Loving with free will

I was reading Carolyn Resnick’s book, Naked Liberty and found this passage which I thought was interesting:

“Although he permitted me to ride him, it was many months before Mustang grew to like me. But once he liked me, I could depend on his support and friendship more than if he were human. Over time, his love for me grew to such an extent that even though the free-range land where he grew up was just  few days travel from our ranch, he chose to stay when we finally let him run free.”

To me, this epitomizes the type of relationship to have with a horse. This was her experience as a youngster with her own horse.

When I was a child there were horses near our house. I would go and sit on the fence with the horse nearest the outside fence, watch the horses and bring carrots. After I’d been sitting there for maybe a month (hard to tell how long it was – I was a child), the horse nearest me would come over to the fence after awhile, sidle up to the fence and invite me to get on. I slipped on his back, no bridle or saddle, and just rode around on him. I had no idea who this horse was, not even his name. When it was time to get off, he came over to the fence again and I dismounted. We did this for a long time, until one day he was no longer at the farm.

During this time I was taking riding lessons, but nothing in my riding life compared to this relationship with this nameless horse. With riding lessons, everything was mechanical, there was no discussion of having a friendship with a horse, or that a horse might even want to spend time with you. You learned to groom, put the saddle and bridle on, and get on. There were endless instructions on how to sit, place your feet, your posture, legs, seat, how to cue, where your eyes should be looking. Nothing to do with how you and your horse might feel about each other.

As an adult I owned my first horse, and got involved in endurance riding. Part of my interest in this sport was that I would get to spend a lot of time with my horse, camping, and riding for hours and hours, in beautiful country. Fortunately, my horse enjoyed doing that too. But probably there was a long period of time in which she didn’t really know or like me. I didn’t know much about horses at that time and our relationship was based upon what we could do together – riding. My next horse really loved to run, he loved long rides but it was evident that he loved them whether I was on his back or not. When I first had him, he shied and dumped me and galloped back to the ranch. Our relationship formed over many miles together and many shared experiences, in camp as well as out on the trail. I called him my “get on and ride” horse. Sitting in camp, sharing territory, is a great place to just be with a horse. At the time I didn’t realize how important that piece was. I just loved the experience, sitting eating my gritty dinner and watching my horse eat his hay, listening to him eat.

With each horse, a new piece of the puzzle was put in place, but there were still mysteries to me. Basic training of horses left out relationship stuff – I saw great trainers who had this special gift with horses, but I didn’t know how they got it. I was certain it wasn’t through mechanical steps – do this, then do that, then this – which many taught. Ray Hunt once said, that when given instruction by his teacher, Tom Dorrance, he went home and did what he said, not what he meant. What he meant turned out to be much deeper. Ray learned that early on. You could feel the connection between him and any horse he was with. He would say you just have to think it and the horse will do it. He would ask the horse what he wanted to do, set up the situation for him and let him find it himself.

People tend to like lists of things to do  – it makes them feel secure and that they will reach their goal. Lists have limited meaning, but they can also be an entry point. Some trainers are fond of lists, and dos and don’ts. If I don’t understand why I am doing a particular exercise, how can I offer it to a horse with any credibility? Horses are all about feel and there is no feel to a list, so the real training begins when you get beyond the list.

My mare Zuzka was to train me in the ways of feel and relationship, big time.  She was way beyond me in terms of understanding anything. She had lived in a herd without much human contact and I was her first permanent person. I had intended to do a lot of endurance riding with her, but my life intervened and we ended up doing some but mostly a lot of trail riding. She particularly loved challenging trails where she could climb like a mountain goat. Her sense of purpose was incredible, her focus right on with everything she was asked to do.

When I discovered Carolyn Resnick I felt like I had come home. It was the door to the relationship building that I had been looking for all those years. I had seen relationships built and experienced glimpses of it with my own horses, but I didn’t understand how to make it happen. Through Ortho-Bionomy I knew how to manage my energy, track energy in others, form relationship. Like with people, I developed a way of coming into a horse’s space in a non-threatening way, to be able to touch them and help them, to read them in some ways.

I have to thank Carolyn for all she has done for horses and people who love them. When I came to her “Beyond the Waterhole Rituals” clinic in Escondido I knew I was in the right place. Walking beside her, walking beside a horse, was the most extraordinary experience, as it became clear how powerful and important that energy is, how to find true leadership. If people would take the time to find that out instead of being so impatient to get on, perform, etc. they will find a joy greater than anything experienced so far. Then the riding, the obstacle course, whatever they want to do with their horses, will become much more fun, because they will have gained a willing partner in the dance.

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4 thoughts on “Loving with free will

  1. What a beautiful blog! I agree that what we’ve learned in our study with Carolyn Resnick is life-changing for horses and humans alike.

  2. Wonderful story Susan. As children we love all animals innocently and come from a very honest place in our desire for connection. I wasn’t exposed to horses as a kid but I had a mouse at 5 years old, my first pet. I loved that mouse so much, I took him everywhere with me and I let him run free all over our house and he never escaped. He lived for 5 years, he went gray and then bald. It’s unusual for mice to live that long but I think this guy, his name was Midge, was happy with our relationship and wanted to stick around. Anyway, what I mean to say here is that we start out with this authentic desire to connect, to be in relationship, and we come from this honest place and for many of us in later life we come back to it again. It’s the same desire, it has the same integrity don’t you think?

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