I have to admit I always had a more than a healthy distrust for horses, certainly an active apprehension, if not fear of these beasts. In my childhood I had regularly been taken to the riding stables, stuck on a pony, which I rode for a couple of hours, just waiting for the ride to end. I’d fallen off a few times. I remember once riding in a leafy hollow, reaching for a hazelnut above me, when my glove got stuck to the tree, and my hand refused to leave it there, so I left the horse and was ceremoniously dumped on the ground. The pony never even glanced back at me, she was probably glad to be heading back to the stables without her burden.
In adult years I have done several rides with family and friends, for the most part, under duress, hating the cantering and galloping bits, on a horse I couldn’t control, that would never do what I wanted, it would never go where I wanted, never stop when I wanted. It just got worse, as a big guy they always gave me the tall or big fat horse, telling me it was the best one for me. I think we for the most part we pretty much hated each other.
Don’t get me wrong, all my life I have loved animals from afar, and I adore dogs and cats. Any chance I have to meet, stroke, play with a dog or cat, I will take the time to get to know it. I know how they function, what they like, dogs and cats always come to me. A dog’s owner might say “Well normally he is always aggressive to other people, I can’t understand why he gets on so well with you”. I know why the dog comes to me, because it sees me and knows me immediately, and I see it and know it, I love it, they know that. Its a second sense, I know when I am feeling apprehensive about touching a dog, it senses this immediately, and that can cause a little nip or snarl. But with horses I never had any of these feelings, until now…
It never occurred to me before, that I could learn to make a relationship with a horse, like I can do with a dog. That I would become enthusiastic about my next encounter with a horse, that I would lose me fear of being around horses. That I’d start feeling a general love towards these beasts I’d previously been avoiding. Before I’d be telling people, you like horses you can touch it, I don’t want to, and keeping my distance. But suddenly things have changed.
On a recent visit to her stables, I asked Alex to give me some lessons in natural horsemanship – it suddenly occurred to me as a thing to do, to fill in the time. I was certainly apprehensive; I borrowed some big steel toe capped boots to protect me feet, I was so worried. I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t think I’d like it. In fact I have watched her working with horses for a few years, keeping a healthy distance, avoiding contact with the horses and never gave it a thought to get involved, until now.
So what happened? The first lesson was with Alex’s horse Carla. Alex explained to me all sorts of things about horses facial expressions, how horses are ‘prey’ animals with eyes on either side of their head and we are predators with eyes on the front of our heads, and what this means in terms of our relationship. She taught me how to recognise how the horse was reacting to me, and got me to start thinking how I was feeling in myself, and to understand the relationship between between us, and how very aware the horse was of everything about me. Alex taught me how to recognise my own space and how to assert this when amongst horses, and how horses would always be testing the boundaries of how far they could go, to change the dominant relationship between us.
I learnt quickly what horses like, where and how they like to be touched, and not to touch them before they have touched us. I learnt above all to be patient with a horse and to allow it the time to decide when it wants to meet me. Then I learnt how to recognise when it was thinking, and recognise the signs that it was happy, and how to lead it and ask it to go back or forwards. Even learning how to project my thoughts, so the horse went where I wanted it to go. In fact I was creating a bond with a horse, like I do naturally with dogs, and suddenly I found myself wanting to be with horses, as much as I like being with dogs, almost more so. Very weird.
The second lesson I did with Rambo, a horse that, I was told, has had quite a challenging start in life, so I expected this to be a very difficult encounter.
The initial first meeting took quite a long time, perhaps 45 minutes before he let me into its space and touched me, allowing me to touch him. But what a reward. I felt a real friendship to this animal and spent an hour touching, caressing, feeding him bits of carrot, and walking with him. Rambo even started to follow me. The next day I walked down to see Rambo, I was so happy to see him, and he me. I don’t yet have any urge to ride the horses, I feel very good being on the same level as them, I am happy I don’t have to ride them yet, that can be for another day. I know now for the first time in my life, that I really want to get to know horses, that I am not afraid of them anymore, that I am learning something new with great enthusiasm and that I will go back for more lessons. Who knows where this will lead…