Maintaining Connection ~ Unhaltered Horse, Unfenced Field

What do you do when your horse asks you to go so far out of your comfort zone, that you start counting off a list of all the things that could go wrong…? Last week I told you how my friend Jenny and I used an art game to see what was going on in our subconscious, then we took that information out to the horses to see what they had to say.

Now, I’m going to tell you the rest of that story…

Jenny and her fiancé Ken (I call them JenKen cause really, who could resist?!) walked across the paddock and into the barn and I went looking for Montaro. There he was all by himself, towards the back of the field. He flashed me a picture (in my mind’s eye) of him and I going into the back 20 acres together.

BUT he wanted to be unhaltered and completely at liberty. Oh boy. Three separate directions he could take off in… nasty neighbour at the back… what if he didn’t want to come back to the fenced part for hours? What if I couldn’t catch him again and had to drive home leaving him in the unfenced area overnight??! And so on.

At which point Montaro asked, Do you trust me? As I pondered this, the thought/image packages from him continued to arrive, What does our relationship mean to you… who have I shown you I AM (accompanied by flashed images of all the cool stuff he has taught me)? Do you trust in our relationship?

I took a deep breath and said, “Fine. But I’m going to get a rope and halter to bring back there just in case.” I stuffed the halter in my pocket and slung the rope crosswise around me like a purse, and we headed off to the corral-pen together – Montaro following calmly behind me. Funnily enough, none of the other horses followed us. They stayed up at the barn with JenKen.

Corral-pen and back gate

Taro followed me into the catch-pen and then he stood quietly while I opened the gate to the unfenced 20 acres. I took a deep breath, then stepped aside and invited him in. We started to make our way down the steep bank to the creek and then I stood back and said, “This doesn’t feel safe to me, you go first.” He stepped/slid down the bank, leaped across the creek and galloped up the other side. I made my way across considerably slower and as I came up the far bank to the field he was still racing around, bucking and kicking with freedom and delight.

The back 20 acres – the creek is in the gully between these two banks

I cannot pretend that I was not just a wee bit apprehensive about, “What the hell have I done? Shit! What if he doesn’t let me get near him! What if he takes off and just keeps running?!” My heart was pounding, I was shaky and nervous, and then he dropped his head to eat. Deep breath in. Okay. Okay, just keep breathing… Of course my monkey mind is then running off with, “How long is he going to want to stay out here? There’s no grass left on their side of the fence, he might want to eat for 4 hours… I can’t stay out here for 4 hours… shit, what if I can’t get him back in…” and so on.

I knew better than to even try to approach him in my current state, so I decided to give myself a time out. After all, we were already HERE. Unfenced. Completely at liberty. I had already made that choice and now we were IN it. So, time to stop franticking around (yes, I just made up that word and how apt it is!) and just be here now. I figured I had at least an hour or two before he would even possibly be ready to go back.

Meanwhile, the other four horses – once they realized he was gone – were tearing up their pasture, bucking, rearing, racing around at top speed – sliding stops just before they hit the back fence line (another reason my heart was pounding) – galloping back to the barn, storming through it and out again. I had told JenKen to give them some loose alfalfa while I was gone with Montaro, so they had put out the piles – which the horses completely ignored as they franticked around whinnying and calling to Montaro.

Whew. Thank god none of them tried to go through the fence. And they eventually settled enough to grab anxious mouthfuls of their favorite treat, while flinging their heads up and scanning the back fence line every few moments.

I came trudging back to the barn to let everyone know we were okay and to grab a flake of alfalfa for Montaro. I placed the flake in the middle of the corral-pen with the gate to the unfenced area wide open. I was thinking that if he chose to follow me back, he may balk at the idea of going into the corral-pen; so a little inducement might be a good idea!

And then I crossed the creek again and went into the back 20. Montaro was still in the first open area after the creek – where I’d left him. And I stood there breathing deeply for a while – breath being the key to connection and intuition – and then the image of my Tree Cathedral popped into my mind. I looked at Montaro and said, “Yes, very good idea, I’ll go visit the cathedral.”

So I skirted off to the edge of the field and into the forest – into my gorgeous, powerful, magnificent cathedral of cedars:

These cedars go all the way around in a circle that holds immense presence and energy

After spending some time in the presence of these Masters, and meditating in my special spot (I sit where the red gloves are):

My seat and feet connected to the earth and my spine connected the tree trunk

I emerged back out to the field to look for Montaro and see what wanted to happen next. Would he even be there? I wanted to know how he felt about me in this space of complete freedom and choice. Would he still want to connect with me? What would his reaction to the halter be? He doesn’t mind ropes but he does not like wearing a halter. Of course, I was now much calmer and balanced from having meditated and connected with the trees, so I was able to approach him without a frantic energy or anxiety. I was now able to feel into his energy and to feel my own body wisdom directing me in how to move and what to do.

Yes, the anxiety and all the what if’s were still there, but I sent them to the back of my brain and I used my breath and focus to center myself and ground my energy down into the earth.

My body spontaneously remembered two things from my youth – when I didn’t have human teachers or lessons and I just learned directly from horses with no adults around:

  1. Horses like me to approach in a circular fashion, from the side, not head-on.
  2. Horses don’t move easily in straight lines, they like to meander or zig-zag whilst slowly moving forward.

As I walked round the side of the area where Montaro was, I also remembered how I had taught Audelina to enjoy being led. Previously, the mere sight of a rope would send her galloping away. And if they got a halter and rope on her, her big Belgian self would just take off anyway! You could get a severe rope burn, or be dragged along – your choice!

With Audelina, I started with no rope or halter and just asked her to follow my outstretched arm – so my arm represented the rope that connected her to me. Just the way I taught Juno in this video. However, as Aude was still quite feral at that time, she did not enjoy being touched, so scratches were not a positive experience for her. Instead I lit upon the idea of asking her to follow me to patches of grass, that I would pick for her. Especially patches just outside the fence that she couldn’t reach and so we zig-zagged across the pasture, with her getting a mouthful or two of grass every time she followed me.

I realized I could do this same thing with Montaro. And then I remembered Elsa Sinclair showing us an affiliative behaviour she likes to use with horses, where she mimics grazing together. And this results in shared space, bonding and intrinsic motivation for the horse to ‘get with you’.

You can see in this video how that process works. And notice how we are on ‘horse time’ – there is no place for anxiety, impatience, or any expectations regarding Montaro’s behaviour, or how long this is going to take. If there were, it would push Montaro away from me – because I would then be an unpleasant or stressful place for him.

I have never done this before. I have no idea whether this will ‘work’ or not. I simply must trust my own intuition, trust our shared communication, and trust in our relationship – which celebrates Montaro as a free being, with as much wisdom and right to choose as I have.

And if it didn’t work, then I would trust myself to come up with something else to try! I would trust Montaro to give me information or direction. And yes, I am also prepared for the worst case scenario: For him to refuse to come back and for me to have to leave him there overnight and pray he doesn’t invade nasty neighbour’s place, or wind up on the road… and then I would get a call in the middle of the night, and so on.

Oh yes, I’ve noticed that I’m often in this place with horses where they ask me to do stuff that other people think is nuts, dangerous and irresponsible. HOWEVER. In all my years of doing this, no one has ever been seriously hurt. All my bodily injuries have come from skiing and martial arts – not horses!

But when I venture way out of my comfort zone with horses – where I’m acutely aware that it could all turn into a shit-circus in a heartbeat – I have the most amazing experiences. Thrills and joy and wonder that courses through every fibre of my being. And my relationship with my horses leaps to a whole new level of intimacy and deep connection.

You’ll see by the end of the video how Montaro is following me happily and easily. He doesn’t know I’ve put some alfalfa for him in the corral-pen and he can’t see it until he’s almost in there – but you can see how willingly he goes back with me, simply because he’s connected to me and knows that being with me is usually a good/fun place to be.

The second time Montaro and I came out here completely at liberty, I went straight to my Tree Cathedral. I ended up spending almost an hour and half with the trees and totally forgot about Taro! As I emerged to an empty field I felt a rising panic. But I stopped myself and felt into him… where are you…? I felt, up at the corral-pen and then immediately my doubting mind sprang into action and I started worrying, “But if he’s not, and I walk all the way back there, then I’ve got to come all the way back here and then start searching the other direction and…” That’s the point where I give my rational mind the boot and say, “Never mind! We’re going with that very first impression. And if we’re wrong, we’ll deal with it.” I trudged off towards the creek and as I neared the bank, guess who I spied eating alfalfa in the corral-pen?

Look whose head is chomping away on alfalfa…

So now we have an M.O. – he knows I will leave a flake of alfalfa in the corral-pen and he will even make his own way back there whenever he wishes. I will follow this same pattern as I bring the others back here. Will I bring one other along with Montaro? Or just one horse at a time? Will the others want to be haltered, or a neck loop, or…? I guess we’ll find out 🙂

Jini Patel Thompson is a natural health writer and Freedomite. She began riding at age 2 in Kenya, and got her first horse at age 8 in Alberta, and so continues a life-long journey and love affair with these amazing creatures.
Maintaining Connection ~ Unhaltered Horse, Unfenced Field

11 thoughts on “Maintaining Connection ~ Unhaltered Horse, Unfenced Field

  • April 14, 2017 at 9:15 pm
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    This is SO BEAUTIFUL Jini, so glad you are doing this and posting about it!!! Exactly how I feel about my horses and the relationship I want to have: being with other beings who are still alive and not “desensitized”. I am so grateful you are keeping this journal and sharing it, it’s so important to people like me, just starting out with horses but feeling/seeing that what most people out there are doing with and to horses is all upside down & makes no sense!
    The struggle I have felt these past 3 months with my mustangs has gotten me sick physically. I feel I have to explain myself with everyone, about why I want to treat them with respect and not “teach them” a bunch of rules. But great clarity comes from contrast! And I love to use “the mirror effect” to see what belief systems I still hold that are bringing these people into my life.
    Thank you for posting about your adventures with your tribe! And what gorgeous music by Kesia! Love to you both!

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    • April 18, 2017 at 11:44 pm
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      Thanks Vittoria! When you get them on your own land, or a boarding place where you’re the only boarder, so much will change and get easier for you. I hear you about the ‘physically sick’ part. I had Juno castrated yesterday and although the surgery went well physically – the emotional/energetic piece was brutal. Yep, blog post to come on that one 😉

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      • April 19, 2017 at 6:02 pm
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        I agree and I can see what I could not have known before. Luckily I just found a place to move them for now (another boarding place) where they will live in herds on 170 acres…. Still managed, still stalled in the winter at nights, but better than what they have now. Until the land shows up…. 😉
        I am sorry about Juno! It is really hard. We are meddling so much with their lives, but I also I am so aware of the dance we are doing together. This awareness thing, beautiful!! 🙂

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        • April 20, 2017 at 10:36 am
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          Your new place sounds very interesting – do they have a website? I’ll be interested to see/hear how they do there and the pros and cons of it!

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          • April 20, 2017 at 1:58 pm
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            oh my gosh – how exciting! I looked at everything for sale in Western WA – within 20 minutes of the border, since land is SO much cheaper there. But then I just couldn’t get over the issue of having to cross the border to see my horses – and what happens if they close the border?? Was just too risky for me. And Eastern WA should be a bit drier too, yes? Well, holding space for you and for your land to make itself known 🙂

  • April 15, 2017 at 7:54 pm
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    Great post, Jini. Over the years I’ve experimented with leaving a horse loose in the open yard, not tying, and even loose on the trail to a certain degree (I’m on the ground walking, and so are they). I figure they can take care of themselves, and I just trust that they’re not going to run into the street and wait for a car to hit them. What I’ve found is that they really don’t go far, and if we’re out on a trail and something happens that scares them and they get loose in the process, guess where they go? Home. Out on empty country roads I’m not too worried. They eventually find the closest grass patch on the shoulder and start eating. I have found they don’t treat roads the same way humans do, rather they look for a path through the land. Sometimes that is through a neighbor’s yard, so I do try to keep track of them enough so they don’t do that. I have a voice command for stop right where you are and don’t move (like don’t step into that pile of wire). I rarely use it, but when I have they listened and waited.

    Once I was with a friend and let all four horses in the herd loose with their leadropes over their backs on a trail. It was then that I saw a lower ranking herd member cue the rest of the herd to run back home. Before I knew it and could do anything about it, they were gone, full gallop down the trail to the cul-de-sac. Since they were completely gone, I ran just to catch up. By the time I got to the road, all four of them were stopped looking down the road. A tractor was coming out of a driveway in the distance and they decided it was better to stay right where they were. I caught up to them and then walked them the rest of the way home.

    Horses are quite capable of taking care of themselves and sharing with us what it means to be a horse. The only tricky part of domestication is finding a way to give them as much freedom as possible to allow their full horseness to come out while keeping the manure and hoof prints out of the neighbor’s yard.

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    • April 18, 2017 at 11:51 pm
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      Oh Mary, I simply LOVE the story of them taking off and waiting for you at the road! So perfect. As kids we used to do all kinds of whacky things with our horses and yes, even if we got dumped, they would either come back, or head home if we were close enough. And I’ve always had my horses loose out on the lawn – there’s just something so wonderful about that. But I’ll tell you, Montaro is a special explorer/adventurer soul. He would have no problem leaving everybody (me + herd) to go exploring for 30 or 40 minutes as far as he could travel and then gradually making his way back home. Or, finding another horse along the way and hanging out there for a couple of hours.

      I also love this line: “finding a way to give them as much freedom as possible to allow their full horseness to come out while keeping the manure and hoof prints out of the neighbor’s yard.”

      That’s Kesia’s problem – 500 acres and they can’t explore their own turf, nope, they gotta go tramp through the neighbour’s garden!

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  • April 16, 2017 at 4:00 pm
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    Jini…I have been waiting anxiously for part two of your Montaro story & it did not disappoint even a little bit. It was so exciting to read and watch every word and minute. I love that you took the time to take pictures of the cathedral so we could visually experience it. I appreciate trees and rocks so immensely that getting an image was fantastic & really helped me focus in on your beautiful world. There is nothing more inspiring then listening to our horses challenges and throwing caution to the wind and just going with it. I find it thrilling to relate with you on this subject. My first old horse Big Acea that I got at my age of 40 & his 25-30 not sure as he was a rescue, challenged me with Liberty/freedom/no ropes/fences. It scared and thrilled me all at the same time. I have a short clip of he and I before we moved to where we are now with Big Pa Pa. We only lived on one acre and there was about 15 acres, unfenced on one side, behind us with a major busy fast road very near. He was also very aware of how to get there because we rode that way all the time. After about 3 years with me he started asking me to let him be free and explore. He scared the crap out of me a couple of times, as I didn’t understand grounding energy as much I do now but he never went to far and it helped me get to a place where this video was taken. It’s a lot different then yours as we lived in a very flat sandy environment with suburbia closing in hard. There’s no greenery really and I do have a whip with me & his fly mask.I also avoid the area closer to the open part that leads to the traffic. Here is the link
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=oAla5Umww3Q
    So ours is more of a just stroll out and about cause Big Acea loved an adventure an would get quite bored on just one acre (as you can imagine) even with his two herd mates. Then when we moved he would follow me up & down a brand new road, for us, a mile in each direction with fast roads on each end, that were new to both of us and he would never leave my side. I did always take a halter with me though just in case cause it was new to us & I didn’t want to take his ultimate safety for granite if things went south. Although like you said they never did. It was the most magical connection with him and I could never understand why he gave me so much of his self and his devotion. It was so easy and it felt like ecstasy. I told him this all the time too. My appreciation/love for him and his teachings are something I can not even express in words. He is gone now as he told me he was done living last August. So he and I made the decision to end his life very peacefully on our own terms. It was extremely hard but he told me that he was ready and thats what he wanted as we had been conversating about it for months.
    Of course Old Acea was not a three year old wild mustang that you are trusting. So I have so much admiration for you and it definitely seems a bit more challenging. Your trust and exploration of self and intuition are inspiring. I absolutely appreciate so much that you share and document your expeditions with us. So very very cool to also see more of your very exuberant joyfous lovely wild happy looking herd. Please know how much it means to share in an be witness to, your adventures ✌🏼️❤️🐴

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  • April 16, 2017 at 4:21 pm
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    Big Acea up close at the new property

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  • April 19, 2017 at 12:11 am
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    Thanks Michelle, that’s very helpful to know that you like the level of detail – I’ll keep it coming! We are very blessed to be on such a ‘natural’ piece of land with the city fast encroaching on all sides. Land is so expensive here now (Vancouver area) that it’s $1.2 million per acre – for bare land. So however long we have there, I’m grateful and yes, the TREES are really something else. They have asked me to photograph and video them – so their legacy can live on in that way after the property is turned into townhomes. Every moment with them is precious.

    And thanks so much for sharing the photo and video of Big Acea – what a big, rangy lad he was. I love the way he waits for you and quickly falls in step and tromps off with you – you can see the happiness in his body. So sweet.

    Reply

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