Life Lessons From A Horse
Browsing the menu of experiences that the Half Moon Equestrian Centre offers, the last thing that would probably catch your eye is the Positive Empowerment Session.
“What is that?” You may wonder. “It sounds boring!”
Instead, you choose the Turf and Surf or even the Sand Stroll.
But like the runt of a litter of puppies the Positive Empowerment Session packs quite an unsuspecting punch, a punch that goes straight to the mind, body and soul.
Developed by Monty Roberts, the Positive Empowerment Session or Join Up, as it’s more popularly known, is a non-violent way of breaking-in horses. It involves using body language to earn the trust of the horse so that it may accept and follow your commands.
Trina Delisser of the Half Moon Equestrian Centre leads this session. Her office easily tells the story of her life, scattered with equestrian books, trophies and equipment. Another thing you will notice are the dogs coming and going as they please, seemingly ignoring the cat lounging by the window sill. But that’s a story for another day.
The sessions starts with Trina explaining the theory as she takes you through the basics of body language. She then goes on to explain the mannerisms of a horse and how it will respond to humans.
Simply put, horses are flight animals, meaning they will run from danger. They are also herd animals and will always look to a leader. This means, as their handler, you need to establish your role as the leader but must do so in a non-confrontational manner.
Fast forward 15 minutes and the participant (or student) will find him or herself in the middle of a round pen (without corners), possibly questioning the decision to do this, as a 10ft tall majestic horse approaches.
A Personal Account
Trina looked safe under a tree watching from outside the pen; oh what I wouldn’t give to trade places with her.
Firstly, I needed to get Classic to gallop around the pen by shouting at him to go/run/move, whatever your choice of words may be. I also used my whip to wave him into the direction I wanted him to go.
That part went well — if by ‘well’ I meant running around the pen with sweat dripping down my body and grossly out of breath.
While galloping, I then needed to go in front of Classic and command him to go in the other direction, again using verbal commands and the whip as a pointer. Yes, you are thinking, why would I go in the path of a powerful horse? I asked myself the very same thing as well.
Luckily, Classic decided to accept my command.
I then needed to allow him to slow his pace and watch to see if he would begin to lower his head, moving it from side to side as well as chew his mouth.
At the sight of these cues, I put down my whip and walked towards Classic.
Important to note, I was told never to walk towards him head-on as that would be a sign of confrontation. Instead my path was to be sideways and towards his shoulder.
I got to his shoulder and all was well but then he ran off.
Just great! This meant that I needed to start the process all over again. So back to running around in the pen, slowing down and then looking for the cues.
Again, he allowed me to get to his shoulder.
Then he ran off.
We repeated this dance a couple more times — then the magic happened!
After I got to Classic’s shoulder, he stayed, I walked in front of him and commanded him to follow, which he did.
I was overcome with emotion as I saw this 10ft beauty follow me wherever I went. I felt like I had found a true friend.
After my session, Trina shared that Classic had never done the session before so it was interesting to see how he would react. He was a rescue horse that was left for dead after not being able to race anymore. He had a hard time trusting humans. This, she said was the reason that he would allow me to come close at first but take some time to trust me enough to follow me.
I knew exactly how Classic felt, I could relate to him in so many ways.
I guess that’s why the session can be therapeutic to humans. In learning to handle the horse you reveal so much about yourself. You must release your inhibitions and open yourself to being one with your horse, by giving respect and trust in order to earn it.
A life lesson indeed.