2018 Series 5

Taking Body Language into Motion


Tango with Horses!

Week 2:  Balancing Act

  • How do we take our committed dance partner and build on our movement repertoire?

  • The benefits of the small things that happen during preparatory conversations like haltering, leading, picking out feet, and grooming.

One of my first interactions with Smokey

One of my first interactions with Smokey

December 3 - 9, 2018

course content for week 2:

Balancing Act

Welcome to week 2!

Introduction to week 2

Balancing Act:  Adding new pieces to a solid foundation

Dancing together is a balancing act. Last week I spoke about the importance of a solid foundation to build on. For me, that foundation lies in our ability to walk together fluidly, no matter what and no matter where we are. There are dozens of little things that happen in our interactions on the ground that set the stage for us to be able to walk together in this fluid way. Every time my horse makes a conscious decision to participate, then we dance.

This week I want to talk about how some of these basic things we do with our horses on the ground are, in fact, important conversations in and of themselves. Haltering, grooming, picking out feet, trimming feet, tacking up, to name a few, are relatively low risk playgrounds for building a dialogue that serves us well down the road. If I am a leader that can engage my horse’s curiosity so that he becomes a willing participant in a dance about putting the halter on, or picking out his feet, the sky’s the limit after that!  You may notice I use the terms dance and conversation interchangeably. A dance is a non-verbal conversation about moving together.

If you think about it, putting the halter on requires that we move together. You know what I mean? I have no doubt you have had that horse that shoves his head into the halter and wiggles and fusses the entire time you try to latch it. Or, the horse that turns his head away and begins to leave while you hang on for dear life. How about the horse that grabs the halter in his mouth just as you get ready to slide it over his nose? Huey, I’m talking to you! These are all examples of haltering that are not a graceful, connected dance. All examples of what haltering might look like if a horse has not made that conscious choice to participate in the dance.

When I work with a horse I feel for the energy and balance between us. If either of us is off balance then nothing works. You cannot lean on each other and move together well. For me, there is nothing worse than working with a horse that does not have his heart in it. But when we get it right, both carrying ourselves, we feel magnetized to one another. Flowing together seamlessly. This feeling of balance relative to one another is evident in absolutely everything I do with a horse.

Haltering a horse that is fully committed is a peaceful encounter. We both breathe. We work together to get the halter on. I take my time so that nothing bangs on his face. He lines himself up so that I can reach him easily. No flinging the halter over his poll and trying to catch it on the other side. He places his head and neck so that I can reach him easily. He turns his head slightly toward me and places his nose so that I can softly slide the halter on, adjust it and buckle it. He stands still while I do this and I am coordinated enough that I do it gracefully. In this way the act of haltering is a dance in of itself.

Welcome to week 2 video:

Course Content for Week 2:


Links to PDF Documents for week 1:

PDF:  The Early Stages of Partnership

Following a feel: where merlin is now in comparison to Kastani

I thought it might be useful if you guys could see what I’m talking about when I feel a horse is following a feel on the halter and lead well enough I’m ready to move on to other things. Here is another session with Merlin - the forth if I’m not mistaken.

I just did a fifth session that I thought I caught on tape but my camera was not recording (sigh). It was a short session right before evening feeding and I decided to see if I could halter Merlin in Smokey’s pen (where he was eating hay) and get him to follow me to his pen (only a short distance away). It was a bit of a challenge because he was sure interested in Smokey and his hay. I felt it was worth the try because I was in a position where I could let him go if needed and just put his hay out to get him over to his pen.

This time I was able to explore keeping a little bit of a firmer feel for a bit longer. Still had to be careful not to tip into pulling, but it felt like he was thinking about moving so it was worth staying with it for a little bit. Sure enough, after waiting just a short time with a distinct feel (still not firm or resisting or pulling) he took a step. After a few times releasing when he moved his feet he took off walking and followed me all the way to his pen on a loose line. Hooray!

This was such a big step for him that I pulled the halter and quit there. Tempting as it was to try again with the camera actually recording! We are working with Merlin with a homeopathic remedy and he seems to be having some detox reaction in the form of looser stool than normal and his coat looks dull. This frequently happens when you are on the right track with a homeopathic remedy. Old symptoms resurface and then clear out again in a few days or a week. He also looked much brighter in his eye today, softer and more available, which is one of the things we are hoping this remedy does is remove the mental/emotional block he’s had for so long.

Here you will find the newly edited version of the video of me trimming feet. I did voice over audio talking about the things I see and look for when I work with a horse’s feet. This is a good example of what I mean when I say that even things like trimming feet become important - both as a dance, or conversation - and as a form of physical, mental and emotional ‘training’ for our horses. Training in the sense of how one might train for an athletic pursuit. In this case the horse trains himself to stand quietly, to find his own balance. The act of balancing on varied terrain (in this case) creates a variety of loads to muscles, joints and tendons, recruiting those that aid in helping them keep their balance. And that sure comes in handy as we begin our work in other areas.

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.