Nasr – learning to lead
This post is part of a series I am writing about training, or being trained by, 2 stallions. Nafis Rafiq “Rafi” was 24, a been-there-done-that wise protective smart patient stallion. Nasr Mubaarak “Nasr” is his yearling son, just as smart and wise as his daddy, with the curiosity of youth mixed in. Stallions in general aren’t part of the majority American horse culture. Most of us grew up riding geldings, or mares. Stallions are generally reserved for the breeding farms and experienced riders and trainers, and are often perceived as dangerous or difficult. Thank goodness my first stallion experiences had been with Rafi. I am figuring out much as I go along, finding a path that honors their conscious being, while also keeping me and other people and horses safe. I have been blessed to find some conscious horsemanship for stallions mentors in the books of Linda Kohanov and Klaus Hempfling and the teachings of Kim Walnes and her horse Gideon.
Join me for the journey!
First, I cannot claim to be any kind of great teacher or trainer. I am simply sharing what is working for me, with Nasr (and the other horses and donkey). Please do your own research, listen to your horses, and use your discretion. Most importantly, stay safe. If you have doubts, don’t.
This past weekend we had stormy cold weather. The horses were in for 36 hours, when normally they come and go at will 24/7. Nasr, almost 18 months old, is a growing colt and hitting puberty. I had never led him under these circumstances, and honestly didn’t know what behavior I would be dealing with. In the past, I have led him in tandem with Lucky, but I knew I didn’t want the potential of 2 horses dancing and spooking their way back out to pasture on a crisp breezy morning. I left Nasr in to finish his breakfast while I turned everyone else out.
When I returned to Nasr’s small pen, he met me at the gate, and was just a bit too much into my space both physically and energetically. I waved him back and offered the halter. He stood for me to put it on, and rested his nose on my arm while I fastening up the buckle. (Side note: I’m so thrilled that he can nuzzle and sniff and even rest his nose on me or groom me gently with just his muzzle without ever attempting to put teeth on me, with my permission. Those early lessons have stuck.)
Passing through the barn, we reviewed halting a couple times, and he was smooth and responsive, staying correctly behind me and matching his body to mine. Once we exited the barn doorway, I could feel his energy ramp up. His behavior stayed the same, yet I could energetically feel him humming or vibrating with a deep contained excitement. He was very very alert, and his eyes were scanning from Lucky to the path to the mares pacing us in the field. I suddenly remembered my Centered Riding lessons from years ago, breathing through my feet into the ground to anchor myself with grounding. I focused entirely on strong deep breaths filling my body and moving out through my feet into the ground, then coming back up from the ground,, and removed my focus from concern/worry about Nasr. I was amazed to feel a shift in my energy field when I did this, like a solid wall of energy built from inside and pushed out to my skin and surrounded me. The feeling reminded me of the exercises with one of my mentors to block my mind from intrusions. The instant that energy wall reached my skin and encased me, I could feel the distinctness that is “me” as being separate from Nasr. In that same moment, this wave of emotion that felt like friendship or companionship came from him to me. He moved closer to me, but not in an invasive way. His head dropped a bit, his energy calmed a bit, and he put his nose near my shoulder, like we were just old friends out for a friendly slow relaxing stroll to somewhere nice.
We walked together that way, in calm friendship, almost to the gate. At that point the mare herd came much closer and were calling to him. He gave a low chuckle whinny back (oh my goodness, my boy is getting his adult voice!) and I had to remind him that we don’t talk to other horses when we are working together. He got a bit excited and tried to walk ahead of me. At that point, old habits kicked in, I felt my tension rise, I lost the breathing, and I corrected him with the lead. It worked, but left him more amped up and head high. I fumbled my way back into breathing and used the turning technique I learned from Klaus Hempfling. It worked. Turning put him back into the correct leading position without putting an ounce of pressure on the lead.
At the gate, he calmly followed me through and then let me send him ahead on the lead while I juggled the electric gate handles. When I turned him loose, he stuck around for scritches and attention, and didn’t head out to join Lucky until I chose to leave.
I’ll add that when I was done, my brain felt tired, much the way muscles feel tired after a good workout, and it was the same sort of tired that I felt when working on the blocking/opening/reading exercises with my mentor. [Years ago, another mentor gave me a visualization that I found very helpful. She said sit quietly and be aware of your thoughts. Think of your thoughts like mice, running around, busy. Now, become the cat, watching the mice. You are the cat, not the mice. Observe the mice from the outside, objectively. For me, this cat/mouse image works very quickly to snap me into the right perspective to then focus and direct my energy.]
So, the lessons from this. I won’t ever underestimate the power of correct breathing again, and I’m going to brush up on the old Centered Riding Building Blocks. The Hempfling leading techniques can work much better than the most common “pull and shank” options. Finally, I haven’t even attempted most of the TTEAM leading work that I know and love, and I think we need to play with those together. Stay tuned for posts about that.