Taking matters into her own hooves!

I really like this expression and it fits so many experiences I’ve had with horses, where they see their human not taking appropriate charge and so they feel they must take charge!


It really means we can’t just sit there as a passenger in the saddle or even in groundwork, where the horse can push us around. Some horses do this more than others. It will also depend upon what kind of handler they have as a very powerful, high strung horse will probably not be well matched with a very passive owner….although that horse needs someone very calm and non-reactive.

There is a balance here, and usually this type of horse can run all over you if you are not careful. They can be more complicated, although even mild-mannered horses will look for opportunities when their handlers are busy, talking on the phone, or chatting with someone.  Just the slightest thing – a foot forward when you have asked them to stand still, can mean “I’m taking over,” to a horse.

Maintaining law and order
Maintaining law and order

But I want to know why the horse wants to do this. Many people will say, “Well, no one ever asked her to do anything before, so now look at the problem  you have.” This isn’t exactly the whole truth of the matter. The horse feels that it’s necessary for her to be in charge for some reason that we may not know. There is something about the energy of the person handling them that she is unsure of, or there is somewhere she really wants to go, or she really has to assert her power every chance she gets. It may be so deeply engrained it isn’t a matter of who is in charge here so much as she feels she is always supposed to be in charge, no matter what!

I want to get the focus off that and find places where there is no resistance. Where I can gain her interest and then engage in an activity that gives her a choice, recognizes her leadership but also has her recognize my leadership. Horses that are leaders can make way for others to be leaders too, they just need to know what the rules are. In a herd, one horse is not always the leader; they recognize the resources of each horse and so that position can shift as needed. The best way to have a horse recognize your resources as a leader is to develop rules around natural herd leadership principles, which horses will understand right away rather than something devised by people that only people understand.

A horse may want to take charge as a matter of survival. If she was in a herd, and somebody didn’t do something they were supposed or was unable to, she would step in. If you look at it, resourceful people do the same thing!

I found some old photos the other day from a Ray Hunt clinic I rode in in 2001 in Colorado Springs. I remember Ray sitting on his mare, and him saying that if he wasn’t paying attention, she was going to take charge. Ray_Hunt_02She would eat grass or something. So he kept talking and she lowered her head to eat grass. He said something like, “she says no one’s home, so I’m taking charge.” He lightly touched the rein and she cocked an ear towards him and lifted her head. That was all it took. All Ray had to do was think something and the horse would do it. There was no resistance.

Ray_Hunt_2001I am reminded of that example so many times on a daily basis. Of course, getting that horse to that place took a lot of time, repetition and patience.

The fact that my mare Jazzie has glommed herself onto me doesn’t mean that she always listens to me or that I will allow her to walk all over me. She is so sensitive to cues that I am actually grateful for, because I know this horse will be really clear about what she needs and I must come up to the plate and be clear about what I need. One thing that Ray said that sticks with me (among all the other things he said) was “the horse is always right.” As long as I keep that in mind, it pushes my attention back to myself and what I’m doing, makes me pay attention and remain in the present moment.

A lot of our modern day training methods come from Ray and his mentor, Tom Dorrance, and their way with horses. Their ability to read horses was uncanny. That mysterious ability has been explored from many different perspectives by present day clinicians such as Carolyn Resnick, Klaus Hempfling, Linda Kohanov, and Alexander Nezhorov, to name a few.

Each generation builds upon the last, adding to and enhancing and deepening the work of the forefounders. How far we have come from Xenophon, whose sense of horsemanship was true, and geared toward preparing horses for the job they would have to do in that time: battle. His advice on conformation and walking horses on cobbled ground is good to this day.

With liberty training, I strive for that connection, that “unseen relationship” which was embodied in Ray and other clinicians, that is not there at first meeting with the horse, but is felt through the work, the daily interaction, setting of boundaries, clarified through feel, timing and balance. What we want to see in a clinic and daily life is the horse (and us!) getting better – at relating, engaging, listening, making eye contact – all the things we need to ask for to have safe and joyful interaction.

Services: Bodywork (Ortho-Bionomy for people, Equine Positional Release/Equine Ortho-Bionomy): private sessions,  tutorials, phone consultations, distance healing and gift certificates

Liberty Training: clinics, mini-clinics, workshops, private and semi-private sessions, tutorials, consultations: by appointment:  505.501.2478 or emailing susansmith@orthohorse.info

Looking forward to fall Liberty Training mini-clinics – work for two-three hours with two-three people and horses. Tell a friend and get to experience liberty work together! Contact me to find out about these dates.

Liberty Foundations Waterhole Rituals Equine Clinic at Spirit Horse Ranch near Oklahoma City, co-teaching: Ruella Yates, Certified Carolyn Resnick Trainer and Susan Smith, Suggested CR Trainer. Liberty Horse Training. September 28-29, 2013. Contact Ruella Yates at ruella@libertyfoundations.com, or 405-771-4274. Susan will be giving a three-hour tutorial on her OrthoHorse bodywork for a limited number of students on September 27th. Call 505-501-2478 or email susansmith@orthohorse.info for details.Ruella_Susan_flyer


One thought on “Taking matters into her own hooves!

  1. Very interesting post, Susan! I love getting to know your new mare better, and especially appreciated your Ray Hunt stories. Thank you!

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