The Power of Approach Using the Waterhole Rituals

I have a new haflinger mare named Marilynne that I have taken into training to help with the Insider Circle program courses I am currently teaching. When I brought her to the ranch no-one could put a halter on her because she would not allow herself to be approached. It was not an easy job for me to get one on her but I did and she is now here at the ranch with me. Marilynne is a special case because she is very fearful and not the kind of horse that I recommend for beginners doing my course for the first time. I will have to proceed at a slower pace with her, which will help you to see the many details of my Method.

To her credit, Marilynne is smart willing, and easy to train if she doesn’t get scared. Her previous owners thought that she was difficult to train because she did not respond well to their aggressive training approach, which they subjected her to over a long period. They aggressively round penned her, chasing her at top speeds with her head tied to her saddle while lunging. As punishment, they left her tied in a stall with her head to the saddle.

At fist when I would go down to the barn to see her, I could hear her screaming inside “I need to escape” looking around for some place to hide. She responds to the Rituals well, but does not want to be touched. Of course, you know I started my relationship with her by Sharing Territory. Sitting with her and feeding her treats is the only agenda I offered her. I wanted to bring out the nuisance in her, which would help our relationship evolve to the next stage. Marilynne loved eating out of my hand as long as I did not make any other movement to touch her. Sometimes she would jump 20 feet away from me for no apparent reason other than the subtleties of my swallowing or shifting my eye balls. Interestingly, this same horse is not afraid of things most horses are terrified of, like the other day a truck came into the ranch scaring another horse down in the in the area and drove up the hill dumping 20 tons of gravel next to Marilynne’s paddock. Marilynne just watched the event without any concern at all. This is every typical of horses that have been traumatized. They become very fearful of what traumatized them so much that they are not really aware of anything other than their trauma. Her behavior around humans is so ingrained in her; she responds on automatic pilot like a wild beast without a brain, something that has no control over its own reaction. Sometimes she reacts out of habit or uses her fear for control. Other times she is truly griped in fear.

Sometimes when her new owner Lynne would be with her in her paddock, Marilynne would spontaneously jump and Lynne would be surprised that she responded so fearfully. I was not concerned. I would just sit in her paddock, talk, and feed her horse. Marilynne did not seem to change much in the first two weeks of sitting with her. Lynne commented on her lack of progress and was always surprised when her mare took one of those long jumps sideways or run around in her paddock griped in fear because I was there. Again I wasn’t worried. I told Lynne that it had become Marilynne’s normal behavior, and that I was more interested in paying attention in the seconds she was fine with us and I was noticing a big shift because those moments between the jumps were getting longer and longer. It was my job to allow the passing of time to become for her about understanding that I am the best part of her day. Funny thing about evolution is that you can actually get in the way of its progress by trying to force the result.

Marilynne began changing from of my attitude of acceptance. Accepting her jumping and her response to running away as normal. Because I paid no attention to her jumping at all and did not try to sooth her it did not bring focus to the behavior I was working to reshape. However, when Marilynne would jump as a habit, she missed out the treats and she did not like that at all. If she jumped while I was giving her a treat, I would then step out of her pen and feed her treats to her best friend Rosalie next door. Marilynne would get incensed and pin her ears at Rosalie. After a short while of this, when Marilynn would jump, she would return to me very quickly to keep me from going to Rosalie, pining her ears at Rosalie and perking her ears forward at me trying to discourage me from leaving her by acting less afraid.

Haltering is still a challenger but the difference is night and day. When she acts afraid I can push her out of it by telling her in a gruff voice not to be silly and then I will back up to draw her to me. I must be very careful and choose just the right amount of volume, not too strong. I am trying some Uberstreichen Exercises by standing in front of her and asking her to drop her head. She really doesn’t drop her head but I pretend she does and she tolerates my trying to manipulate her nose by allowing me to rock her head sideways and in and out. She is, I believe enjoying it.

Last message: Don’t expect results. Results happen from doing the routine on a regular basis. Many times the breakthrough happens when the day before your horse seemed to be getting nowhere. I see that some people are still thinking of training the horse to respond to the Rituals properly rather than just practicing the Rituals with out expecting performance or improvement. When your horse seems off course just go with it. By not reacting to negative behavior, the horse forgets how to react negatively, your horse will be better off for it and so will the dance.

Enjoy your week

Carolyn