Tom Dorrance insisted that togetherness, ‘this thing between the horse and the person’ could not be learnt through instruction – ‘do this and you get that’. Rather, it was a matter of ‘feel’, something that could only be acquired through full-bodied experience. Speaking of his own experience, he said ‘I try to feel what the horse is feeling and operate from where the horse is’. To feel ‘the whole horse’, he said, involves feeling ‘inside the horse, right in his innards’. And, most importantly, we feel ‘the inside of the horse… from inside of ourselves’. In short, feel is an experience of entwined being (Pp 12-14). To develop an understanding of this experience, in this post I want to introduce the ecological idea of feedback. Continue reading Living in-relation with horses: feedback
I said that this post would be on feedback, but there’s something more immediate I’d like to talk about here – stroking our horses. Stroking has enormous significance to what Tom Dorrance describes as the ‘foundation’ of horsemanship – horses ‘coming to us for security’ (True Unity, p 12). Without this, he says, nothing will work. Above all else, we want our horses to feel happy and safe with us. This is what leadership is about.
In an excellent article about the significance of connection, Jo Spiller says
So how do you create this partnership? You don’t do anything to create it, because it’s not a matter of doing. It is much more a matter of who you are being. You see, we have language for doing things: we can say ‘Put your heels down’, ‘Sit up straight’… but nobody can tell you how to do ‘being’.
After years of teaching riders and training horses, Spiller says that she suddenly saw what had been there in plain sight. She’d been too busy doing things to see that the basis of good horsemanship was the capacity to develop a connection with horses. And, ‘in order to achieve that connection’, she realized, we ‘must undergo a transformation’, a change in form of being.
In previous posts I’ve made references to softness – to soft ways of looking, to the softness in states of being calm, present and focussed, to the softness in a connection between human-and-horse. For example, with reference to the kangaroo experience, I said that Corey softly picked up a feel on the rein, and looked softly at the kangaroo to help Pia soften, relax and become curious. In this post, I want to think more about what is involved in a soft way of being and why this is so important to being-in-relation with horses.
Any activity performed with skill requires good timing. This is true of catching a wave, for example, or hitting a ball or playing a musical instrument or dancing …. Good timing is also essential to skilful horsemanship, both on the ground and in the saddle. Whatever the specific skill might be, acquiring the capacity for good timing takes never-ending practice, and it depends on a particular temporal way of being – being present.
In this post, I’ll just give one example of the connected form of support that I outlined in the previous post. The situation that I’ll describe will be immediately recognisable to horse people. The ways of addressing it vary enormously.
My horse Pia is very sensitive and can easily frighten. So, we pay particular attention to ensuring that she feels safe with us. When we offer support, it’s crucial that it be something that she will look for and appreciate, rather than something to brace against. The more I work with Corey, the more trusting and happy Pia becomes – it is a joy to see the transformation.
In this post, I want to introduce one of the most basic issues for living in-relation with horses, that of support. From the relational perspective of inter-being, giving support is our key responsibility in this relation.
Working with Corey Ryan, I am continually learning the significance of support in a horse-human relation, and how this is analogous to that called for in a student-teacher relation. When I am with Corey, I find that I am able to let go of any worries or fearful anticipations and remain present to what is at hand, open to possibilities and confident in trying things out. Quite simply, I feel supported in this learning experience. I am also very aware that, in Corey’s presence, horses remain or become calm and relaxed, and, in that state, curious about their environment and capable of learning new things. Clearly, then, we are sharing this experience of support and calmness. And, so, I make the rather obvious connection: Corey is giving me the sort of support that I need to give horses, and through his support I am developing the capacity to support them. Continue reading Living in-relation with horses: support
This is the first of a series of posts I hope to do on living in-relation with horses.
I have been inspired to write about this by Corey Ryan, a horseman with whom I’ve been working over the past year. Corey’s understanding of relationship and connection makes such a difference to the learning experience for horse and human. Through him, I am learning anew the significance of a relational way of being, and more and more about being in-relation with horses. I will be giving examples of these learning experiences in subsequent posts.
Here I want to take as a starting point the ecological principle of universal connectedness, and raise some questions about the implications of this for living in-relation with horses. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh uses the term ‘interbeing’ to describe this ecological principle. He says ‘To be is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing’. All things in the universe are interconnected. The vegetables that I am eating needed the sun and rain and earth to grow; the rain needed a cloud that was blown by a wind that connected far distant places and people… (The Heart of Understanding P4). Continue reading Living in-relation with horses: interbeing
If you type ‘Australia’ and ‘spider’ into Google, the first pages of results are dominated by accounts of danger. Australia has 2400 species of spider, but pest control companies and tourist guides only want to talk about ‘the ten most dangerous Australian spiders’. They show mugshots and profiles and advise people what to do if they’re bitten. Since I’ve been in Newtown, however, I have seen no spider more dangerous than a huntsman.
This arachnophobic culture has supported the spread of the factoid that, no matter where you are, you are never more than 3 feet from a spider. While this claim is too simplistic, it is truer than you might imagine. Spiders are among the most common terrestrial animal, found in all environments. In a review of spider ecology, AL Turnbull reported spider population densities as high as 842 spiders per square metre, for an English meadow. The average density in the 22 studies he reviewed was 130.8 spiders per square metre.
I do not know the density in my Newtown garden, but on any day I will see many spiders, and over a couple of weeks I will see many types of spider. I’ve seen leaf-curling spiders, long jawed spiders, tent spiders, jumping spiders, garden orbweavers, golden orbweavers, and many that I cannot identify. Some have bodies that are two centimetres across, some are so small I have trouble photographing them, and there must be many that I have not seen because of their size or inaccessible habitat.
In our area of Newtown, the basic house block is only about 5 metres across. Neighbouring yards are separated by high wooden fences, and the gardens, traditionally, have been small and rough. The local council warns against growing vegetables because of concern about lead and arsenic in the soil. And there is a large dog and cat population.
This might not seem a promising environment for frogs, but even before we put in our first fish pond, sixteen years ago, we had striped marsh frogs passing through our garden, sometimes even coming indoors. I don’t know where they came from or where they were going, but, since we built the ponds, many seem to have stayed.