Sunday, March 13, 2011

Connection and Control

A newcomer to our equine therapy group was trying to sort out the task of building a relationship with his horse. He had chosen Socks, a young but quiet unstarted mare. Holding a halter in his hand, he seemed to be caught up in the idea that he could not do anything with his horse until he had the halter on, which he did not know how to use. I asked him what the halter represented to him in building this relationship. The young man, still sorting out his way with his horse, much like he was sorting out his way in life,  fumbled his answer, “....connection.....I don’t know ...control?”

My previous blogpost entitled "The Hunger" describes a moment in time when my desire to control my horse through force came bubbling to the surface. This moment scared me because I recognized that when we try to control others, we damage our relationships.  I did not want my relationship with Lucy to be damaged in anyway. Throughout the winter season, Lucy and I focused more on playing at Liberty (no ropes or halters) and riding bridleless. When communicating with a horse with no ropes or headgear, trust and connection are intimately tested and communication is acutely refined.

Throughout our time playing this way, I have become more in tune with my horse’s perspective, and my horse has come to trust me in a way that exceeded our already good relationship. In playing at Liberty, a horse gets to express all its opinions. It gets to leave if it wants to, and the human has the responsibility of causing the horse to want to come back.

One play session with Lucy seemed to be the culmination of the communication we had been creating. We had been playing at Liberty in the usual way, and Lucy was following me at my side. I began to ask her for more particular things, such as yielding her forehand. Lucy can at times get opinionated when I ask this, and in this case, she felt free to express her opinion by moving over one step as I asked, and then running off to the other side of the arena, turning and facing me, and then coming back. This turned into quite the game, and we repeated the same pattern probably six or seven times. Though I was a little confused at first, I soon began to notice that my horse felt free to leave, and happy to come back. She trusted the connection, and so I did too.

This rhythm continued until Lucy did something that confused me. She left and went over to the mounting block, and despite my coaxing, would not come back. I sat there for a moment like the boy in my group, trying to sort out this relationship with my horse with a “ Hmmm.... control?...connection?” Then I had a thought about what Lucy wanted and decided to test it out. I went over to her and climbed up on the mounting block. She responded by sidling up over to me for me to get on. I grinned at the thought that my horse was asking me to ride her, bareback and bridleless.

Because my horse requested this of me, and communicated it to me so clearly, I did climb up on her and we had a lovely ride. However, this was not my plan for the day. In fact, I sat there for a few moments and questioned whether I should get on or not. I was feeling the need for a saddle. It was a very windy day. Lucy had already spooked a little at something in the corner. She had already shown that she would freely and clearly express her opinion today. These fears made me feel that I should probably not climb up on my horse with out some sense of control. But with all that communication and worry in my head, I had to trust her. I had to trust the connection.

The young gentlemen in my group found his rhythm with his horse as well, through noticing and respecting her boundaries. I can’t remember whether he ever got the halter on or not, but his relationship was tested, and he and his horse then came back together based on the bond they had built. It turned out that it was connection used to build the relationship, not control. Connection created through communication and trust.