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Saturday, May 8, 2010

going into the dark and scary places

We all have them, things we would rather not talk about, think about.  We would rather pretend they weren't there.  But they are.  My horsemanship mentor once said, MaryAnn, the bags are packed, you are either going to unpack them and see what's inside or carry them around with you and deal with the contents forever!  

Some horses are afraid of plastic bags, water or needles, so are some humans.  Maybe it's being touched, maybe it's being alone.  The fact of the matter is that the dark and scary places are uncomfortable to talk about.  They are scary enough to look at alone and downright frightening to share with someone else!
But, any keen observer can see they are there.  It's like whistling in the dark, just to keep your feet on the ground. They are not bad, just deep seated fears, real or imagined that we hold onto, mostly because we are afraid to acknowledge them.  For humans it's usually fear of judgement from other humans, for horses, it's fear of not living through the day.

Once I started to be able to get some freedom from the grip of the deep dark secrets I held onto so dearly, I could then begin to help horses unpack their baggage.  Because what is on the other side is light and fun and free!  So much connection and intimacy is available, love is what's present.

This is a the story of my time with a little horse called Nikka.  I only had 4 days with her and I spent around16 hours over those days.  She is a large, lovely, athletic and very smart painted sport horse.  I was recommended to help by Nikka's farrier because she could not stay still long enough to get her feet trimmed.
So I thought I was going to help her with being friendly around her feet, but when I arrived I saw the issue was much larger.

Her owner could put Nikka's halter on well enough and move her around a bit, but the moment that big horse needed to leave, she would just take the rope and go.  She had already done this with nose chains and gum chains, so there had to be a way to cause her to want to stay, and it could not be based in fear or intimidation.    Nikka was too scared to keep her feet still.  Apparently she was a rescue with tales of being used for pulling a cart in Amish country and it did not go well.  As a 6 year old she was adopted from slaughter.  I never ask about the horses story, I don't want to make assumptions, I just begin to see where the horse is.

When I showed up the first day I saw we had a space about 100 feet wide and 200 feet long.  There was another horse and a goat in that space with Nikka.  All I wanted to do was to be her friend and rub her with the halter and lead rope.  I smiled and approached her with lots of consideration for her bubble.  I was honest with her and curious; telling her why I was here.  Using feel, timing approach and retreat, when she needed to go, I went with her. I kept my body parallel to hers, no matter where she went.  If she was looking at me or we were moving together, I left her alone, if she turned away from me, I tossed my 45 foot rope at her bubble, usually in front of it. I wanted her to believe I could keep up with her amazing athleticism  I have noticed, observing herds of horses, the ones with similar color or spirit level typically pair bond.  So I wanted her to think of me as someone like her.  Committed, athletic and not afraid to be friends.  The first day, it was all physical for her and I think it was August, so she was quite sweaty.  I was able to quit after I saw a change in her, she actually began to walk toward me, so I walked away and right out of the gate until the next morning.

Day 2,  She met me at the gate, but quickly got worried and moved away.  This day it was all emotional.  She was hiding behind her friend who lived with her, going to places in the arena that were clearly hiding places, looking around trees and the corner at me.  This was a very different horse. 
I continued to be friendly; smiling at her and moving with lots of rhythm around her.  She watched.  She hid in the shelter, with her nose in the corner, unable to watch.  I rubbed my rope all over the other horse, continuing to prove to her I was a friendly human.  Not sneaky, not quiet, but clear and committed.  She clearly was hiding in a dark and scary place inside of herself.  She realized that running away was not going to work with this human, she did not know what to do, so she hid inside of herself in plain sight. 

I was soft with her, just being close and hanging out quietly offering my friendship.  I still had not physically touched her in two days.  This day she was also very sweaty, but not from running away physically, but from running away emotionally.  I found a place where she was able to follow me, not closely, but follow me and be curious about what I wanted and I walked right out of the gate. 

On Day 3, I found both the horse who physically ran away and the horse who ran away emotionally.  It was a true combination for her of finding out how she could hide from her fear.  I didn't even want to imagine what must have happened to this horse, to have her be so extreme.  This day things moved along very quickly, first she ran away, I went with her,  then she hid, I went with her, then she began to follow me.  I was finally able to put out my hand and she touched it with her nose.  I walked away quickly, like a little kid with lots of fun and rhythm, skipping and joyous!  I skipped right back to her and she was now really curious about me.  I reached out with my coiled 45 foot rope and she sniffed it, then let me rub it all over her sweaty body, up and down her legs, under her belly all over her back.  She began to enjoy the scratching.  Sometimes she got worried and if she did, she would leave physically, but she came right back when I went with her.  She learned what that was going to lead to, and this was way better.  She allowed me to put some of my coils on her neck and wrap them around her body, to guide her with my rope, she was willing to follow the feel of my suggestion.  I threw out my coils and reeled them back in right next to her and she was not worried.  I began to throw my coils all over her body with feel and rhythm, she stayed.   I wrapped my rope around her legs and led her around.  When I left, she followed me to the gate and watched me leave. 

On Day 4, she met me at the gate, let me rub all over her with my hands, ropes and her halter and lead rope which I had not touched yet.  I suggested she lower her nose and put it in the halter down by my knees and she did, with no opposition.  She followed me around like a puppy dog.  I began to put some driving pressure on her to see if she could stay and go where I wanted her to go at the same time. She did, with no opposition.   We walked and trotted together, with no opposition attached by ropes.  She was able to give me all four feet and hold them there while I did all matter of silly things, like sit down, stand up, pull push, you name it, I did it with every foot.  Nikka watched and participated with no opposition..........

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