One day while I was talking to a friend about some funny new thing my horse had come up with, she asked me, very cautiously, how I felt about my relationship with my horse. I told her that I was very happy. My horses love me, I love them and we have a great time trail riding and spending time together. It seemed like an innocent question, but I could tell there was something behind it.
I remember talking about how I had owned my horses since they were born and how happy we all were as a family. Jazz is the oldest, who has been with me since he was a yearling. I bred Jazz and I got my own baby horse, I named Apollo. They have both always been my family, my heart, and my soul! Anyone who knows me can feel the love and the bond we have.
Jazz and I have grown up cutting, team pinning, roping, showing western pleasure and western equitation and I even started him in dressage. My background growing up with horses was in dressage and jumping.
Then came my friends’ next question, “Is there anything that you would change in the relationship with your horses?” “No”, I said. I am very happy and everything is great. She had seen how much love my horses and I shared and how they never wanted to leave my side. But that was the problem she was trying to address.
I loved just hanging out with my horses, watching them, cuddling with them, watching the clouds, listening to the birds, and smelling the roses. I couldn’t get enough. I used to joke with my friend that I never needed to ride again because we had so much fun just hanging out. She used to say, ”Just do what makes you happy”. But she really wanted to say something else. She was very shy and I think she just couldn’t put it into words.
As I said, I was quite happy with the relationship I had with my horses, but a funny thing was happening as I started spending more time just being around them. It could be just grooming for hours or just laying on my horse’s back looking up at the stars at night while he ate. The more time we spent together, the closer we seemed to get and the more my horses just stood right with me.
We were having so much fun just being together that they became too “stuck” on me and now when I asked them to back up or leave my side, they didn’t. Oops! …And that is what my friend saw happening. It was like they were just ‘big dogs’. They followed me around, stayed close, and we did everything together without tack.
However, now that I noticed that they were “too” close all the time, it made me uneasy and I now felt a bit unsafe. So I had to figure out what to do. So I did what I loved doing, and I just sat around and watched my horses interact with each other as a herd. I saw how my horses played with each other and moved each other around as they played. So I decided to do the same thing and it worked. When my horses got too close to me, I would gently ask them to back up or walk away from me and give me some space.
They seemed taken back a bit and I felt bad that I actually had to ask them not to be so close to me. But because they are over a ton and much bigger than me, it was best for my safety to ask them to keep a safe distance every once in a while. And you know, after I did this once, they actually started listening to me even more than before. They also became more responsive and lighter to my aides.
I was watching how my horses reacted together in the herd and how they reacted to me as part of their herd. I was noticing their body language and how they communicated with each other and how they were communicating with me. I was learning how to talk to my horses in their own language.
I couldn’t believe it. I can’t express the exact words of how magical and amazing my world became with my “boys”. And this was just from spending quality time with them and having a two-way conversation with them. I gave them a voice and listened to them and in turn, they listened to me and accepted me as a part of their herd.
My horses have gone from looking at me as their best friend and ‘feed dispenser’ to counting me as part of their herd. By taking the time to watch, listen, and learn from my horses, I was able to ask them to work with me as partners. From there my horses could then choose what they wanted to do. Because our bond was strong and horses have a natural desire to be a part of a herd, it all went swimmingly and they trusted me.
I find it very interesting and if I had to tell someone which one thing made the biggest difference in my relationship with my horses, I would have to say it was just doing nothing together and ‘being’ with them. By doing just this one thing, it changed how my horses looked at me and it opened the door to our growth as a true herd family.
So many times I hear and see people afraid to move their horse away from them because they are afraid that they will hurt their feelings. I understand as I was someone who didn’t want to hurt my horses’ feelings either out of my love and nurturing for them. But I also had to think of my safety. It turns out that having that two-way conversation and working as a team doing the little things, like asking for a bit more space, translated into working as a team on the big stuff too.
I am not ashamed to say it hurt my feelings at first, as I didn’t want him to stop being a “lap horse”. But I knew it wasn’t safe to have him that close and pushy. After I asked Jazz to give me a bit more space, and really meant it, he did seem surprised. Originally I thought it was because his feelings were hurt, but that’s because I was projecting my human emotions into his actions. However, Jazz completely understood what I was doing. This was an amazing realization and a wonderful feeling.
By communicating together like this, we were becoming a bonded herd. As a member of the herd, I had to protect my herd, make sure they were good to each other, make sure there was peace in the herd, and continually keep them well taken care of. This is a blessing! I look forward to keeping my herd happy and social.
We are still growing and learning together and the magic will just keep getting better and better. It’s like a rose; we started with just a bud, started to watch and learn as the rose opened, and now our relationship is growing and blooming beautifully.