2017 Online Class: Part 5: Conversation with Sundance

Following is a series of images shot by Barb Young a few years back.  Sundance hadn’t been here more than a year at this point and leading was a bit of a challenge. 

When Sunny first arrived, he was quite shut down.  I could do just about anything with him and he rarely objected.  The only reason I knew he was not accepting what I was doing is that he would either freeze or go on “autopilot”, marching along without really being connected to me at all.

I think it’s really important to recognize the difference between willingness and compliance that is based in something ranging from acceptance to resignation.  There’s a completely different feel that comes from a horse who is participating because they want to versus a horse who is participating because they know we are aren’t going to go away until they do what we want or who are afraid they will get punished if they don’t do what we want. 

Here are two images of Sundance from when he first came that show what it looked like when he was allowing me to do things (which might look like acceptance) but really, he was checking out, exiting stage left mentally/emotionally, to escape the stressful situation. 

In this first image, I find it significant that I have a bridle hanging on the gate beside him and his response to my presence is to stick his head in the corner and ignore me.  In terms of a conversation it might look something like this: 

Me (carrying halter and bridle): “Would you like to do something together?”

Sundance (puts his head in the corner): “I don’t see you, you’re not here, if I ignore you maybe you’ll go away.”

   
  
  
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  
  
  
  
  
  
      Me (carrying halter and bridle): “Would you like to do something together?”         Sundance (puts his head in the corner): “I don’t see you, you’re not here, if I ignore you maybe you’ll go away.”

Me (carrying halter and bridle): “Would you like to do something together?”

 

Sundance (puts his head in the corner): “I don’t see you, you’re not here, if I ignore you maybe you’ll go away.”

In the second image I have just put the surcingle on him for the first time:

Me: “Sundance, could you please tell me how you feel about being saddled by allowing me to put this surcingle on as a proxy for a saddle?” (I had a theory I wanted to test).

Sundance (sticks his head up in the air, note the ear position, freezes and stops breathing): “Holy crap, holy crap, holy crap!!!! Maybe if I freeze she’ll forget I’m here and go away with that thing.”  And to me his answer to my question is: “If you tighten that thing around my I WILL HAVE to explode!!”  (thus, answering my question and confirming my suspicion that part of the reason he was donated to the rescue might have been that he was exploding when they saddled him up.

Sunny first surcingle.jpg

Contrast these images with the following series taken about a year later.  It’s worth noting that Sundance had been kept in a small paddock and fed nothing but corn husks.  I believe this was done to keep his energy low enough that the people who owned him could work him without risking their lives.  He was extraordinarily food aggressive and you can see how dull his coat was. 

The moment he started feeling better he stopped letting me do anything with him AT ALL.  I could sometimes get a halter on him but I couldn’t get within 20 feet with a bridle!  What was he telling me?  I think he was telling me that now that he was strong enough to express an opinion he was letting me know that his days of having things done TO him were over.  Message received and honored 😊

After about a year of just getting healthy, settling into the herd and growing comfortable with me he started showing curiosity about things like the bridle hanging on the fence and me coming into the paddock or pasture.  He started allowing me to put the halter on and we’d spend time together.  Here are the images from one of those early sessions.

   
  
  
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  
  
  
  
  
  
    This was fairly typical of our initial interactions:    Me: “Sundance, can you feel my invitation to join me on a walk?”      Sundance: “Yes, but it feels like you might be telling me what to do so I’m leaving.”    He would, in a very determined way walk off.  His answer to my question, ultimately, was   “no, I can’t accept your invitation right now, it makes me too nervous”.    So, I would go with him, letting him know,   “I hear you and accept your answer. Thank you for trying.”

This was fairly typical of our initial interactions:

Me: “Sundance, can you feel my invitation to join me on a walk?”

Sundance: “Yes, but it feels like you might be telling me what to do so I’m leaving.”

He would, in a very determined way walk off.  His answer to my question, ultimately, was “no, I can’t accept your invitation right now, it makes me too nervous”.  So, I would go with him, letting him know, “I hear you and accept your answer. Thank you for trying.”

   
  
  
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  
  
  
  
  
  
    This is one of those moments where I felt an opening and asked him, by changing my position from following him to taking the lead, and he came with me:    Me: “I feel you are with me now, could we go in this direction together?”      Sundance: “I think I can.”    I can tell because he looks at me and is leaning in my direction, ready to take a step in my direction. Notice I am backing away, making room for him to come toward me.  It’s important that if he goes I go with him.

This is one of those moments where I felt an opening and asked him, by changing my position from following him to taking the lead, and he came with me:

Me: “I feel you are with me now, could we go in this direction together?”

Sundance: “I think I can.”

I can tell because he looks at me and is leaning in my direction, ready to take a step in my direction. Notice I am backing away, making room for him to come toward me.  It’s important that if he goes I go with him.

   
  
  
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  
  
  
  
  
  
    Now he is walking with me, but note the head down and slightly angled away from me. He’s got one foot out the door saying:  “  What is going on here? How did I end up following you? This might be you telling me what to do and if so I’m out.”    My response is to go with him again, essentially following his lead to let him know that my intention is for us to do something together that is mutually agreed upon.

Now he is walking with me, but note the head down and slightly angled away from me. He’s got one foot out the door saying:

What is going on here? How did I end up following you? This might be you telling me what to do and if so I’m out.”

My response is to go with him again, essentially following his lead to let him know that my intention is for us to do something together that is mutually agreed upon.

   
  
  
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  
  
  
  
  
  
    Sundance comes back with me at that point and decides to give me another chance.  Note though that in these two images where he is following me his belly is tight, his eyes show tension, his head is low and ready to go into his escape march away at any moment.  He’s tense, not sure about this at all!   My goal in any interaction with a horse is for the horse to feel not one shred of doubt about what’s expected as well as to feel confident that he has a choice whether to participate or not.  Now, I tend to take it as a choice to engage in a conversation, even and uncomfortable one, if they walk up to me and invite me to put the halter on.  Hence this conversation with Sunny.   Now, you’ll recall in the image before this one there was a lot of tension so I feel the need to ask another question to see if I can get him thinking in a different direction.

Sundance comes back with me at that point and decides to give me another chance.  Note though that in these two images where he is following me his belly is tight, his eyes show tension, his head is low and ready to go into his escape march away at any moment.  He’s tense, not sure about this at all!

My goal in any interaction with a horse is for the horse to feel not one shred of doubt about what’s expected as well as to feel confident that he has a choice whether to participate or not.  Now, I tend to take it as a choice to engage in a conversation, even and uncomfortable one, if they walk up to me and invite me to put the halter on.  Hence this conversation with Sunny.

Now, you’ll recall in the image before this one there was a lot of tension so I feel the need to ask another question to see if I can get him thinking in a different direction.

   
  
  
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  
  
  
  
  
  
      Me: “Sundance, I feel your concern.  Can you trust me that I want to do something together with you?  Could we go this way together?”      Sundance: “Yes, I think I can and thank you for giving me something else to think about, I was getting lost in my worry.”    What I like here is that his step towards me is big and light and soft.  There was no hesitation in it and his ears started to move with me.  Note some slack in the rope so he followed my body lead more than a pull from the rope.

Me: “Sundance, I feel your concern.  Can you trust me that I want to do something together with you?  Could we go this way together?”

Sundance: “Yes, I think I can and thank you for giving me something else to think about, I was getting lost in my worry.”

What I like here is that his step towards me is big and light and soft.  There was no hesitation in it and his ears started to move with me.  Note some slack in the rope so he followed my body lead more than a pull from the rope.

   
  
  
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  
  
  
  
  
  
    And then he follows me off in a way that feels more together.  We’re still not in synch totally but his head has come up out of that submissive/skeptical/I might have to bail position. His ears are moving more, the line in his belly is gone. He’s more relaxed and breathing now.     Of course, it’s super easy now for him to tip over into obedience, disconnect from me and go on autopilot.  As soon as I feel that might be happening I ask him to come back to me by changing my position relative to him so he’ll have to turn and come with me in another direction.  His response to that is to stop.

And then he follows me off in a way that feels more together.  We’re still not in synch totally but his head has come up out of that submissive/skeptical/I might have to bail position. His ears are moving more, the line in his belly is gone. He’s more relaxed and breathing now.

 

Of course, it’s super easy now for him to tip over into obedience, disconnect from me and go on autopilot.  As soon as I feel that might be happening I ask him to come back to me by changing my position relative to him so he’ll have to turn and come with me in another direction.  His response to that is to stop.

   Sundance: “I’m not sure I want to come with you.”    He’s not really committed to taking that step towards me and his ears are shifted back a bit.  He’s thinking about how committed he is to my idea.

Sundance: “I’m not sure I want to come with you.”

He’s not really committed to taking that step towards me and his ears are shifted back a bit.  He’s thinking about how committed he is to my idea.

   
  
  
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  
  
  
  
  
  
      Me: “Take your time. You can think about it. Meanwhile I’ll give you a bit more clarity in my connection so you don’t have doubt about my intention.”    Sundance now leans in my direction with his ears forward.   He commits to taking the steps and follows me, but…  As you can see in this next image the line in his belly is back and his ears have shifted back again. What I like though is that his head is up and he’s more actively responding, even though there is a bit of an attitude there.    
  
  
    Now he’s skeptical again and wondering when I’m going to start taking over and telling him what to do.

Me: “Take your time. You can think about it. Meanwhile I’ll give you a bit more clarity in my connection so you don’t have doubt about my intention.”

Sundance now leans in my direction with his ears forward. 

He commits to taking the steps and follows me, but…

As you can see in this next image the line in his belly is back and his ears have shifted back again. What I like though is that his head is up and he’s more actively responding, even though there is a bit of an attitude there.

Now he’s skeptical again and wondering when I’m going to start taking over and telling him what to do.

 I find it useful to change direction in these moments to keep him thinking and responsive rather than checking out and going on autopilot.

I find it useful to change direction in these moments to keep him thinking and responsive rather than checking out and going on autopilot.

 Here I ask for another change of direction.  He follows off pretty nicely.   I like there is slack in the rope and his head and ears are up.

Here I ask for another change of direction.  He follows off pretty nicely. 

I like there is slack in the rope and his head and ears are up.

 That trend continues into the next step and it even feels like our feet might come into synch.  Note the slack in the rope.  Can you see how I have forward intention in my body and am pushing through the ground to move?  This makes it much easier for Sundance to pick up my body language and maybe go with me.   

That trend continues into the next step and it even feels like our feet might come into synch.  Note the slack in the rope.  Can you see how I have forward intention in my body and am pushing through the ground to move?  This makes it much easier for Sundance to pick up my body language and maybe go with me.

 

   
  
  
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  
  
  
  
  
  
    And then he changes his mind and stops.  Now I could just stop with him and let him breath and process for a while. That is never a bad thing and in fact is something I’m doing more and more of.

And then he changes his mind and stops.

Now I could just stop with him and let him breath and process for a while. That is never a bad thing and in fact is something I’m doing more and more of.

   
  
  
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  
  
  
  
  
  
    His response as he follows me off lets me know that I could have given him more time.  His ears are back a bit and his expression is not exactly happy!

His response as he follows me off lets me know that I could have given him more time.  His ears are back a bit and his expression is not exactly happy!

   
  
  
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  
  
  
  
  
  
    And then, in a flash he lets go.  Notice his ears have gone soft, his eye has gone soft and our feet are in synch.  There is a softness and connection here.  We feel like we are walking together now, that it’s mutually agreed upon.

And then, in a flash he lets go.  Notice his ears have gone soft, his eye has gone soft and our feet are in synch.  There is a softness and connection here.  We feel like we are walking together now, that it’s mutually agreed upon.

   
  
  
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  
  
  
  
  
  
    And when I stop he stops and comes in close, breathing with me.

And when I stop he stops and comes in close, breathing with me.

   
  
  
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  
  
  
  
  
  
    And when I stop he stops and comes in close, breathing with me.   This relaxed face at the end tells me that our conversation broke through a bit.  I think this face is relaxed because he’s still with me, he’s breathing, and his eyes are soft and partially closed.  If they are frozen stiff their eyes tend to stay more open, fixed and staring and they may not be breathing.  Also, if they are relaxed they will tend to walk with me or at least track me after I take the halter off.  If they are checked out they will stay where they stand and not track me at all.

And when I stop he stops and comes in close, breathing with me.

This relaxed face at the end tells me that our conversation broke through a bit.  I think this face is relaxed because he’s still with me, he’s breathing, and his eyes are soft and partially closed.  If they are frozen stiff their eyes tend to stay more open, fixed and staring and they may not be breathing.  Also, if they are relaxed they will tend to walk with me or at least track me after I take the halter off.  If they are checked out they will stay where they stand and not track me at all.