Getting my horse Moose has been the ride of a lifetime, quite literally. One day I’ll tell that story, but for this post what’s important to know is that he’s 6 in July and was started in October last year. He’s had a total of about 3.5 months with a trainer and has been home now about 2 months with me working and riding him.
Now, not all training happens in an arena. You can still do technical things in wider open spaces. I enjoy both. I think arena work gives you structure and form, and riding in trails and paddocks puts that, plus your connection to the test.
When I talk about connection I talk about Warwick Schiller. I started down the rabbit hole of relationship and connection work with horses when Moose was at his trainer and I realised there was similarities with what Warwick said and Moose’s trainer did. And ever since then, I’ve been hooked. So developing a connection with Moose, who by all standards is considered ‘green’ has been really important in my working with him.
We’ve been developing our bond continuously for some time, but it’s a long process. Sometimes it’s challenging. Sometimes you have a shit day, or your horse reaches a threshold he just cannot pull himself down from. One of the teachings in Warwick’s principles is, ‘work with the horse you have today’. And I practise this religiously. I spend enough time with him outside and throughout the day that I can see how he’s going, and if he’s having a day I leave it.
There is no rush in horse training. My weightlifting coach used to say, ‘slow is smooth, smooth is fast’, and I think that links perfectly to horse training. The more you rush it, the more you skip fundamental steps in their development. So going slow and processing things is really important. Speed will come later, when confidence is developed and trust is linked.
So the other day, when me and the lad had the biggest fight over hay – I mean what else do humans and horses fight about – I established my role as alpha in our herd. Like dogs and dog packs, horses are herd animals and there is a hierarchy. The lead mare rules all.
I was in a heck of a mood, stressed out with my husbands recovery from surgery and having to do all the chores and work full time was wearing me thin. I was so mad because I have felt nothing but pressure the entire week, trying to keep everything going, pleasing everyone. My work, my house, looking after my husband. To me, he and his recovery is most important, not work, yet I felt obligated to still be at my best and highest level despite my brain being elsewhere.
I’ve been doing a lot of Warwick Schiller’s teachings and methodology and he often talks about lifting your energy. I’d been busting my ass clearing a grassy paddock for Moose to make it safe and weed free and he decided he wanted to go straight for the bale of hay. Well, when I saw him make his way to that bale I just saw red. No. No. Not after a I’ve spent an entire day cleaning a whole paddock for you, erecting picket fencing, putting electrical tape up, cutting down bushy shrubs and trees that were in the way….no. I could hardly walk anymore by that point of the day and I was absolutely done for.
I marched right up to my horse with rage and anger seething. It’s said that horses can feel your heart beat within 4 metres or something. So he knew I was coming and he knew I was in a mood. The thing is, I’ve always been so conscious of this and as someone who can go from zero to raging in a split second, I’ve been very mindful of my own feelings and energy for a while now. If you have bad energy, your horse will feel it and know it. And this is when accidents happen. I don’t prescribe at all, to the notion that a horse must be obedient only and not have a voice. In his training and in what I’ve been doing with him based on Warwick’s principles, Moose is always given a voice. I am the leader, but he gets to say no. And I have to show respect and listen to that no, within reason.
I don’t know how else to explain it but my energy felt like it was outside of me, like an aura almost. I felt tall, and as if my shoulders had physically broadened. I have never previously experienced something like this, but in the moment I knew it was pure energy. I got between him and the hay and he backed off, first lifting his eyes shyly. He tried again, and I stepped into him. He stepped back and was looking at me the whole time. No words, no clicking or sounds. Just my energy. Then he tried once more and I got in his face and he turned away.
So of course he tried it a couple more times after that. He’d eat grass around where the hay was and slowly walk towards it and I’d wait right when he’d be thinking, ‘aha, now I’ll grab some’ and I came into his space again. Now, I had been waiting for the neighbour to come home from work to bring his tractor over just to lift the bale into the paddock/arena area as he stays in there overnight, so him going for the hay was just not on. He would’ve ripped it to shreds, leaving me with hay spread all over the place. And also, I didn’t say he could. At the end of it all, I was busting my ass making him a paddock, and did not give him that hay, yet.
After that battle he was all out of sorts, so I had to lock him up because the neighbour came to help me move the bale. Moose turned his back to me, which many will say is a sign of disrespect. I don’t believe horses understand respect the way we humans do, but I do think he acted how he felt. Because I was so genuinely busy I paid him no mind, and when he noticed I was ignoring him, he came whinnying to the gate for attention. Since then, he’s been such a different horse. He’s been super affectionate, nuzzling my hand and licking my palm, putting his head over my shoulder and nuzzling. I point and he goes in the direction I want him to. It just feels weird, it’s like our connection went up a notch.
I posted this in my Warwick Schiller group and to my new friend who is actually his Aunty (and has her own blog over at A Lil’ Bit Hippie) and it was a resounding YES that I had reached a new level of connection with my horse. I was alpha. I was the lead mare.
One of the many things I learnt from Warwick’s teachings is this – you are the best person to train and teach your horse. It doesn’t matter how much experience you do or don’t have. If you have knowledge, and the will to learn and put in the effort, then you can still do connection and develop a relationship with your horse and in fact, I think this is the best way to go about it. I get that inexperienced people can end up in dangerous situations with horses, but I also get that not all of us are 15 year old girls in fancy jodhpurs with horses that cost more than a car. At some point we have to be trusted that we can make the best decisions for ourselves and our horse. And given the confidence to try.
So as a result of many weeks of work and riding, Moose and I reached a new level of our bond. One where he whinnies and calls to me, responds to me when I call his name, follows me around, nuzzles into me and engages with his nose in many ways, trusts me when I take him for a walk or do something challenging and new.
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