The Art of Communication
by Jenny Rolf
I have been reading about the philosophies of a Chief Bedouin of the Arabian Desert and a Native American Indian Chief. They shared a vision of the universe bringing together the same mental, spiritual and physical rhythms of the universe. These concepts sought an incredible co-operation and understanding between human and animal. They believed in the ‘Big Holy’ who breathed life into all beings, making all things of one essence and speaking wisdom through all things.
Animals can offer the listening human so much wisdom, reassurance and guidance in rhythm with the universe. So when we begin to think of training our horses what are we trying to achieve? Is it to offer a listening ear and a guiding hand?
The most important dimension between man and horse is to develop a strong bond of friendship and trust which we can begin to nurture from the earliest days, before ever the horse is ridden under saddle.
My journey with Gran Hostil seeks to bring together these philosophies by learning to listen and trying to understand his nature and character within his training.
Gran Hostil has been with us for around three weeks and slowly, each day we have tried to build a relationship where he feels more secure.
Today whilst he was in the school I watched him jumping. It was just for fun, as I did not ask him to jump, he took a look at the fence and popped over!
This was for the best of reasons- because he wanted to!
He had been working attentively, with me, over some trotting poles so I decided to put up a small cross bar jump, to see how he responded. Well, his curiosity got the better of him and he decided to follow me whilst I collected the poles and walked across the school to put up the jump. I had not realised how close he was to me. He does like to follow me all over the school to offer his ‘unwanted’ assistance in putting up the poles!
I always try to keep one eye on Gran Hostil to keep a sensible and safe space between us, but I had been too focused on putting up the poles. Well, I took one step away from the jump with Hostil standing just a stride behind me. Immediately he took one look at the jump and with no further thought, he just popped over. His performance didn’t stop there as he then cantered on for a few strides and spontaneously turned around to retrace his hoof prints and jump back over the fence on the other rein!
He was expressing his extrovert personality and telling us that he really enjoys exploring. He has a great sense of fun, I would say, he is a comedian in the making!
These small signs of his growing self- esteem told me that the time felt right, to put him out in the field. His personality was shining through which was a sign for me that he was really feeling more 'at home.' He had not been turned out in a field on his own before and I was concerned that if turned out too soon, he might not settle- and possibly even harm himself.
Thankfully, my instinct proved right and he galloped around the field, looking around, full of fun- NOT FEAR. Then I walked in the field with him and pretended to stoop and eat grass- much to everyone's amusement! He was very tuned in to me and still looking to me for security and began to relax and eat the grass.
It was so good to see him enjoying a more natural lifestyle as over the past few weeks, we have learnt much together at liberty and during this time he has met and been accepted by the other stallions. We enjoy a great energy in the school as normally all the stallions seem content and the aura created feels like a good place to just 'BE'.
The concept of the Native American and the Bedouin of mediation with the ‘Holy One’ and being at one with the universe, really struck a chord with me. This is at the heart of my philosophy when I am with horses and when students come here, I really want them to feel the spiritual power of this energy created when human and horse can connect, with a blending of spirits.
WISDOMS OF HERD LANGUAGE
Training a young horse begins with listening and giving calm yet clear instruction. When I watch the structure within a herd this is the essence of their language. If we take time to build trust and understanding, our connection will be more subtle, both mind to mind and heart to heart.
The responsibility of leadership is in our hands which creates an increased self-awareness of our actions and feelings. In our efforts to show leadership, we need to demonstrate self-control in our actions. This will in time create respect from the horse and he can gain confidence in his own identity. We will be attempting to re-create the situation of the herd, where the horse accepts that we are the more dominant member.
The horse is a group animal and he needs to find the place where he fits into the hierarchy of the herd structure. We need to establish herd dominance not by bullying or demonstrating abusive behaviour but through confident and repetitive reinforcement. We will become more confident in our communications as we gain more knowledge of the horse and his nature.
From their earliest days, the foals form relationships within the group and behaviour patterns begin to evolve. Skills learnt in play become the basis for their responses and interaction as more mature members of the herd.
Horses quickly perceive tension, whether from their own species or humans. It only takes one herd member to stand alert looking at some new object on the horizon, for the whole group to stop grazing and become alert to potential danger. If the herd leader is peacefully grazing and relaxed, then the other horses may also feel this safety and calm. This is a concept that is fundamental to our training.
Another observation of herd language, is an awareness of distance between them, as every herd member has their own personal space where other members may only intrude if permitted.
The art of training is to bring together observations of herd behaviour to assist our relationship and progress.
ROUTINE and REACTIONS.
Gran Hostil appears more secure as each day goes by, with his routine of feeding, grazing and time at liberty in the school. He is learning from the liberty work with me, the importance of our ‘herd’ space as I always maintain, a safe distance between us.
Maintaining a routine can have its drawbacks as yesterday when we led Hostil into the school he was over excited from the word ‘go!’ even when he was standing in the stable. I normally ride my stallion Habil then straight afterwards, we take Hostil into the school for liberty work.
This has led to great anticipation from Hostil which has not really helped the calm attitude we are trying to achieve.
It is my job as a trainer, to look ahead and read each horse. Sometimes I may need to adapt his pattern of thoughts, if he displays unwanted behaviour. My methods try to avoid confrontation whenever possible. We can never match the physical strength of the horse and this is where our intuition, intelligence and forward planning can help us.
Today, I decided to change the routine so I put on his head collar then instead of leading him into the school, I walked out and left him in the stable. I went back a couple of times taking off the head collar then replacing it. At first I had to be very assertive- he had to know the score!
Thankfully our relationship is growing and he does feel secure with me and seems to want to please!
We chose a moment when Hostil was calm and then led him into the school- with a small carrot in his mouth- he was rather busy chewing and walked calmly into the school where we took off the rope and instead of trying to gallop off at speed he stood calmly, maybe waiting for another carrot?
Anyway this idea had changed his outlook from high energy excitement to a much calmer, more manageable outlook.
A week later he was leading more calmly into the field and the school with no carrots as an incentive. I think these changes helped to alter his thought patterns and create more trust and calmness between us.
THREE WEEKS IN UK.
Gran Hostil has been here for over three weeks now. Each day we have tried to build a relationship where he feels more secure.
Yesterday, I took Hostil into the school first but Habil was not happy as he likes to be the first to work. It takes much thought to ensure all the stallions are understood- as it can be potentially dangerous if jealousy or aggression creeps into the atmosphere.
We have experienced very few problems with the stallions since Hostil's arrival but Habil is very sensitive and when I was riding, the usual feel of ‘riding silk’ felt rather more turbulent and more like a stormy day on the bay of Biscay.
Hostil is becoming quite laid back in the school and I think if I walked out, he would try to collect up the poles and set up his own track- he really does enjoy this work.
I often groom Hostil whilst he is untied and eating but today I tied him up and popped a numnah and roller on his back- he had been handled so well in Portugal so this was not a problem- just a curiosity for him.
I noticed in the stable how he would sometimes block and not move away so easily with his left shoulder- and then he would bring his head into my space! I had not noticed this body language at liberty, so I spent a little time asking him to move his shoulder away. This more dominant body language could become quite an assertive stance towards me later.
Most days, when we go into the stable Hostil is much less nippy and more calm- the nippiness and mouthing gestures become more obvious when he is excited or agitated- we are learning his responses and his ways, whilst he is tuning into ours as well.
BUILDING BREATH-HEART ENERGY AWARENESS
I have learnt that herd language is about rhythms of breathing which communicate changes in emotional and energy awareness. This is at the heart of our connection here with the horses.
Our inbuilt awareness of mood and emotions is proving valuable as we get to know Gran Hostil. He senses everything and we are trying to establish our friendship, trust and leadership to help him gain security – as we are now part of his herd and his family.
Developing our own emotional intelligence involves HUGE self awareness – and discipline becoming aware of our mood and emotions and how we express our feelings.
Without the guiding influence of the heart, we can easily fall prey to reactive emotions such as insecurity, fear, anger and blame as well as any other energy draining reactions and behaviours.
These responses can change our energy field and the horse will quickly tune in to these signals, before we are aware of it.
The horse will immediately tune into our emotions and heart rhythm and if it is steady he will feel more calm. If we allow our emotions to create chaos in our heart rhythm, the horse will demonstrate anxiety and fear. His leader is giving him messages to fuel his natural fear and flight instinct!
When the rider builds more self awareness mentally, physically and emotionally, these symptoms of heart chaos, giving messages of fear and flight, can be altered.
We are capable of altering our emotional signals, from chaos to calmness –and this will help the rider to become the respected herd leader for the horse
An interesting and rewarding day today! Firstly we walked in to put on his head collar and he was rather up-tight with anticipation, so to avoid confrontation- I just stood there with my hand on his wither. He decided there was nothing much going on, to interest him so he began to eat hay. I quietly slid the head collar over his ears- with no problem. The liberty work in the school, is so great and nothing is changing much at the moment- just more repetition. Having said that, Maestu, my bay stallion was in the field and decided to come up to the gate, next to the school to create a stir!
Not surprisingly, Hostil became more interested to connect with him than me. So I herded him left then after a few strides, I herded him assertively, to the right. I repeated this a few times to exert my status as leader. I was pleased as he began to walk and trot directly past Maestu, remaining totally connected with me.
Gran Hostil is developing as a listening stallion, rather impatient at times but his essence is wise and sweet and both curious and kind.
His story continues.
Jenny Rolfe gives clinics with her Iberian stallions teaching the power of breath-energy connection within Classical Training.www.naturallyclassical.com.