"The blog this week is on a subject that I think everyone will be interested in. Nan Zintsmaster and I have been discussing the value of shaping a horse’s behavior to work in harmony with us. What we discovered is that this will create an optimistic horse who is excited for his lessons…much like the excitement a dog feels when learning to play fetch. A lot of people are concerned that any form of shaping behavior is not good for a horse. In the following article, Nan describes the detail of her experience with her horses in the Waterhole Rituals and the value this brings to the well-being of the horse. I hope you enjoy it!" Carolyn
The Controversy Over Lessons We Give Our Horses
Lately I have noticed that there has been a lot of controversy in social media feeds about whether it is right or wrong, good or bad, to influence or shape a horse’s behavior in any way. I don’t normally get involved in “political” type viewpoints on social media forums, but I felt called to write this blog as I wanted to share my experience in shaping the behavior of my horses using the Waterhole Rituals and convey how it has affected them.
I recently read that because horses are sentient begins that shaping their behavior is not good for them. My personal experience has been quite the opposite. When I rescued my horses they were domestic horses that had been totally neglected by their owner. I rescued 5 horses…4 of them were from one family; a Mom, 21 years old, and three of her offspring, the youngest being 3 months old and the oldest being 6 years old. They were very nervous and detached from humans and extremely depressed. After nursing them back to health for a year (they were malnourished, as well), I introduced them to The Carolyn Resnick Method of The Waterhole Rituals, and almost immediately saw amazing changes in each and every one of them. Their mood was elevated, they had a little spunk in their step and a sparkle in their eye. Before that time I had not influenced them in any way and I had hoped that through that allowance they would become less afraid and begin to connect with me. However, when doing “nothing”, nothing changed. I remember when Linda Salinas came to do a clinic at my ranch in Costa Rica she could not believe how detached they were. After she left (and after they had been part of the clinic), Apache, the horse that had the most fear, had jumped over the fence to get up to the arena to connect with me! That happened almost every day for quite some time until I changed the set-up at my place so that they could access the arena and be closer to me whenever they chose. They were clearly enthusiastic about their training and I now continue to practice the Waterhole Rituals with them on a daily basis.
Since playing with my horses at liberty, they now see me as a member of their herd. They run to me when they see me coming in the pasture whether I have a halter in my hand or not. They whinny to me when they see me.
Through the evolution of our bond which developed through the Waterhole Rituals, all of my horses will lie down and takes naps near me while I am sitting in a chair Sharing Territory with them. I have no doubt this trust was built from my influencing their behavior, as horses do not lie down if they don’t feel safe. Spending time with me practicing the Waterhole Rituals has, without question, made a huge difference in their lives and in mine as well. They want to follow my lead. They want things to do. They love dancing with me at Liberty. They know that I am protecting them and they understand that they also have freewill during our time together. I feel that it is the way in which we choose to influence the horse that matters. I also allow the horse to influence me and I then respond to him. I listen to what he wants to share with me.
It has been my experience over the past few years that horses desire our company and, just like humans, they can become bored and social, interactive games can bring enrichment to their well being. My horses are a perfect example of this. They now line up at the fence and can’t wait for their turn to get into the arena for their lessons! My herd is as bonded to me as much as they are to each other, and their bond is very deep. As I continue working with the Waterhole Rituals, I am noticing that any herd-bound behavior is melting away to the point of being non-existent. You can see the evolution of the trust they have with me. Carolyn’s method is not about the training, nor is it about performance, it is about the relationship that we share together. It is about deepening the bond and sharing harmonious activities together. Working with my horses in her method gives them purpose and they feel good about themselves for their accomplishments!
I encourage everyone to spend time with their horses and learn to communicate with them in a language they understand. This can only enhance their lives! One thing I know for sure, my horses are better off having been shaped by me in the activities that we share together.
In harmony with horses,