19October2017

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Ask the Horse and He’ll Tell You

Ask the Horse and He’ll Tell You

The basic relationship between horse and human isn’t complicated. It’s very simple, very natural.
The horse is a prey animal with the instinct and hooves to prove it. He can flee or he can try to kill you with his hooves if his freedom is denied. “I know you intend to eat me, but you won’t if I can help it,” his actions proclaim. That sums up the term “natural” from the horse’s point of view. If he didn’t think like this, he’d be extinct.
We humans are the predators with life instincts and tools to prove it. We shoot the pistol, throw the lariat, apply the whip, yank on the bit, dig in the spurs, and, most important, we kill animals so that we can eat their meat.
In a confrontation with the horse, the human’s inner voice of self-preservation cries out. “You are strong and powerful, but I can defeat you and kill you. I must because I am half-starved and will die if I don’t,” the horse dominator commands.
In most cases, only the horse can hear this, since most of us discount our own inner voice and many folks are altogether disconnected from it.
Over the ages the focus of hunger has changed. The “civilized” human’s need to satiate hunger has evolved from a hunger for food to a hunger for power and control. Still, each species, in its own way, tries to survive.

What Really Happens?

During our involvement with horses we usually say, do, and expect too much. We are doing this for our own beleaguered benefit. It must be because when the horse doesn’t understand what we expect from him, we are working against him.
It is not that the horse can’t understand. The horse has a far greater capacity for understanding than many people and more capacity than he is credited. The centuries-old breakdown in human-horse communication results from the human’s inadequate presentation of what he/she wants from the horse.
For the most part, “getting by” with the horse is just fine. Unaware of how deeply folks fear their own horse, people can sneak around their horse for years and years until “something” happens. The horse knows what happened. But the humans don’t and suddenly they realize for the first time that they are afraid of their own horse.
This “getting by” approach actually dovetails perfectly with the make him do it, do it right and do it now approach. This “get him to submit” approach is the choice of many people because it works right up until it doesn’t work and everything falls apart. In that respect it is like the “getting by” approach.
Many horse-human relationships never get beyond a sort of “socially accepted brutality” because this is seen as a vast improvement over the “bludgeon him into submission” arrangement that has gone on for centuries. When the agenda is unclear, the horse’s perception of what is intended (to devour him) is present to ensure his survival.

Who Can Help You?

8099b13a54Jessica has a light feel on her pony’s mouth. Notice how little effort is required to get him to turn loose at the poll and drop his chin. He already had lateral flexibility and willingness on both sides before she asked him for a soft feel with two reins straight back.
Who really understands feel? Who can demonstrate and teach feel? All right, the top clinicians all understand and teach the concept.

This is little consolation when you only get to ride with these masters or see them a couple of days a year. Even then--especially if you’re a capable hand that’s ridden horses for a living-- do you really fancy yourself waiting all year to go public at a clinic with, “Excuse me, Mr. Living Legend, my, name is Helen Horsemanship, nice to meet you. Say, could you show me what feel is?” You’d sooner see a gopher golf.
When Mr. Living Legend asked you to “pick up on the reins and feel your horse’s mouth” and you didn’t savvy what it was you’re supposed to feel, wasn’t it a relief to hear the guy next to you mutter. “What the heck is he talking about? Feel? Did he say feel? For crying out loud, feel what?”
Ray alludes to the critical importance of building feel into your horsemanship when he says, “What you need to know first will be the last thing you learn.” He may not have been referring to feel when he said that, but feel is the first thing that came to my mind. I started to figure it out.
Then everything I did with horses took on a new and unusual dimension. All the old routines; the everyday to-and-from the pasture, lessons, saddling up, trailering provided me with a fresh look at old landscapes.
Suddenly I had a corral filled with new horses. I was convinced that I did until a friend remarked that I was the one transformed. Feel is exploring the opportunity to go deeper below the surface into the relationship with your horse and you. It’s getting closer to the horse’s true spirit and language.
Don’t get me wrong. Even when you get some of this feel, you will still have frustrations, hard days and lousy days, and make big mistakes. All that still happens to me. It’s just that the horse-human relationship is much easier now and problems get worked out with a lot less trouble. There are not as many reasons to sweat and swear.
And there is, almost, no more dust.