Monday, February 20, 2012

My Horse/Hitch Epiphany

I had an epiphany at work on Friday. Well, epiphany may be too strong a word, but as I was playing with a horse, I related what was happening at the time to a scene in one of my favorite movies. Is that an epiphany? Yeah, I guess not, but I'm going to share it with you anyway.

In the course of my job, I meet a lot of un-tame horses. Taming horses has actually gotten to be one of the best parts of what I do. It's so satisfying to help a horse who has been previously terrified of people, learn to be confident, friendly and brave. Soooo satisfying!

Anyway, in Parelli - the world's best horsemanship method of which I'm an avid student - we do something called "the horseman's handshake". It looks a little something like this:

 (Miss Montana-Banana - of the infamous "wild bunch" - and me in Montana - Feb, 2011)

The horseman's handshake is basically a polite way of approaching the horse, and allowing them the opportunity to approach us.

As I was playing with a very shy and skeptical horse at work on Friday, I wanted her to touch my hand with her muzzle - for her to come all the way to me instead of me going and touching her. This is a novel concept for most of the horse world - when it's the horse's idea to touch us, it helps them to be so much more confident. We humans tend to always do stuff TO the horse: catch them, saddle them, mount them..... but if we can get the horse to want to catch us, be with us, allow us onto their backs with their permission, the possibilities are truly amazing.

Anyway, back to my shy horse; I would hold out my hand and she would approach me, but couldn't come all the way up and touch me. It was so temping to reach out and touch her (that's the predator in me that I still have little mental arguments with everyday), but instead, every time she stopped 2 inches from my hand, I waited a few seconds for her to close the gap and when she didn't, I drew back. We repeated that about 6 times, she would approach, I would offer the handshake, she would stop 2 inches away and I would wait and then retreat. Finally, she touched me with a whisker and I immediately turned my back and walked away. (I'll let you in on a major horse whisperer secret: the best reward for a prey animal - a horse - is when the predator walks away, or takes the pressure off. Pat Parelli says, "The best treat is RETREAT.") The next time I offered my hand, she lightly touched me with the end of her nose, and of course I immediately retreated. And the time after that, she nudged me confidently with her nose. After that, I could touch her neck all over and rub her without her getting worried. Now you all might think I'm weird, but that's totally my idea of a good time!

So here's the epiphany (and now you're REALLY going to think I'm weird) the whole thing reminded me of this scene in Hitch:
(bear with this, the good part's toward the end, I couldn't find a shorter clip)

Isn't that great?! We can go 90%, but the horse should come the other 10%. Brilliant, right? Man, I love my job.

And because I love Hitch, so much, I had to include this scene too:


laceeJ said...

cool stuff! My mare that I've had for 4 years now, was a "raffle prize pony" at the age of 2. (You know those raffle ponies are given away for a reason...) My cousins won the horse, but had absolutely no horse experience so they left her with me to try and sell. In the process, the first time I went to pick her up she was in a small stall, I had to rope her to catch her! Then after I got the halter on, she would stand still, but if I even TRIED to pet her neck, she would try to bolt away (as if someone had beat the livin CRAP out of her before). After I got her home that night I got out the plastic, waved it around, she could care less about the plastic, she just didn't want me touching her neck with my hand. So the first real thing that we did with her was lay her down. AAAAHHHHHAAAAA moment! :) After we laid her down, we just LOVED on her all over her body, getting her trust back. After that, she was broke to ride by Tyson Johnson in Kanab (his wife Wenda was the one that laid her down). She is now one of my best lessons horses. AND A LOVER! First one to meet me at the gate, whether in the paddock or up on 300 acres on our property in Kolob. I have laid many down since then, love the results I've been getting.

JulienBrightside said...

That was a very interesting read. I have never thought about it that way before.