Waterhole Ritual 1: Sharing Territory

Sharing Territory: When we sit in one spot, we become a curiosity.

I’ve recently watched Carolyn Resnick’s DVD, “An Introduction to the Waterhole Rituals,” which discusses the 7 rituals she uses to develop a relationship and begin training a horse. The first two rituals focus on establishing a bond with the horse and are invaluable tools for developing a trusting relationship. Ironically, many horsepeople never do these exercises with their horse. 

What relationship do we want with our horse?

What do we want of our horse? Many people dream of that perfect horse, the horse that’s your best friend and buddy, who rescues you, takes care of you, or carries you, galloping off into the sunset. Okay, a bit far-fetched. But we do often envision our horses as our friends or partners. Yet, how many horses are impossible to catch in the pasture, won’t ride away from the barn without their buddies or refuse to follow us when we ask them to load up in a trailer? We love our horses and love spending time with them. But, consider this carefully, does your horse greet you enthusiastically in the pasture and enjoy spending time with you?

The theory behind this ritual.

Carolyn Resnick’s first exercise, Sharing Territory, is about beginning to develop a relationship with the horse by doing nothing. This is very similar to what the Parelli program calls undemanding time.

Most of our interactions with horses are often based on making demands. We tell the horse where to go, what to do, how to do it. (And we often don’t consider what’s in it for the horse!) Instead, we should begin by spending time with him doing nothing, making no demands.

Once the horse becomes comfortable with the environment and a bit bored, he becomes curious and interested in us. We suddenly become a curiosity to the horse, especially to horses who have never had this kind of interaction with a person before. We will have a much easier time training the horse if he trusts us, wants to be with us and knows that he can trust our requests.

Practical Considerations and Pushy Horses.

Carolyn recommends reading a book to take your attention off the horse. Otherwise, people tend to be super focused and just stare at the horse, which can make some horses uncomfortable. By taking our focus away from the horse, we relax and this helps the horse to relax.

Horses can often become pests once they get comfortable with us and accustomed to this routine. If the horse is still more shy than pushy, we don’t want to discourage his curiosity by shooing him away. Carolyn suggests in the DVD that we get up and move to a new spot with these types of horses. This continues to build curiosity and draws the horse towards us, but doesn’t allow him to be too pushy.

With horses that are acting extremely pushy and dominant, Carolyn recommends shooing them away until they learn that you won’t tolerate them being pushy. This allows the horse to have proximity as long as he can be polite.

However, with these types of horses, I think the problem is often that we’re spending too much time sitting around doing nothing. The horse is bored and wants to play, so he’s decided the most interesting thing for him to do is to bother us. I find what works best with these horses is to transition into another more active, but still low-key activity. For instance, scratch and rub some itchy spots, wander around the pasture or arena letting the horse follow you, or even go outside and go for a grazing walk.

Shy or Skeptical Horses.

For extremely skeptical horses, I find enlisting a buddy can be extremely helpful. Find another horse in the herd who the skeptical horse likes being around and start by bonding with this horse. Then, you can do things like sharing territory or walks around the pasture with both the horses. The skeptical horse gains confidence when he sees his buddy’s comfort level.

Treats work great with skeptical horses as this helps them see interactions with you as positive. Once they’re willing to approach me, I use treat walks to help build rapport and interaction with these types of horses. We go for walks at liberty in the pasture, walking 10 steps and then giving a treat. Walking another 20 steps and then giving a treat. And so on, until the horse is willing to follow me around the pasture and eagerly ambles over when I first come through the gate. (Read about an abused mare who I’m currently using this strategy with.)

Check back later this week, as I’ll be discussing ritual 2, Saying Hello.

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