Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dancing with Horses.

Dancing with your Horse was the name of the clinic. Our instructor, Cindy Loader, is a level three graduate of the Parelli program who also happens to be a belly dancer. How fun is that? The price was right and I signed up. The day of the clinic the sky was low and threatened rain, and I wondered for a moment what in the heck I was doing? There was a really good chance that I wouldn’t know a single person there and it could easily be a cold, wet experience to boot. I fixed a cup of coffee for the road, loaded my beautiful horse into the trailer and off we went, almost ready for a new experience.

The focus of the clinic was to get in rhythm with your horse. Cindy said, if you can’t get in rhythm with your horse, you cannot expect them to get in touch with you. Although it is important for the human to be the leader, we could invite our partner to dance with us instead of feeling like we are making them bend to our will. Wouldn’t it be awesome if our horse was participating because they wanted to be with us? Another way I am reminded that Respect is a two way street.

On the ground, we led our horses around the arena, matching their footfalls. Her left foot moves forward and I step out with my left, right foot, left foot hesitates, right foot. The clinic participants came in as many shapes and sizes as the horses, and the noise level dropped as we all concentrated on getting in sync with our long legged partners. Horses communicate with body language; they are always aware of each others proximity and mood. I sense that Lakota is curious about this new game, her ears and eyes let me know that she is paying attention. After a few rounds at a walk we added new elements to our dance, turning and returning to the rail, and attempting to stop in sync without any cues form the lead line. And then we threw the lead lines over the horses back and tried to do the same routine with out holding on to them at all.

I found myself grabbing Lakota’s halter and placing her back where I intended her to be. Cindy caught me in the act and corrected me, inviting me to find a new way to communicate with Lakota without touching her. I got a little frustrated and saw my type “A” personality in clear perspective, my need to control the situation, doing what I always do, trying to make it look right ... totally forgetting that the clinic was called “Dancing with your Horse” ~ not ~ “How to do Relate to your Horse as you Always Have, You Big Bully”.

I asked for help. Cindy showed me several ways to accomplish what I was trying to do in a more respectful manner. Lakota responded willingly, she was paying attention. She was ready to get with the new program and play this game! Taking a few deep breaths I relaxed, put a smile on my face and stepped forward in a new way. I liked it. Lakota liked it. We were partners and I was leading the dance. It didn’t always look pretty but that would come with practice.

Stepping it up a notch, Cindy told us our next challenge. One by one, each of the participants took the halters off their horse as we applied our new skills to see if we could keep our horses tuned in to us, as they were actually free to go wherever they wanted. All of the sudden the small corral we were all in seemed so much bigger! Let me just say that some dance steps looked better than others and leave it at that. We all gained knowledge from each others mistakes and learned as we laughed; knowing that each one of us was going to have to play our way through this new experience.

Back at home I have been practicing with my very patient horse, the new ideas that I brought home from the clinic. But the light bulb went off this morning. What if I applied these techniques to my two legged relationships? What if I made a more conscious effort to get in rhythm with my human partners? My limited experience on the ballroom dance floor has illuminated a lack of communication, learning to follow instead of taking the lead is a challenge. I do feel like I have worked on my overwhelming need to control, enrolling year after year in Control Issues 101, and yet just a few minutes with my horse showed me how much more I still need to learn. She, by the way, is a great dancer!!

* annette

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