Carolyn Resnick is someone I admire greatly on many levels, especially in her mastery of the art of dancing with horses. It really is an art.
Yesterday she wrote the blog post I wish I’d read six years ago when I was green and thoroughly smitten with a horse I just rescued. Before Dodger came into my life, my experience of horses had been limited to those on dude ranch strings and one fluke Montana prairie gallop during which I managed to stay on without brakes. I had no clue what I didn’t know, and like many situations I’ve entered in life when I had no reference point, I found it by looking around at those who were doing it successfully and thought, “How hard can it be?”
When my first trainer saw me running around the outside of the round pen to entice my horse to chase me from the inside, he came out of his house to say, “Don’t play with that horse!” No reason why, just “Don’t.” I was crushed. Really? My dream had been to dance with him some day. How were we going to do that if we couldn’t even play? I had no idea he and I didn’t see “play” the same way.
I wish I could’ve read what Carolyn wrote:
When we feel a deep love for horses we can forget to maintain our leadership role. Animals see play having purpose and we see play as having no purpose…When a horse takes charge of our play games social order is lost and at the same time they lose respect for our leadership…Horses are not toys and they are not going to be good and faithful companions just because your heart is loving…A horse is not like a book that the story stays the same once written. Horses are living breathing animals that are easily changeable by how we go about our “play” with them.
Looking back, I can honestly say that learning by immersion in an amorphous situation with hundreds of unknown variables and a dominant horse is not recommended. For Star Trek fans, it was a little like training the Borg. As an orphan foal, raised in isolation in a busy, junkyard-like environment, it took a lot to impress him and keep him out of my space. Creativity and rewards kept his mind on me for more than a nanosecond and my boundaries had to be clear, consistent and extremely fair or I would have a fight on my hands. On days his gas tank appeared empty, I had to anticipate a reserve tank switch without notice. I had to master intense focus without putting out agenda energy.
Each horse is different, and if you love the idea of playing with yours, tell us in the comments below what you’ve learned about “play.” And don’t forget to read Carolyn’s post!