Herd Talk: connecting with horses in the Robson Valley

By: Nancy Taylor

My interest in personal growth led me to the Herd Talk Workshop at Falling Star Ranch last week. I haven’t been around horses for over fifty years yet I am drawn to the idea that a connection with horses can enhance self awareness, as well as an awareness of others.

The workshop began with exploring our intentions for the two days, diaphramatic breathing and Chi Gong exercises. Birgit Stutz and Kathryn Kincannon shared some of their knowledge of equine communication and behaviour. I began to understand that horses do not think like people; horses have unique personalities and so do people. These differences were evident when Birgit brought five horses into the arena. After she removed their halters we quietly observed the herd. Birgit carefully watched the horse’s movements and ways of interacting to interpret their relationships. It seemed like every subtle nuance had meaning.

At first I didn’t grasp the degree to which the synchrony between a horse’s body language and mine could affect my ability to create a positive connection. But once I started leading one of them it became obvious. With Kathryn’s and Birgit’s coaching I became more relaxed and so did my horse. I spent the afternoon of the first day leading one of five horses, in turn, around the arena remembering to exhale, being aware of the bend in my body and the horse’s body and maintaining the boundary between the horse and me. All the while I tried to maintain my body alignment and keep calm contact through the line. When it felt right I had to ask myself, who is leading who?

The Herd Talk Workshop supported my belief in the importance of leaders really knowing and understanding those they are trying to lead. With a horse we are ultimately in charge; with the body language skills that Birgit shares with workshop participants the potential to really come to know the horse is possible. With horses, as with humans, a respectful relationship is built through trust, consistency, healthy boundaries and … how else can I say it? “good vibes.”

My growing comfort level with the horses was enhanced by an introduction to “catching” a horse (or was it letting the horse catch me?). Alberta, a mare in heat, didn’t want to be caught, and chose to hide behind her favourite gelding. One participant after the other proceeded to approach the mare with correct body language, sending the appropriate energy to the appropriate body part on the horse with just the right amount of energy, until the mare finally accepted the human’s leadership. With Birgit’s help I was the last to put the halter on her. Alberta was cooperative for me in comparison to the first time the halter went on her.

Grooming was another way I gained trust in the horse, especially when brushing his legs. We did some long lining and I was so impressed that a gentle squeeze on the lines could tell the horse to straighten its body. Now I wonder about the impact of the message we give through our hands when we dress a baby or wash a young child’s face.

The two day Herd Talk Workshop last week was the tip of the ice berg in terms of knowing horses and through them, knowing ourselves and others better. I am grateful for women like Birgit who follow their dreams and then go on to share their knowledge, skills and passion with others in the community. Falling Star Ranch is another great asset in the Dunster and Robson Valley communities.

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