A lesson from EQUUS
#1 Rule: Getting angry never helps.
Caveat: Horses understand frustration.
When I was employed teaching some of our top 2-year-olds the drill for a clinic to be held with US Olympic Team Chef d’equipe (US Olympic coach), George Morris, I met an english thoroughbred mare with an oversized barrel and an attitude to match.
She was sent to us for retraining because of a tendency to back up furiously until she either flipped over or ran into something hard enough to stop her, generally just at the moment of someone attempting to sit on her back. Not fun. Needless to say, I wasn’t going to just hop on without some preparation.
We worked on the ground extensively to build a relationship. Groundwork is done while your feet are on the ground with the horse’s.
This big burly mare was a born leader, as well she deserved to be given her stature.
Little known fact, an elder mare is typically the leader of the herd while the stallion fends off threats and nips stragglers while the herd is on the move. My job then was to become this mare’s trusted leader for a bit so she could better accept what I was trying to communicate to her.
I was just shy of 21 and mostly self-taught in the way of training the young as well as working with and sometimes retraining older horses. My methods would have been comical to watch at the least but they worked. Eventually, she just regarded me as slightly crazy but a pretty cool friend.
But that didn't mean that fear did not take over for her sometimes.
One day, while working together in the indoor arena something startled her and she full on attempted to ‘jump in my lap’, knocking me to the side and half stepping on my toe at the same time.
“DAMN IT, THAT HURT!
I, in my angst, took both fists and pounded her on her giant belly.
Training method? > not so much. Authentic communication? > TOTALLY. Though my memory is fuzzy, I recall sensing that, as much startled by me as the scary thing, she had an ‘aha’ moment. I did not yell at her – or beat her with a whip -Yet, I felt like she was suddenly really listening to me. That was the last time she did anything like that again and even seemed to be a bit more about my space in general. Was out of empathy or simply a healthy respect for my little fists? > Who knows? But it cemented our relationship and I started riding her about a week later.
There is a nugget of a lesson embedded in that experience about communication and listening. Perhaps even the essence of empathy. It is at the foundation of the lessons that our relationships with EQUUS have affected and effected cultures for centuries.
I cannot speak to this as expert historian or psychologist but I do have stories to relate. To be continued in another article > while growing up I had plenty of reasons to be angry. While working with my 3-year-old chestnut (red-headed) thoroughbred, I learned that anger is never ever good especially the misdirection of.