, we have a mired, heavy, conflicted experience where he wants to be doing one thing, and I want to be doing another thing, and yuck. It feels awful to both of us.

Contact with fellow pioneers on the trail of good horsemanship helps me focus and learn and keep offering something better to my horses. Rusty's changes are a tribute to the caring attention shared by friends. An adaptation to the familiar saying 'It takes a community to raise a child' would be: It takes a community to develop a good horseman.

And that community includes people and horses. I am much closer to my ideal than ever before. The ideal of learning through relating with horses. Progress beyond learning from the interpretations of other horsepeople. I've needed the translators! Speaking Horse is a second language to me, more foreign than Italian, German, or Chinese! With more novel social customs than those of the Native Americans, the Asian Indians or the devote Jews.

I'm used to studying some sounds and developing a new way of speaking words and concepts in order to communicate using a new language. That's not such a useful approach with horses. Their words are silent but their meanings are instant. They understand their language, and from their point of view, they understand my meaning often before I even do.

They are my teachers. As long as I forgo my ideas that they are my students.

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