Dear horse friends,
I am happy to introduce you to Zoe who is a working student at our center. It is a big pleasure for me, for Zoe and especially for the horses to have her here!
Zoe just shared this amazing blog on her own journey with horses. Hope you all enjoy!
Kind regards Stina
It is my first week as a working student in St. Vincent. When I came here, I thought that I was knowing a lot about horses and now I am realizing that I don’t. What I knew before now appears to me like horsemanship out of the trainer’s point of view not of the horse’s point of view. Sitting here now with Stina’s herd of wild horses and feeling the presence of not-knowing inside of me awakens the desire to learn the “horses’ point of view” more than ever before.
I am here to learn to read the horses, to learn about their behavior by observing them, to learn how to interact with them in a way which is innate to them. I am now changing my role from thinking of myself as being a trainer to thinking of myself as being a student. Everything what I need to know is right in front of me. Right in the middle of the herd. Knowing that I can gain this knowledge by being their student and let them guide me, makes me feel free inside.
The herd of four horses I am taking care of (Elena, Magic, Shoni, Kadoo) is living on a big pasture with palms, hills, a lot to eat and to find and a little grass field back onto the shady palm area. The herd is behaving so differently to the herds of horses I know from Germany. The horses here are much more connected to their instincts. When you look into their eyes you can see an unbridled wild spirit. The freedom which is given to them is mirrored in their eyes. They’ve got such a special charisma, full of peace, curiosity and calmness. And as they are spreading all of this bundled in so much energy, it is almost impossible to not become relaxed and settled while sharing territory with them. This state of mind and Charisma is exactly what I need to get their attention. When I feel peace inside of me, when I am connected to the area around me and aware of the present moment, when I am accepting what is, then the herd would start to interact with me.
Almost everything I learned during this week is gained by observing the horses’ interactions around food. In this blog entry I want to share two situations with you, which have taught me a lot.
On my second day I came to the horses feeling deep contentedness in my heart. I was so in awe with the beautiful atmosphere around here and enjoyed every breath I took. I had the feeling that the horses could see exactly this feeling inside of me as they suddenly all became attracted by me.
One by one came over to me to say hello.
After saying hello I made my way up the sweet grass, to cut some of it for the horses. I throw the grass over the fence and waited a little before I started to spread it around in their area, so that all horses could eat in the same time. I wanted to see how they would organize the situation with only having grass collected on one pile.
Elena was eating first. Kadoo tried a few times to eat with Elena. The first time he was entering Elena’s space without being aware of her. Elena reacted on that by trying to send him away with energy and body language. Kadoo just lifted his head but remained at his spot right next to her. Elena tried a second time, this time more directly. By snapping him she set a clear boundary. Kadoo wasn’t following the code of conduct, which says that a horse must walk off when asked by another horse. If the code is not followed, that is where pecking order disputes.
Kadoo didn’t wait long before trying a second time to get close to Elena and the food. Elena again snapped towards him and this time Kadoo followed the code and walked off. Before trying a third time he waited a little longer, pretending that he wasn’t interested anymore. When he was trying the third time he approached differently. This time he seemed to be asking Elena if its okay for her if he comes. He showed his best side by being very politely. And finally, Elena let him eat with her. It seemed like Elena was rewarding him for his behavior by letting him eat with her. If Kadoo stayed polite and attentive and as long Elena was sure that she could always send him away when asked, she would let him eat with her. But if not, she would again send him away to lecture him.
While they were eating, Magic waited politely without trying to get some of the food. She seemed to be knowing that she would not be allowed to eat with Elena, so she stayed off and avoided conflict. Meanwhile I excitedly took notes. It was interesting to watch them interacting and to speculate on their roles in the herd.
You could see that Elena is the lead mare in the herd. After eating grass, she led the horses to the shelter by going in the front and waiting every twenty meters for the herd to follow her. While resting she putted herself into the middle of the herd and most of the time it was up to her to decide when to go from resting to grazing and the other way around. Oftentimes I watched her organizing Shoni and leading the other horses from behind. The horses in this herd are very active as they have so many interesting places to go and always food to find. I can only repeat myself by emphasizing how differently the horses behave, if they only get the chance to follow their instincts by living as naturally as possible.
The other day Stina showed me how to feed the horses some grain and how to organize the situation of four horses, eating at the same time. As I don’t know the horses well enough yet to be able to think ahead and avoid a conflict situation by doing so, we decided to tie Elena and Magic to bring peace into the herd. Stina taught me about the importance to think ahead to avoid conflict situations, which means knowing what will happen before it will happen, and she also taught me about the importance of bringing peace into a herd like a leading horse would do.
By organizing the food-sharing, the horses could see that we knew what to do and that we always had everything under control. If we would not have had a plan, the situation would have probably become escalated. The horses would have seen that I am not aware of what could happen, and they would have had the chance to surprise me what then would have put me on a lower position.
I learned how important it is to know the horses and to study their characters and behavior before you interact with them as you will then be able to think ahead since you know how your horse behaves in different situations.
So, we tied Magic and Elena. Stina showed me how to put the halter on in a calm and respectful way. I have never really thought about putting the halter on. I always just did it. But now I am learning to watch every sign and to really have a conversation with the horse. Instead of catching the horse by just putting the halter on, I learned to ask the horse as we want the horse to cooperate with us. I approached Elena, stepped back so that she could fully see me, then showed her the halter and told her what I was going to be doing. Then I asked her to put her nose into the halter. By doing it in that way, I stepped into a conversation and into a moment of companionship.
After we tied them, Shon got his food first, then Kadoo and then Elena and Magic. By doing it in this way we could make sure that no horse was able to try taking the food from another horse what then would have putted me into a discussion with the horses.
After the horses finished their food, Elena started to circle a little around the aisle. She soon realized that she is tied and after stepping on the rope and trapping herself, she quickly figured a way out how to solve the problem. She waited patiently, knowing that we would take off the halter soon and that every try to take it off herself would be effortless.
Magic on the contrary was turning and circling around the aisle, not really realizing what was going on. I Contrast to Elena she was impatient. Elena again showed her intelligence which proves her authority to be the lead mare.
I realized that leading a herd is really a full-time-job. You always need to have your eyes everywhere, to think ahead and evaluate the situations.
I learned so much about the characters of the horses during this week. Elena, the lead mare, who is calm and soft, very intelligent and attentive, always clear in pointing out what she wants. Magic, a strong and curious mare, often busy with doing her own thing, sometimes a little naughty and dominant but mostly polite and sometimes not capable of finding solutions like in the situation with the rope.
Kadoo, a young stallion, always curious and willing to play and to learn, most of the time busy with trying to figure out his role in the herd and discovering his masculinity.
And Shoni, a bit restricted as he has made many bad experiences in the past, sometimes seeming to be hiding inside of him but more and more coming out of his shell.
I am grateful for all the lessons the horses and Stina gave me and I am excited for all the lessons which are still waiting for me.
We are right now developing a new one month horse program where students can learn the waterhole rituals, the language of horses, natural horse management with added video and literature studies.
So stay tuned for more updates!
Enjoy a video from 2014 where I connected with the wild herd from a hammock