As a mother of four, I learned years ago that motivational techniques which work with one child may not work for another. This realization has helped me immensely in the training of horses. Just as there are no two humans alike, there are no two horses alike either. Obviously, it is impossible to use the exact same methods with all horses.
An experienced horsewoman named Barb Fenwick recently hosted one of my clinics in Canada. As Barb picked me up at the airport and drove me to her home, she shared with me the story of her horse named Serena. Barb stated that she was at a loss concerning how to move forward with Serena. Five years ago, Barb rescued Serena yet she still carries emotional scars from her formerly horrific life. Upon hearing about Serena, I offered to work with her right away.
Putting Serena into a paddock area by herself was not an easy task. First, we brought Serena and her pasture mates into the paddock. Then, Barb took the other horses out and put them into an adjacent paddock where Serena could visit with them over the fence. As I sat with Serena in the paddock, I could tell how “checked out” she was. She paced the fence line and pooped loose stools which are both indicative of how nervous she was feeling. Despite having nice clean hay and grass in the paddock, Serena was very distracted and unable to focus as I sat with her.
I put on some slow music and as I became more grounded, I focused on this beautiful, yet disturbed mare. Serena was vigilantly watching everything around her, including me. I began to slowly move around the paddock and studied her reactions, mimicking her as if I were a horse. When Serena became comfortable with me being near her, I began connecting with her by keeping my breath in rhythm with hers. When she snorted, I snorted. When she paced, I paced. As she looked in any direction, I too looked in the same direction while standing by her side. Together, we stomped our feet at the flies. I scratched her where she itched, pulled grass when she ate, and in essence did everything I could to behave like another horse. Serena’s curiosity finally peaked as she began to tentatively sniff and explore me. Although I tried to remain very still, Serena was unable to focus for very long and quickly became distracted again. Thus, I just moved with her while mirroring her behavior. Our session ended as I invited Serena to eat carrots from a pan wedged between my legs, a behavior which taps into memories of nursing from a horse’s mother. I proceeded to work with five other horses and at the end of the day, the clinic participants asked if I would work with Serena again. Of course, I gladly obliged.
I spent time with Serena during the next two days (morning and afternoon) while asking for nothing in return. With each passing day, Serena became less distracted, paced less, and clearly became more comfortable overall. She began to show subtle signs of engagement with me. On the third day, as I stayed outside the paddock to coach Barb, a breakthrough in her relationship with Serena unfolded before our eyes. In the stillness of the moment, Serena and Barb shared an unspoken yet unmistakable connection as affection flowed through them. I was moved to tears. Barb wrote the following:
Barb has stated that Serena is a work in progress and most certainly is not an easy fix. I shared with Barb that it is important to love and accept Serena just the way she is without a desire to “fix” her. Barb certainly has her hands full, but with commitment, time, perseverance and patience there is hope that Serena can overcome her past. We are all cheering for Barb and Serena! I will continue to provide updates as I receive them from Barb.
Relationships with horses can be challenging. It is important to remember that before a relationship can begin, you must find a “point of entry” with your horse. The tool you use to find this “point of entry” is dependent upon each horse’s uniqueness and history.
***A special thanks and gratitude to Carolyn Resnick for teaching me her method of horsemanship. Thank you Carolyn, the “thank yous” never seem to end.