Last week a new animal joined our menagerie of fuzzie-family on the farm: a horse. I was as surprised as you to hear about it as it all happened very fast. In any case: here Silky arrived and my what a power house she is! A wise and beautifully proud thoroughbred, she got the gist of me quickly and is very kind to me. She absolutely adores my husband.
If you have never been around horses: they are literally a different breed. For starters they are herd animals and very very observant of humans. Uncanningly so. To say that I would be in future teaching the horse anything is a misguided statement: I will do no such thing. The horse teaches the horse, and the horse teaches me. "Soft handling makes for soft horses". (It doesn't mean I can go and act like a pussy, it means I have to lead by example. How I treat her is how she will treat me.)
How can you follow and trust another being if you don't "get" what they're like? There's nothing like getting focused and clearer about yourself then working with animals and in my case, with a horse. They will tell you. They will mirror your gnawing doubts or your silly behaviour and especially your ignorance. They will take charge when you don't simply because they test you and when you doubt yourself they will know and run with their fancies. They can be cheeky buggers when given the opportunity. It really depends on how steadfast you are to what degree the horse trusts you and will follow you.
Rest assured I will not go into girly fluffy Odes to the Horses, that was not my intention. I'm fascinated by the horse, that she after 16 years is still happy and full of energy despite being taken off a meat truck and having been moved from place to place as a rescue horse. Thoroughbreds are race horses and that's generally what they do. Silky has numbers tattooed on her but I haven't delved into her history as yet. I wish to get to know her as she is now, her past is not relevant as such.
Did you know that horses mostly learn by release of pressure? They don't learn from pain, that's when they just shut it out and ignore it. They respond mostly to subtle changes and naturally respond big time to big changes in their environment. I find this fascinating. It means when interacting with them, that it's vital to "think like a horse" which goes through anticipating, sensing and behaving like a herd animal, and to be more precise: a prey animal, as we humans are the incessant predator types. So I have to be aware of how my behaviour affects the horse and how she will feel about it. All the time. It's quite different then say cattle, horses are more articulate in their responding to us.
I'm deliberately taking my time with Silky. She is still getting used to our place, the noises (doesn't seem to fond of tractors) and gets a bit possesive if Rosie the jersey cow gets more attention then she does. Also what's interesting is who is the "top-mare" (me in this case) and how we stand in each others personal space.
Animals are very much like humans. They have desires, they want to have a clean warm bed, good food and assurance there will be love and cuddles in a place of safety. To me it's important we develop our trust rapport and that she gets used to us doing things together like walking, grooming, foot work, putting things on her back, before I even put a saddle near her. I also have bought a saddle measure device to make sure a saddle is right for her and that back problems won't be an issue. Horse problems often get blamed on the horse whereas they can be as simple of using the wrong gear that hurts them, or having been let down the bad habits path by people who didn't realize what they were teaching.
Partnership, not so much leadership, requires patience and understanding. It also I find is a matter of mostly self responsibility. As a Danish horse whisperer puts it: the horse will want to follow you if you not only do things right but "be" right. It's a co-creation dance. Be aware, and appreciative, and many things will naturally develop, and all will flow from there. So I've started from the assumption and resolve that I feel right within myself, and trust myself, so that she can trust me and that way we can rely on each other in this parnership. Mainly we want to have tons of fun! I know she wants to trot and run too, but all in good time. In building friendship with a horse, going slow makes sure things go smoothly and ultimately: better.