I have just gotten back from a well deserved much needed vacation if you were wondering why you hadn’t heard from me in a bit. This week’s blog was written by Maria who we have heard from before from her previous blog series telling the story of her and her mare Brio’s Journey. (Click here to read). As I tell people, I am not a horse whisperer but a Horse Listener™, Maria wanted to share more of her experiences with Horse Listening so please enjoy the following written by her.
“A horse is a horse, of course of course, and no one can talk to a horse of course, that is, of course, unless the horse, is the famous Mister Ed. Mister Ed’s creator could never have foreseen the future popularity of talking to horses. Websites and Youtube videos abound with titles like “How to Speak Horse” and “How to Talk to Your Horse.” Somewhat overshadowed if not overlooked in all this is the fact that within the context of a relationship, talking implies conversation, and “The art of conversation lies in listening.” Many of us are – or at least strive to be — good listeners in our conversations with other humans, but how well do we listen to our horses? Go right to the source and ask the horse, He’ll give you the answer that you endorse, He’s always on a steady course…Even Mister Ed’s creator acknowledged the importance of listening! Horse whispering does not qualify because it is not listening, it is talking. It is not silencing our voices, minds and bodies to hear what our horses say.
Without listening, there can be no dialogue, and without dialogue there can be no partnership. We all desire that mythical, mystical horse-human melding with our partner attainable only through listening, but sometimes our difficulty in muting our idea or intent prevents us from hearing our horse.
One of my first experiences with listening to Briomf occurred while tacking her up one afternoon when every effort to place the saddle on her back was met with a motion to bite and/or kick. Serendipitously, Farah was present. Unlike a more traditional trainer who might have instructed me to ignore Briomf’s protests in the interests of establishing dominance and/or meeting a time deadline for our lesson, she counseled me to literally suspend the action in mid-air — – to hold the saddle over her back — at the first hint of a “No.” After three or four aborted efforts during which I heard and patiently respected Briomf’s need for more time to get on board with my plan to tack up, I was able to place the saddle.
Another example of patiently pausing my own agenda in order to listen to Briomf occurred this past spring. I have not a minute to spare during morning chores, and Briomf’s reticence to exit her stall for her blanket change had long been a source of frustration. One morning, instead of purposefully marching in armed with lead line and dressage whip as was my habit, I slowly entered her stall and stood still. I told her it was time to come out, asked why she did not want to, and waited for an answer. Her reply was to circle two or three times in the corner to make a final poop, followed by a sip of water. Briomf’s facial expression conveyed gratitude for my hearing her need for more time to complete her morning ritual.
Pausing our agenda to listen can be challenging if we believe that muting our request weakens our position as leader and threatens to undermine training. Inversely, listening enhances leadership and training. Two and four-leggeds are more willing to listen in return and cooperate if their voice is respectfully heard.
Last December, Briomf adamantly refused to enter the barn at bring-in. A snow storm was approaching, and I was eager to finish chores. The more intensely I worked to move her toward the barn, the more defiantly she alternately planted all fours and backed up. Faced with Briomf’s regression to behavior I had worked hard to extinguish in our liberty and line sessions, I struggled to surrender the idea that pausing my agenda would nullify past progress. Once I was able to silence my body, mind and voice, I could listen to Briomf. I saw that she kept turning to look anxiously at the far right corner of the back field. I then remembered that she had befriended a fox who usually entered the field from that corner. Suddenly, Briomf’s concern for the fox’s well-being during the pending storm was audible. I then visualized the fox cradled deep in a lair blanketed by leaves and branches, and reassured Briomf that she would be comfortable and safe. Grateful for my having listened to her anxiety about abandoning her friend in a storm, she in turn listened to my initial request and willingly accompanied me into the barn.
Perhaps the greatest gift is your horse listening to you when you are not engaging him or her in conversation, but are nonetheless in need of an ear and a heart. Last October, I was lost in thought as I was picking out Briomf’s stall before feeding her breakfast. The previous day, I had laid to rest the mare that had been the center of my life for twenty nine years, and this was the much-dreaded first morning in the barn without my touchstone. Standing with my back to Briomf, I felt her walk up behind me, reach slowly over my left shoulder, and carefully place her muzzle on my face where a tear was mapping grief down my cheek.”
Coming up next weekend is the Connection building Liberty foundation clinic at Ohana farm. There are Auditing spots available for this event but the class is full. You can register to audit here or pay the day of the clinic Click here to register Register