2018 Series 5

Taking Body Language into Motion


Tango with Horses!

Week 1:  The invitation to dance

Building on the doors we have opened to engaging in a dialogue with our horses. How do these basic conversations lay the foundation for dancing with our horses?


November 26 - December 2, 2018

course content for week 1:

The invitation to dance

Welcome to week 1!

Introduction to week 1

If it is not already obvious, everything we do to improve our own well being and sense of self adds greatly to our ability to work effectively with our horses to reach our goals. It should also be obvious how important it is for your horse to have an equally strong sense of well being, sense of self. It takes two to Tango, as they say. In Tango BOTH partners must be equally strong, equally healthy. The dance cannot happen if we have to lean on each other to keep our balance, if one or the other is not ready to commit to the partnership, or if either partner has health concerns that make the dance less than pleasant.

In all the work we do learning to listen to our horses, give them a voice, and assess their mental, emotional and physical well being, we are, in fact, laying the foundation for all the things we want to do with them going forward.

I am a firm believer in building a strong foundation and allowing everything else to naturally follow on from there. There is a feeling for when the partnership is ready to add another pattern, another sequence, something more complicated.

But our foundation is simply and purely, to walk together.

Welcome to week 1 video:

Course Content for Week 1:

The invitation to dance!

trimming wammy 2.jpg

Links to PDF Documents for week 1:

PDF:  The Invitation to Dance

Audio Transcript:

Bonus Materials:

Here are the session notes from Madalyn Ward’s visit: Notes

Videos for the week:

This week I hope to show you how every single thing we do with our horses constitutes a conversation. From haltering and leading to grooming, tacking up, and everything on up to the highest level of riding. It’s all a conversation! This first video demonstrates how I have a conversation with horses around trimming feet. Picking out or trimming feet is a fascinating conversation. I learn a lot about a horse by how they respond to the process of trimming the feet. When you work with them they learn a lot about how to hold their balance. It can be physical therapy in and of itself. You try standing in good balance on three legs! It’s a workout!

The audio for the hoof trimming video is not great, so I’ll be adding voice over dialogue to the hoof trimming bits. At the end of the video there is a conversation between Ellen and I that I left on there because it seemed relevant. I’ve written a transcript of that conversation here:

Transcript from the end of the video of trimming feet.

A conversation with Ellen about how to negotiate the dynamic when the horse maybe objects to something you’re doing together.

At the end of the video Ellen and I had an interesting conversation that I wanted to share. Since the audio is so poor I’ll do a transcript of that here.

Ellen: I wanted to ask about where that – that point where suddenly there could be a loss of trust if you weren’t listening – and you know that does happen….

Andrea: Yes…

Ellen: …. And I was thinking about that a lot when I was thinking about my horse Tsani and thinking that there has to be some latitude in ourselves as well as the horse for all of us to make mistakes.

Andrea: Absolutely, and I actually have a good example of that. At the clinic at my place last week I was going to do a demo with Jack where I put a bridle on him to do work in hand, and you know I’ve got an audience of people, and we’re on a time frame, and so I’m like – Jack usually loves his in hand work – but Madalyn Ward came a few weeks ago and did some major adjustments on his body and I think he’s still processing all this stuff – so he’s a little unsure – like he’s saying ‘there’s an audience and you’re in kind of a hurry’.

He had his teeth done recently and the vet banged him in the teeth with the speculum, so I think when I put my hand with the bridle, I inadvertently held it up the same way the vet did with the speculum and he went ‘AAHHHH’ (and pulled back and flung his head much like he did with the vet), and the bit got hung up under his lip, and my hand was stuck over his poll so he’s trying to walk away and I’m hanging off of him trying to get the bridle unstuck and not drop it under his feet….telling Jack: ‘I’m really sorry, I’m kinda stuck!’ and he finally stopped moving and I took it off and said: ‘I’m sorry’ ‘I rushed that’ – ‘I’m really sorry.’

Ellen: And they pick up a shift in your body…

Andrea: Yea…

Ellen: When you let go of all that….

Andrea: Yea – but then it was like I took it back and he was like: ‘I don’t know if I want anything to do with you because you’re rushing, and I have this trauma around my mouth to deal with, and can you deal with that?’ So I’d offer the bridle and then have to stop, step back and say: ‘I know. I rushed. I promise I’m listening now.’ And I’d offer again. And I think it took like four or five times, of offering it and then letting it go and then offering it and then letting it go before he finally went: ‘yea, okay, I can listen to you and trust you to guide the bit between my teeth without banging me.’ And then he was fine.

Ellen: So you have to re-establish the trust…

Here’s Jack after I got the bridle on wanting to drag me over to check out all the people hanging out in chairs under the shelter.

Here’s Jack after I got the bridle on wanting to drag me over to check out all the people hanging out in chairs under the shelter.

Andrea: Yes, you have to re-establish it, and then, when I went to do the in hand session he was still skeptical there too – ‘well, are you going to rush me now too?’ – so it took a while, and then of course, we have all the people under the shelter in chairs, and he wanted to go over and sniff all the chairs and check everything out. It was super distracting. So, we had to negotiate all of those things. And so, it wasn’t a pretty session, and then finally at the very end he was like: ‘Oh right! I remember this! I know what we’re doing and I like this!’ And then he was back with me and we had a beautiful few minutes at the very end.

Ellen: Really, wow!

Andrea: And then I took everything off and I left him because it was good and I went and sat down on the edge of the water trough by the shelter so I could talk to everybody and Jack looks up, walks up behind me and sticks his head in the tank and gets a drink of water and then proceeds to hang out with his head over my shoulder relaxed as can be. You know, he wasn’t traumatized by that (meaning our rather less than graceful interaction). It was a conversation. It didn’t go well – in the beginning – but we kept conversing until we found a way to come together.

To my surprise, Jack followed me over to the water tank, squeezed in behind me to get a drink….

To my surprise, Jack followed me over to the water tank, squeezed in behind me to get a drink….

Then he just peaceably hung out with me….

Then he just peaceably hung out with me….

Ellen: If you hadn’t had the pressure – would you have done only just a little bit and then walked away and given him more time?

Andrea: I have no idea…I don’t know what would have happened because he’s always been pretty good about bodywork and you know I don’t know if I might have been in a calmer, more grounded state, and been able to approach it differently. But you know, we also had, Fafnir was not doing well so there was a lot of emotion – we were all worried about Fafnir and the horses were worried about Fafnir – There’s all this energy there so I don’t know – probably that day I wouldn’t have done anything with him (if it weren’t for the clinic) because I’d have been focused on Fafnir.  

Ellen: Having had the miscommunication, let’s just call it, if there hadn’t been a structure that needed you to move forward a little bit, would you have, from that miscommunication, would you have maybe done just a little bit to come back to center with him whether it had to do with any of the goals you had or not…

Andrea: I wouldn’t have done anything differently. If I have a miscommunication we will negotiate until we come back to a place where we can communicate, and I did enough to get the communication established and be able to have him move and we ended up doing what I would have wanted to do with him anyway, which was just enough to give him some input into his body to help him hold the changes from the session he had with Madalyn.

Ellen: That’s really interesting – because for me, sometimes I’ll have tendency to let go a little bit sooner.

Andrea: Yea, and I think we all do that, and we do it because we feel bad that we had an argument.

Ellen: And we have to work that out too – for ourselves.

Andrea: Yes, and what I loved about that (the session with Jack) – and I wish we had that on video – is that he walked up after and hung out with me and it was so clear that he had no hard feelings about any of it. You know, it was like, all if forgiven. And I know to that we get emotionally charged too – he had a bit in his mouth – and people get very emotionally charged about  - why is there a bit in his mouth? – isn’t that going to cause him stress in and of itself? – Yea. So I have to be extra mindful because I have something in his mouth that can, in and of itself, be a source of stress. Because there’s metal in their mouth – and it’s easy for me to take his voice away with that – because of whatever history he’s had with a bit in his mouth – but I can also keep approaching that from the perspective of helping him release his fear of the bit so that it can becomes a tool to enhance our connection and communication.

Ellen: So it’s always talking, communicating. That is so interesting. And there’s no … you don’t have to take on a lot that makes you say I have to go away in order to give you some time because really you’re saying I have to give myself some time because I feel badly…

Andrea: Right. Exactly.

Ellen: What you’re saying is if you stay with the negotiation and keep sensitive you can work through it and beyond it.

Andrea: Exactly. So, it’s sort of like me saying something to you, and inadvertently I’ve offended you,  and instead of just going: ‘Oh my gosh I’ve offended you I’m so sorry. I’m not going to talk to you anymore because I don’t want to risk offending you again.’ (I say this as I turn and walk away from Ellen)…. That would feel kind of weird to you, wouldn’t it?

Ellen: yea.

Andrea: If I said: ‘I’m so sorry I offended you I just won’t talk to you anymore, because I never want to offend you again.’ Instead I’m going to say: ‘Ellen, I’m so sorry I really didn’t mean to offend you.’ And then you’re going to tell me how that made you feel, and I’ll tell you again ‘ I really am sorry.’

Ellen: That’s very interesting. Even when you were talking about offending and walking away I felt a barrier and then when you said ‘I’m so sorry’ – you changed your demeanor and your energy. And I felt like I wanted to come toward you.

Andrea: Well, and it’s also different than me saying: “I’m so  sorry”. Then (as I fall all over Ellen in a weeping heap) – sobbing ‘ I’m soooo soooorrrry, I’m reaalllyyy soooorrry! I didn’t mean to hurt you… (weeping on her shoulder as she shrinks away in horror) – you know, that doesn’t feel good either.

Ellen: Right.

Andrea: That’s just flat icky. You know. So we don’t want to be like – falling all over ourselves  in a sicky sweet, insincere way – that’s not productive. But we do want to be able to say – ‘I’m sorry and let’s continue the conversation.

Ellen: So you want to say: ‘I can sustain my energy and forgive myself..

Andrea: yes…

Ellen: and then continue the conversation because I am who I am and you are who you are, and you’re okay.

Andrea: Right, and in the end you don’t even have to forgive yourself because you realize you’re not perfect and that you’re human and he’s horse. We’re both going to make ‘mistakes’ . It’s a mistake. I made a mistake, he makes a mistake, we bump into each other, he bumps into me, I bump into him…

Ellen: Working out that mistake dynamic no matter where you are in  your life with yourself and whatever you’re experiencing is an important little place to hang out.

The invitation to dance:

This is a compilation of the first three sessions I did with Merlin this past week, working on that foundation piece of inviting him to join me on halter and lead. This is a demonstration of what it might look like giving a horse the opportunity to take whatever time they need to trust the connection and make a choice to commit to following a feel. In three sessions Merlin is well on his way. I’ll continue to work with him and post the next three sessions as soon as I am done.

This video might also be considered in the category of an invitation to dance. This is the first in what will be a series of videos of sessions with Smokey. I’ll show a progression with him from fine tuning the communication on the ground to getting on his back. This is the first session with him I got video taped but it’s the second time I’ve worked with him.