I’ve been discussing Carolyn Resnick’s 7 waterhole Rituals. (Read more about Carolyn here.) The second ritual, Saying Hello, deals with how we approach and greet our horses, especially at the beginning of the relationship.
Many people are incredibly unobservant of their horse’s body language. They barge in with halter and lead, get the horse, and then drag the reluctant horse out of the pasture. There is little respect for the horse’s space or wishes.
Carolyn talks about watching thresholds and never approaching uninvited. If we begin to approach, and the horse backs away or appears nervous, then we’ve crossed a threshold and we need to back away as well. This is similar to the approach and retreat ideas that many horse trainers use.
Also, at the beginning, we should approach, let the horse sniff and smell us and then immediately back away and leave. Backing away takes off the pressure and helps the horse realize we meant no harm. Also, by leaving, we continue to build interest and curiosity in our horses. The horse soon learns he has little to fear, because, as Carolyn says, she’s “never going to ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do.”
By backing away, we set the horse up for success. If we dally around too long, a shy or unconfident horse will often leave. If this gets repeated and we continue to put too much pressure on the horse, our presence becomes a cue for the horse to leave. Instead, if we leave first and the horse remains, then we’ve set the horse up for success. He begins to gradually realize that we aren’t all that bad.