Part 2 of Food and The Pecking Order
When I started studying the Waterhole Rituals (WHR) with Carolyn Resnick, at her suggestion, I began training Shadow (my easiest horse). Shadow’s response to the WHR was nothing short of amazing. Carolyn’s method is unlike any other that I have experienced in that the horse (not the person) initiates the relationship. I decided to work with Sampson next. At this point in time, Sampson had been with me for more than 10 years and he was my primary riding horse. You would think after this length of time that Sampson would readily initiate a relationship with me, but that was not the case at all. Sampson did not like other horses, much less people. For more than three months, I sat with Sampson (both in his pasture and in the arena) in an attempt to spend “special time” with him away from the herd. One fateful day, after I had literally spent hundreds of hours with Sampson, he finally came up to me and began to explore who I was. Although it was a brief encounter, the crucial element was that SAMPSON INITIATED THE CONNECTION! Other training methods that I previously tried had all seemed to push Sampson further away, yet Carolyn’s method had yielded success! I realized that if Carolyn’s method could work with Sampson, the odds were very good that it could work with almost any horse. Needless to say, I was thrilled!
With connection as my primary focus, I put down several piles of hay. I then began to mirror Sampson’s movements. If he ate from a pile of hay, I “ate” from a pile of hay. When he moved to another pile of hay, I moved to another pile. Next, I decided to see if he would let me “eat” with him from the SAME pile of hay. HE LET ME! How exciting! You may recall that last week I mentioned that I had watched as Shadow displayed a strong intention to move Bella away from a pile of hay. In a similar fashion, I began to move toward Sampson with the intention to move him off of his pile of hay. Sampson moved. I then made an energetic shift to approach Sampson in a cooperative manner so that we were once again able to “eat” from the same pile of hay. Knowing that I could move Sampson was the key to my next exercise in which I only put down one pile of hay. Who would get the hay, Sampson or me? Believe me when I say that my intention was set! There was no doubt in my mind that the pile of hay was MINE; not merely because I bought the hay, not because I carried it into the arena, and not because I could physically dominate him. The hay was mine because I ranked myself higher than Sampson by being a just and healthy leader, unlike Sampson who was a bully. With a matter of fact attitude, I set my intention and claimed the pile of hay. I did not move toward Sampson in an aggressive manner with my teeth bared or my legs kicking, but instead demonstrated a sense of confidence and a calm presence as I held my ground. Linda Kohanov talks about this non-verbal power in her book titled “The Power of the Herd.” She refers to it as a non-predatory power. Mark Rashid refers to it as passive leadership. Regardless of the label you assign to this personal power, it can be found in each of us. It is non-verbal, non-threatening, and comes from an inner knowing of your own self.
Sampson carried baggage from the abuse that he suffered prior to finding his home with me. Kindness, compassion, and gentleness are components of a healthy relationship, but they can be ineffective in healing the wounds of horses such as Sampson who have been subjected to the misuse of human power. Holding my ground with Sampson changed everything in our relationship without the need to fuss or fight. Sampson understood our non-verbal exchange concerning who would get the food because this is the language of horses. When I called Sampson, he came to me. We then walked to the hay and leaned over to “eat” our meal together.
Sampson had a long history of being aggressive toward other horses. Over the years, quite a few boarders relocated their horses after brutal encounters with this mean bully. In the next video, I take the time to socialize Sampson and Bella. Here is their first meeting!
As you can see, there were no fireworks. The fact that I was able to “hold my own” with Sampson has reaped numerous rewards. His transformation is nothing short of amazing! Sampson is now a very “food respectful” horse and is no longer overly aggressive to other horses. Sampson in SO respectful that I can ask him to leave his food in the stall at any time and he will willingly come to me. If I invite Sampson to put his head down, take one bite, and raise his head back up, he will do so. Respect is the centerpiece of our relationship. Just as no two people are alike, no two horses are alike either. We must custom tailor our relationships with our horses to fit the basic nature of their unique personalities. The investment of time is well worth the reward! As always I remain a Student of the Horse!