I have long been intrigued by Carolyn Resnick’s Water Hole Rituals – a set of rituals she developed by observing the social behavior of a herd of wild horses. She works entirely at liberty in a large space, earning the horse’s trust and respect using body language.
Carolyn Resnick wants you to establish a bond with your horse first by Sharing Territory; much like undemanding time. You are sitting in
the horse’s space reading a book, ignoring the horse until the horse chooses to approach you.
Next is Saying Hello; much like a horseman’s handshake except
when the horse greets you, you walk away. The horse gets to choose
whether to follow you. Essentially, you do not approach or touch your
horse until your horse gives you permission.
Respect comes next by Claiming Territory (in the clinic setting – a
bucket of food.) You own the food and won’t allow the horse to approach it, but if the horse asks politely, you’ll bestow a gift of a handful of food.
Companion Walking may look like stick to me, but it isn’t because
you don’t drive either the hind end to keep them up with you or
the space in front of the horse to slow, stop or turn them. If they
leave you, you leave them, not drawing the eye, just mirroring them.
The disconnect from the harmony of Companion Walking is jolting to the horse and it tends to return to you on its own. If the horse tried to herd me, rather than drive the nose away, I’d stop and look skeptical, a kind of “what on earth is that chest and neck doing there?” and the horse thinks about it and backs up to my side.
Eye Contact expects the horse to keep an eye on you. If they don’t
you Claim Territory. If they do, you walk away. Mission accomplished.
The horse is keeping an eye on you. The CHOICE to be with you is
THEIRS. So basic and so important to having a strong bond and true respect.
Go Trot / Come Back is classic drive and draw. Will your horse go
away from you with energy when you ask, then come back with enthusiasm at liberty? Sounds like yo-yo, but it isn’t or at least it seems like more to me. When you ask the horse to go, it could be just a couple of steps, or it could be go gallop away in a 100 acre field. The horse leaves and we fly after them, praising their flight until the head turns and glances at you. Then you go backward with energy and praise their flight right back to you. At first my horses got concerned by that much energy coming from me, but as they realized it was a game, they started to float and have eyes that really sparkled. This is a game that they understood.
OK, a few specifics on the Robin Gates clinic. I took my 5 year
old Maia and she started out as distracted as is her habit when being in
a strange arena by herself. Mind you, even distracted, Maia synced in
with me as I walked, trotted, stopped, backed up and turned at liberty.
Robin observed for a bit and asked what I wanted to learn from her
during our session. I told her that I had two objectives. One, I wanted
to see joy in Maia’s eyes when we played. Second, I wanted to be a
stronger leader for Maia when she lost confidence. I wanted her to
automatically sync in with me, not just when she knew the answer, but
also when things fell apart. Robin said “How interesting. Those are
exactly the things that the Waterhole Rituals give you that you don’t
get from pressure and release training.”
Robin came in to play with Maia. The first thing she did was establish that Robin “owned” a bucket of senior feed next to the fence and that Maia could not go near that bucket without an invitation from Robin – BUT that Robin would share that bucket if Maia did as Robin asked her. Maia tested that theory a number of times as Robin moved farther and farther away from that bucket before deciding that Robin was serious. OK, this woman is one tough lead mare. The only way Maia could get to that grain was to ask the lady politely, so…. she did.
Next, Robin asked Maia to come to her. Maia was uncertain about
whether she wanted to have a relationship with someone who would bite her for going near that bucket without an invitation. She thought about that for quite a long time and Robin left her alone, patiently “present in the moment” while Maia worked out the pros and cons. As Robin pointed out, for there to be true choice, the horse has to be able to leave you without having an adverse consequence – has to be given the time to think and truly choose to be with you rather than away from you.
Maia’s first approach toward Robin was small, just a couple of
steps, but it was away from the grain. With each iteration, Maia became more confident that Robin was a generous leader as long as Maia was polite and respectful and the bond between the two strengthened and Maia became more focused, centered and relaxed in following Robin’s feel.
I am truly honored to have watched this amazing lady work with my
very special horse. If you have the opportunity to take a clinic with
Robin Gates, don’t hesitate. Do it. Your horse will thank you.
Here is a short video clip of my friend Grace at the clinic with her mare Namaste doing Companion Walking and Go Trot, Come Back.