2015, we'll have known each other for ten years. My project horse will be 21 and me 31. But let's not count numbers. Let us focus on quality: My project horse doesn't get older, he gets better.

I don't need fiery temperament in a horse. But I appreciate calmness and understanding. When you've been together for some years, communication becomes more and more subtle. I don't need words anymore, barely gestures. Unanimity. 
I can count on my horse. He takes the lead if necessary, but he willingly gives it back to me. Reliability. 

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The day is drawing to the end. Photo: Marko
We cannot use these old horses as we used to and as we would like to. They endure their little ailments, and some might have to retire earlier than expected. But that does not mean there is nothing left for them to give. On the contrary. 

We don't need to form and mold an old horse anymore. He already is someone. 
An old horse won't be impressed that easily. He has seen his fair share of things. 
An old horse has his position. And he takes it up. He doesn't need to be taught new tricks. He can learn them, of course, but what for? 
He'll make boundaries very clear. He understands the human and his demands. But he might come to the conclusion that there are things he just does not have to do anymore in his life. That is not disobedience. That is an opinion. An old horse has the right to get away with it from time to time. 

Let's think about all the lessons he has taught us and the great moments we shared. 
An old horse knows us and he knows our weaknesses.
He is forgiving of our inadequacies
An old horse will ignore our mistakes benevolently or even make up for them - sometimes, we might not even notice. 
An old horse bears with us and our tempers, and he will stand up for us if necessary. 
An old horse is reliable. An old horse is at peace with himself

And as he does not insist on his right ro refuse - in moments when he could -, we as well should be open to compromise and refrain from imposing our will on him. Let us be considerate and lenient with our old horse as he is with us. Let's give him something back - we have received so much from him. 
Old horses help us to become better horseman. 
Here's the second part meaning another 5 of the ten life lessons I've learned from horses so far. 
I screwed up. So often. But he still comes to meet me on the pasture.
Photo: Nadja

  1. You are allowed to make mistakes. Have you ever felt reproach in a horse‘s glance? I haven‘t. Not because my project horse isn‘t fed up with me from time to time. I make mistakes, am unfair (though not on purpose), am not in control of my emotions or loose patience. Still: The horse stays friendly, loyal, polite and patient. In the worst case, he‘ll just tolerate me and waits until my mood changes for the better. The horse is never angry with me. He is forgiving and accepts me for what I am. I am allowed to make mistakes. He doesn‘t hand them to me on a silver platter afterwards or spells them out for me (of course, he makes sure I notice that I screwed up. But he‘s subtle about it and not accusing). It is ok to make mistakes. And so it is my job to accept and tolerate my horse‘s mistakes as well. To give him the chance to make mistakes and learn from them instead of preventing them from happening. This is what you do when you hold your reins tight all the time. You suppress mistakes instead of allowing them to happen and fix them afterwards. Only if I let the mistake happen, we are both able to learn from it.
  2. Accept help. The herd of horses lives that concept day in and day out. Together, we are better off. We don‘t have to fight our way through life on our own. We can accept help. It doesn‘t cost us a thing and often, others are glad to help. I don‘t know about you but I am always happy to help someone in need. It makes me feel better about myself.
  3. Appreciate your horse‘s tries. How easy are we to please? Are we ever content? If we have trouble to be content in our every day life, we‘ll probably have challenges with our perfectionism being with horses as well. Therefore it‘s vital that we are aware of our horse‘s tries, that we appreciate and reward them. Our horse tries to understand us, and we should give him the respect he deserves - even if his answers are not the ones we were hoping for.
  4. Find happiness in the little things. If we are only happy when our horse does a nice piaff or flying lead changes, we might wait for a life time. But there are so many little things and bright moments worth noticing and to be grateful for while working towards our goals. The more we become aware and grateful of those moments of happiness the more content we become. We experience happiness every day in small amounts - instead of waiting for it to flood our lives at once. Because we might wait until the end and still haven‘t experienced it yet.  
  5. Let it happen. Sometimes, we work really hard on a certain manoever with our horse. And we become frustrated because it just doesn‘t seem to improve. We ask over and over again, hope that our horse will react more quickly or subtly, step further under the body or finally bend the haunches. But we just don‘t come together with the horse. Sometimes, we just work too hard. Our focus is too narrow, we are strained and stressed. Sometimes it helps to back down, let go of the goals and just let things happen instead of making them happen.
If you missed the first part, click here.
What have you learned from horses?
„It's amazing what you can learn after you've learned all that you think there is to learn“ 
(Ray Hunt)

The levels of competence: Unconsciously incompetent, consciously incompetent, consciously competent, unconsciously competent" 
(Pat Parelli)

This is a rather challenging young mare I worked with for 4 days. She taught me awareness
of the meaning of my hands. Photo: Marlies

Striving for competence with horses we learn many lessons. Some come to us easily, others the hard way. Preparing for christmas and taking time to reflect, today‘s post is the first part of two texts about the 10 most important concepts I‘ve picked up in the past 20 years from being with horses. So here are the first 5. 

  1. We apply too much pressure - even when we think we are being polite. Any time the horse responds with opposition, it‘s likely we started with too much. Instead of waiting and giving the horse time to react, we become impatient and up the phases, increasing the pressure. Pretty soon we have a fight on our hands. You can avoid that quite elegantly by applying less pressure than you think you might need to get a reaction from your horse - a tip from Buck Brannaman. 
  2. „Don‘t make assumptions.“ A quote by Pat Parelli. We believe we have no prejudices and approach a horse or a situation unbiased. Well, the horse will probably teach us better. Making assumptions with horses in my eyes is one of the biggest mistakes. Expectations blind us, they distract us from what is real and from the moment. They cloud our attention and dilute our judgement. My recommendation: Meet your horse as if it was the first time. 
  3. We hold it in our own hands. Literally. Our hands talk to the horse. They can transmit a feel or pressure. They can be harsh, hectic and scary. Or they can be soft, slow and predictable. It‘s our job to use our hands in a way that benefits the horse.
  4. First give, then take. We want our horses to trust and respect us. But still we‘ll just invade his space and pull the halter over his ears. And we flinch whenever the horse tightens because we are scared he might take off. So much about reciprocity. If I want my horse to meet me with trust and respect, I should challenge my own abilities of giving these two. Do I have a hard time showing someone respect? Is it difficult for me to trust someone? We can just demand trust and respect, we need to earn it. Our horses will tell us quickly if we have any need for improvement.
  5. Let go. As riders, we like control. Understandably, as safety is concerned. Paradoxically, in order to achieve full control over our horse we need to let go first. Buck Brannaman for example says that we need to be able to have our horse walk, trot, canter and galopp on a loose rein first. If we are unable to do that, everything we do with the reins boils down to a form of confinement of the horse. But it‘s not the reins or the bit that hold back or control the horse. He needs to be in control of his own. We can help him with it by opening our hands and give him the reins. We allow him to take responsibility and give him the chance to behave. 
You can find the second part of the post here.
What have you learned from horses?
Lately, I got involved in one of those ineffable discussions on Facebook. Again. 
I know it‘s of no use, and I know it‘s a waste of time. But sometimes, I just can‘t keep my mouth shut. 
Like in the following case. One woman posted in the Natural Horsemanship Students group that she‘d been on holiday and now she‘s back and finds a changed horse. She was convinced that the horse was sulking because of her absence and asked what she could do about it. I dared to write that she might misinterpret the behavior. Because I doubt that horses can be insulted. 
Well, and here we are anthropomorphizing the horse. That horses have feelings is clear and not to be denied. But what exactly are they able to feel? Do they know the same emotions as us humans? Are we pretty similar in fact? 
There are no real answers as even science will probably never be able to place us in a horse‘s head and allow us to share its conscience. So what is left, are observations. Observations and the conclusions we draw. 
As you might know I am quite fond of traditional horsemanship and I‘ve learned that it‘s no good to project human traits on horses. And that‘s what I am convinced of. Still. Even after I got scolded for being an arrogant, bad, mean, vicious human who denies horses feelings and conscience and everything.

If I don't see you, maybe you won't see me.
Photo: Nadja
If she‘d asked, I‘d offered her my point of view along with some explanations (which she didn‘t want to hear of course). Well, I think that nature has equipped the horse with all the emotions necessary for his survival. And I think that nature has deprived the horse of all the emotions that would complicate his survival. 
For instance: If a horse knew no fear and no caution, it would make an easy prey. But what if a horse knew compassion or remorse? The stud would not be able to kill his competitor‘s offspring without being tortured by scruples afterwards. Maybe this scenario is possible. But unlikely, in my eyes. If horses knew remorse or guilt, that would imply that horses are able to judge their behavior and its consequences (for themselves and their buddies) in complex contexts plus far in the future. So the stud is tormented by his bad conscience but he still kills the non-legitimate sons of his mares. Plus, he really needs to apologize to his rival whose leg he almost broke at their last fight. Well, it may be possible, but it would be inconvenient, obstructive. I think nature prefers simple over complicated.

I don‘t deny horses emotions in general, of course. But I think that from time to time us humans would be well advised to take some distance from our egos and to see our horses as what they are: prey animals, domesticated for thousands of years, but still not to be compared with humans. 

Of course, I want too that my horse loves me, misses me and defends me if necessary. But I believe, unfortunately, that without me he still has everything he needs to live a happy life. We are an accessory to our horses‘ lifes. Some of them like us and spending time with us, others would be happy if we‘d stayed away. I don‘t think that‘s sad or tragic. It‘s just the way it is. But out there seem to exist people (and not just a few) who cannot handle the thought that horses are independent to some degree and survive without their owners (I am writing about emotional bonds here. Of course, horses need food and water to survive). Of course, some horses form stronger bonds. But still, I think, they are able to sever them more quickly and easily than us humans could.

Looking at my project horse: He doesn‘t like to be touched or handled by persons he doesn‘t know. He then threatens to bite, pulls an angry face and if he feels extremely superior he might even kick. I could interpret this behavior as him missing his regular handlers and therefore being angry and insulted. But what I actually believe is this: He doesn‘t like his routines being changed and mixed up

If humans were around him that respected his needs and tuned into him, who respected his personal space, didn‘t flood him with too much energy and asked very politely - he‘d be fine with it and wouldn‘t mind if it were us or others. As long as his needs are taken care of. We are disposable. 

I‘m sorry if this doesn‘t sound like Fury or Black Beauty. But life‘s not a pony ride.