Letting Go (Stable Zen Part 3)

Do you know the feeling when suddenly something changed in the relationship between you and your horse for the better and it’s hard to put into words?

I’m just beginning to realize how much the last three months have changed things between me and Nazir. As always, I think it was me who had to understand something.

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Before we started his rehabilitation, I had these horrible images in my mind of how my horse would be totally out of control due to being cooped up in his stall for so long, how he would try to break away, buck, rear, how he might even endanger me with his behavior. The first weeks also went into that direction. Until I learned to let go.

First, I decided that the stable groom was the one who should walk him for half an hour each morning. He didn’t mind that Nazir was bucking or rearing. It was just a job and he didn’t get upset or question his relationship to my horse. Then, when Nazir’s exercise time had to be increased, I put him in the horse walker, who also wasn’t upset with unruly behaviour. I usually stayed with Nazir though, reading something. Then, about four weeks ago, I also started working with him again, just a few minutes a day.

Instead of gearing up, instead of using a bridle so I have better control of him, I totally gave up control. I only worked him on a normal soft halter and a lead rope. After such a long time of just standing around, he had the attention span of a two-year-old. If that. He couldn’t focus on anything. Before, I would have forced his attention. Now I tried to just be with him, in whatever state he was. We took a few steps around the paddock, then stopped to observe the bicycle that drove by in the distance. Drove by ….ve…ry….slow…ly. From all the way to the left…to all the way to the right… Then we walked a few steps again. Until someone got his horse from the paddock. We also observed that. Every detail of it. Horse and owner disappeared into the stable. We still had to watch a minute. Then we tried again. When he got too excited I stopped him, took a deep breath, let him calm down, then tried again. For one week, that’s all we did. Taking a few steps at a time. When he was able to follow me around without overtaking me or starting to run, I started with stepping under on a circle. At first, he only managed a few steps, then he got worked up and, to my surprise, simply stopped. Maybe I had taught him to stop when he got excited, maybe he wasn’t sure about his leg, maybe there was some pain. Whatever it was, I was ok with his decision, we waited a bit together, then we tried one more time. The people that watched us sometimes mainly saw a horse that was standing around a lot. I got a lot of grins. I really didn’t care. Several times I offered Nazir the possibility to trot, but for now he passed on it. He will trot when he’s ready, I don’t care how long that takes. We already managed a few nice rounds in a walk, with him all calm although other horses were trotting and cantering in the arena. This mutual trust between us is worth much more to me than him trotting circles around me. He can already focus much better, but it’s like he has decided to work with me, not like I have forced him.

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It’s really hard to put into words what has changed between us. It’s like there is this warmness, friendship, trust. He follows me. I listen to him. I can calm him down with my mind. There is this mental link.

I started to really listen to Nazir, take his opinion seriously. Do you know how people always say that a horse ‘shouldn’t get away with something because he will be spoiled after that and will just do what he wants”? My experience is just the opposite. If we respect our horse’s wishes, they will trust us more. And why should we force our horses to do anything they don’t want? (except for medical emergencies, of course). Because we also had to go to school although we would have liked to stay in bed? Because we also have to go to work and if everybody would just do whatever they wanted society would fall apart? I’m not referring to bad ground manners, these are always unacceptable, I’m more referring to the “my horse just doesn’t canter on a circle, but if I let him he’s going to be spoiled forever” kind of attitude.

The way how I see it, horses don’t do what is asked of them for one of the following three reasons:

  • They don’t understand what they are supposed to do
  • They are afraid
  • What you ask of your horse doesn’t make sense to him or is even painful

In each case, you have been a bad pedagoge and have not prepared your horse well or you yourself didn’t have enough knowledge of biomechanics and how horses actually learn.

Three days ago, the vet came to see how Nazir’s joint is doing. We brought him in indoor arena and I was supposed to trot him on a circle. I just worked with him the way I did before the operations, without any fears that he might do something stupid. There was a big difference though in my attitude. When I pressured him to much (to trot faster, because he was rather lazy that day, suprisingly), he shock his head, at which I immediately backed off. His trot was nice and smooth, no more sign of a limp, maybe just a bit stiffness. I was so relieved! Then, the vet asked me to trot Nazir on a straight line. He wanted to him pick up some speed, so he ran after him, clapping his hands. I just wanted to say “please don’t!” when it was already to late and Nazir stood on his hint legs, then bucked and tried to get lose. All it took to calm him down was a soft “woe”…he immediately stopped and trotted next to me again. I understood then that he was behaving so nicely because I listen to him and respected his opinion and because I asked him to.

When I came to the stable the other day, I could experience just how much trust there is now between me and Nazir. All the horses were running around in their paddocks, there was a big commotion. Something must have happened to set them off. Nazir stood in his little paddock, shaking from nose to tail, he was terribly upset. He wasn’t able to run like the others and couldn’t work off the adrenaline in his body. He snorted and took sharp breaths of air. First, I had this image in my head of how I open the paddock and this fire-snorting dragon storms out. Then, I took a moment to relax my mind, take some deep breaths, and clear away this image. I concentrated on my stomach, dissolved the tension that was there, this uncomfortable little clench. When I was ready, I took Nazir out of his paddock. He was nervous, no doubt, but walked next to me without problems. In his stall, I wrapped him in his favourite thick fleece blanket. Several times, he spooked because of some random sound. I stayed with him, just breathing slowly and imagining how he stops shaking and starts to relax. After a few minutes, he was much calmer, and I left him alone for a bit to eat some hay. Later, we worked on a paddock outside, he was wonderfully calm and pleasant to be with.

Yesterday, Something really interesting happened. When I approached Nazir on this paddock, he came up to the gate and took the lead rope from the place where it’s usually hanging. I really had to laugh. It looked like “please take me out of here”. I brought him to his stable. There, he stood in front of his feeder. He stayed there, just looking at it. He usually never does that. I though, ok, why not, maybe you’re up for a little something. I gave him the huge ripe pear that I had planned to give him later. We played “catch the horse’s nose”, Nazir’s favourite game, then we worked for 15 min. I left the stable with this huge smile on my face.

I’m curious where this will lead us. It might be the first time I’m actually listening to a horse and it looks like he has something to say and lots of ideas. Why not follow them? He’s also following mine. When I got home from the stable yesterday, I told my husband about my new attitude. He said, with a smile: “You could try if it also works works for husbands.” I guess I could 😉

2 Comments on “Letting Go (Stable Zen Part 3)

  1. I really like your stable zen series. It’s so important to not just think of the horse as a body that we need to train but as a living and feeling animal that might have other priorities then ours and that is worth listening to. I have several deals with my project horse. As in: You move fast now and put some effort into it and I will let you rest some time in return. Or in: I see that you have a problem with this corner. I am not pushing you into it but try to go closer next time we pass it. Looking forward to reading from you 🙂

    • Thanks very much!!! I think you’re right, we often see the horse as a ‘big body’ that needs training and forget about his mind. As Bent Branderup says, “Two minds want to do what two bodies can.” I really like to think about my mind when I’m at the stable, so thanks for the feedback!!

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