Tuesday 14 February 2017:
I woke up at 6 o'clock in the morning. Today is laundry day, which I started early because I need to dry my sheets before evening. There is a schedule and everybody has one day a week to do laundry.
I planned to bring Jack and Spirit to the field below, near the beach. But when I got outside I saw a small yellow airplane flying very low. Today they're opening the new airport so I assumed it was because of that. Because I wasn't sure how the horses would react I decided to wait. In the meantime I went to "the fruit forest" to cut some Moringa. I brought it to all four horses and hung out with them until they were finished eating.
Meanwhile the airplane was gone so I took the halters and went to Jack and Spirit. I called them and they came to the gate. They were very polite and focusing on me so I put the halter on and walked them outside. When I started walking I noticed that I had just started walking instead of first asking the horses to join me. So that was already a good lesson to start with today.
When I walked them to the field it happens a few times that they stop to look at something. For a second I felt a little bit frustrated. But when I talked to myself and started focusing on what I wanted to accomplish, the feeling was already gone and I managed to change my behavior directly. During the walk I was more focused and felt what the horses were up to so I was able to let them pay attention to me.
I arrived at the field and when they walked inside, I asked them to turn around facing me. I let them wait so I could take the halter off. Jack did exactly what I asked but Spirit turned and started immediately eating grass. Spirit is always very focused and polite so I wasn't expecting this. I asked her to put her head up, she did and I let her wait a while until she was more focused on me. Then I took the halters off and let them go.
After that I took out my laundry and hung it outside to dry. I changed my clothes, put on my shorts and covered myself with sunscreen. Early in the morning and late in the afternoon I wear long trousers because of the sandflies.
In the meantime, it was 10 o'clock and I went to Elena and Magic to share some space. Sharing territory is ritual number one from The Waterhole Rituals, to create a bond. The seven Waterhole Rituals, developed by Carolyn Resnick, are studies about the nature and culture of horses. By studying and practicing the rituals you begin to understand how horses communicate in a herd. This you can use to improve your understanding of horses. These rituals show you how you can communicate with horses through your body language. They also teach you to be more flexible in your approach when training each individual horse.
My mind was distracted and full of ideas, so this was the best thing I could do before doing anything else with the horses. Magic really wanted to go out to the pasture so she was all over me. I asked her to leave my space and she did.
After a while Elena started yawning. Magic was resting and my mind settled down. I called them and walked to the gate, they followed. I put the halters on and they waited very politely. So, I waited with them and when they started focusing on me I took them outside. I decided to tie them on a tree in the garden so they could eat a lot of grass. I took a chair and sat down in the shade of a palm tree near the horses because it was a very hot day. I borrowed a very interesting book from Stina, a blog collection by Carolyn Resnick which I read until lunchtime.
In between, the horses needed some guidance with the ropes and trees. Before I came here and did something similar with my own horses, I would just walk up to the rope and start pulling until the horse reacted. Although it was in a gentle way, I think it was a surprise for the horse. Now I start with calling the horse. I tell him what I'm going to do then I walk up to the horse and ask him to put his head up. I ask him to walk with me to the place I have in mind, let him wait, then untie the rope and let him eat again. You see in all these basic things there are lots of learning exercises I can fill my day with. Right before lunchtime I moved them to a place where their ropes couldn’t get tangled up.
After lunch I moved them again but now back to the spot with the best grass. With all this moving around I can do a lot of communication exercises. I sat with them and wrote this blog. During writing I did ritual number two from the Waterhole Rituals, Saying Hello, a couple of times. With this ritual you develop trust. You walk up to his front and let him sniff your hand and then walk away. I didn't want to give them the idea that when I go to them I'm always asking for something. I wanted to avoid any pattern.
After a while I took them with me to the fruit forest to eat fruit laying on the ground. This is a great exercise for me to train more focus and awareness. If I'm not focused they will lead me through the fruit forest. So first I made a plan. I knew a place with lots of starfruit on the ground and decided to lead them to this place. A couple of times I lost focus because they saw some guavas on the ground. I was immediately distracted and lost leadership. I chose to follow them for a while and again I made the decision to go to the place I wanted to go. They read my though because they looked at me and I could lead them directly to the star fruits.
I let them eat for a while and helped them find the fruits by telling and directing them. On my way back I prepared myself for going along the guavas again. But this time I wanted to make sure that I was the one who found the guavas first. It went perfect, they were really paying attention. This was great. This is the connection and leadership I'm looking for. I brought them back to the pasture because I agreed to go to the beach with Stina, Jack and Spirit at 4 o'clock.
First we went to the field below to get the horses. I repeated everything I did this morning by taking the horses and moving them to another place. We walked a couple of times around the hiking and diving center because this is very good for their hooves.
Afterwards we went to the beach for a swim in the river. Jack really likes that. He rolls in the river and keeps repeating this until he's totally covered by water and mud. While being with them on the beach it's important to keep communicating. Leadership is really a full time job! Sometimes you follow and give them all the space needed and alternate with asking them to follow your lead.
Stina wanted to give their hooves a treat by standing in the ocean water. They aren't use to this so step by step and with some treats we walked them up towards the water. We let them stand still on a spot where they felt safe. Every now and then the water came up and washed their hooves. After a while they became more secure and stayed at the same spot. We decided to stop and walked them back to the pasture. They were really satisfied and relaxed. It's a great gift to share these moments with the horses. To see them so happy makes me very grateful!
I brought Elena and Magic grain and sat down with them while they were eating. Then, I saw the fence was broken and mended it. I watched the sunset and it was already dinner time. I enjoyed dinner and after that I bought my daily chocolate in the little shop from the academy. There are no shops in the neighborhood so this is my only chance to buy some snacks. I had a shower and spent this evening in my room, reading about horses and watching some videos on YouTube.
This was just one day. Every day is very different. I try to make a learning experience out of every interaction with the horses. Stina is most of the time around and when she is, I can ask her anything. She gives me some ideas to work at, but I can choose myself. Almost every day we spend at least half an hour together with one of the horses. During this time Stina gives me lots of information about horse communication.
The greatest thing for me is that I'm allowed to make my own program with the horses and choose exercises I feel comfortable with. Stina is very supportive and a great coach.
Thank you very much for reading. Michelle van Ardennen (Holland)