By Susan Smith.
My mare Zuzka recently showed me something while I was riding my mare Jazzie in the arena. She looked directly at me and proceeded to wrap a lead rope that was hanging from a halter on the fence, around her neck. It was as if to say, “take me out for a ride.”
Some years ago I would not have gotten such a distinct message from a horse, because I was always going and doing. Although they were agreeable to doing what I was doing most of the time, I was primarily watching their physical well being to make sure they were fit for the task and I was focused on the goal. The attitude of the horse is tied into their physical well being, but I wasn’t looking directly at that. I think that kind of approach comes with performance, but if we stop and listen, then we may hear their own voice speaking, what they would really like to do.
Many people feel a horse should have a job to be happy. People need to feel valued, and I think that’s what the “job” thing equates to. If we are valued for who we are, our specialness, then we are recognized. That gives us great satisfaction in the world.
For the horse, many times their only way of achieving this is via performance with the human. Some horses really enjoy their jobs, others do not. I think a lot of that depends on the human they are working with.
My granddaughter, Ariana, was entering high school with expectation. Before high school, I wondered if she would become passionate about anything, because she would dance from one activity to another, mostly interested in what her friends were doing but not committing to any activity unless a friend was doing it. When she entered high school, there were so many possibilities opened to her all at once. And in turn, she blossomed. She explored art in a really serious way, she found voice, and enjoys her academic subjects greatly. Her social life is just as she wants it.
Putting choices out there for the horse can have a similar effect, although most horses are not going to become Picasso or sing on stage. But they can find their own gifts and passions by working with us at liberty. Through working with them in a gentle fashion we begin to see what their strengths and interests are.
My work with Liberty Foundations is very basic, and why they’re called “foundations.” Once the horse has them, he or she can go on to do whatever he and his owner want to do, whether it be riding in competition or on trails, or just enjoying time together. I don’t have a “see what you can do” program because we are working with the basic relationship. What I want from my relationship with my own horses may be very different from what you want with yours.
The horse may need to come back to foundational work if they meet a frightening circumstance, or something changes in their living situation. It’s always there, that’s the beautiful thing about knowledge. And the horse that knows it can come right back to it, a comfort zone, a knowing that their owner knows it and can call it up and bring comfort.
I don’t always ask if my horses want to be ridden, generally they “tell” me. They also know this is something I love to do with them. So to me, it emerges out of our well established relationship, and enjoyment of time together, where at one time, for me, it was more of a big expectation. There are also some things we are working on together, biomechanical exercises, losing fear of certain things, listening when the going gets tough.
What I look for is what the horse wants to offer. Often it’s something I haven’t even thought of. Sometimes they watch the other horses and want to show that they can do it too. I want them to feel good about their accomplishments, and have great self worth.
Zuzka, the same horse at the beginning of this blog, decided on a windy day last week, that she wanted to work with the liberty rein. I had been working with another horse on this, and she came forward and slipped her nose through the rein willingly. We then trotted back and forth with it, did turns and stops, and at the end, I wasn’t holding on to it at all. She is liberty trained, so she doesn’t need a liberty rein, but something about it appealed to her. We also worked out a cool cueing system with the rein, all her idea. (She does like opportunities to show me how smart she is!)
Prior to this, she has had no interest in the liberty rein whatsoever. What a great gift she has given me!