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Mornings Around the Barn
By Liz Mitten Ryan
Mornings around the barn are always my favorite time, as snoozing horses were everywhere. The babies love to put their heads on my lap. With Crystal, I would only have to put my arms around her neck and give her a kiss or whisper in her ear, and she would drop onto her side, stretched out in a deep sleep. When she was very young I would put a pillow under her head and she would sleep for hours. (I still would, but the last time I used pillows, Serene made a game of killing them with her front hooves, and they didn’t last long.)
Morning nap hour usually coincides with barn cleanup time, but I would never ask a sleeping horse to get up. If necessary, we will lift a wheelbarrow over them or just work around them. It’s kind of like hotel help, who wouldn’t ask a guest to get out of their bed to make it; we simply fit our schedules around theirs. Helen is my current help on the ranch and is much appreciated by the horses. She is quiet, gentle, and kind, always stopping for a word or a treat, and the horses love her. (Even Prima, who will probably only test Helen as much as she does me.) I jokingly tell Helen it’s time to change her hat when we finish our barn work, and she helps me with my computer work as well. After naptime, it’s time for breakfast, and everyone knows the routine. No dragging them into a closed stall with a halter; we simply call Breakfast!, and again, almost always, the horses will go into their own stalls and wait by their feeders. If I’m not organized by the time they expect breakfast, L.E. will move to her stall and wait, eyeing me every time I go by; or if I get close enough, she will administer a short head butt, her Hurry up and get moving nudge.
Grooming after breakfast is a wonderful time, particularly on a lovely summer morning with the cowbirds singing in the paddock. Horses come up to me and ask to be groomed, and I move from one to the other. There are some, like Winnie, Magic, and Crystal, who could be groomed all day. They will sidle in between me and whoever I’m brushing, asking for another turn. Crystal loves to have her face brushed, and if I move down her body, she will reposition for me to do her face over and over. Grooming is a time when I show the horses I love them. We share small talk and love talk. I whisper in their ears and ask for kisses, or scratch their favorite spots. Epona will extend her back leg out sideways for me to reach parts of her tummy or her udder. Morning is the time that I can mingle and absorb horse energy.
Just experiencing downtime with each horse individually, and feeling their energy as a group, is a meditation. As Prima said, “Horses are for those who want to go far and fast.” They are great spiritual beings; just being in their presence is almost like a tuning fork that changes the vibration of the instruments around it. Horse energy is powerful and serene, and being around them over time, we become tuned to their frequency. My horses in particular, who are safe, loved ,and respected, are not bothered by issues on the physical plane, and like contemplatives, they are free to dwell in higher realms, connecting to energies of the highest, purest vibration.
I find insight in their presence; a thought simply pops into my mind and I recognize it as a truth that I know at another level. It wasn’t until I began to ask specific questions that our more structured communication began. It seems to now be growing stronger the more I believe in its possibility. I am now connected on all planes, at all times, by the power of my love for them. Again, other truisms pop into my mind: “Love is forever,” and “Love has no boundaries.”
We offer various Meditation exercises in both Audio and Video format. The following is a sample of our Meditation DVD which is available for free in the Video Section of the Membership Area:
LOVE is the most powerful force in all existence… and when you open to the force of LOVE… and allow it to inspire you… in your every thought…and word…and deed… you become that power…
You can BE all things…DO all things….HAVE all things…when you are love…
Journey to Enlightenment is a 35 minute DVD designed to take you to that place where you will remember who you really are and tune to the energy of LOVE. The high quality version is available at the Liz Mitten Ryan Store.
We will be offering a selection of tutorials from Liz and the Herd and our team of experts with illustrative video and audio clips.The following is an excerpt from one of the lessons. Be sure to watch its accompanying video below.
Becoming One With Your Herd – Lessons in True Communication and Friendship with Your Horse
By Liz Mitten Ryan
LESSON TWO: Play With Your Horse and Develop Your Friendship
Take some brushes, toys and some of your horse’s favorite treats (a pouch around your waist or a bucket just outside the fence will do) and invite your horse to play with you. Initially you will have to lead your horse to the round pen or paddock in which to play, but after a time just eye contact, a word (I use "stick", meaning stick to me) or a beckon with your index finger will be enough to get them racing to the gate to join you. My horses are together in a herd, so I have to be sneaky about my contacting the chosen horse, because if any of the others see, I have 3 or 4 horses rushing to the gate fighting to play with me. I have to be honest, treats have a lot to do with their interest, but if you have ever watched a horse tell you he just cant bend his neck towards you, it simply won’t go there, and then watched him take the position of a boomerang and comfortably hold it for the time it takes to eat a carrot, held in the appropriate place, you can appreciate how effective treats are to convince the horse that something is possible.
When you have your horse alone in the round corral or paddock, take off the halter, have a treat in your hand, and ask him to walk with you. I tell them to stick to me and snake my way across the pen rewarding with food as they follow. After a time they will turn on the forehand or haunches, trot or canter after you, back up and whoa all by voice and body language. I have even used a carrot as a ‘carrot stick’ (I point and shake to move the hind end and get a very precise turn on the forehand as they try and eat it on the way around). The horse has just done some very impressive maneuvers that he didn’t know were that simple, with no resistance and it’s been fun! If for the first few times you have trouble with this go back to the halter but use it only when you have to, inviting the horse to stay with you and rewarding when he does.
Once you have his interest you can go on to play with objects he is uncomfortable with like balls, hula hoops (I can twirl them around their necks or hook them on their legs). I often leave hula hoops in the paddock for weeks so the horses can step in them, hook them on their legs and after a while they don’t even take notice).
I brush and scratch, touching them everywhere, finding all their favorite places, asking them to bend to smell their tail, which has a horse cookie at the end, or pick up their feet when asked (they will lift them by voice alone, if you reward after), drop their heads and eat things off my lap, until they are absolutely comfortable with any position or activity I ask for. You can extend this to actual tricks like put your foot on something or in the hula hoop or pick up a bucket, which you then put a treat into, or take them beyond the pen to an area where you have a trailer parked (and blocked) or for a walk up to the riding ring, or as I do, an adventure playground which has big sand filled tires to jump up on, wooden bridges to walk over, and foam swim noodles and hula skirts hanging from trees to walk through. You can make this more simply by putting a sheet of plywood, some ground poles and a mattress to walk though and over. Use your imagination, but always make sure whatever you ask is absolutely safe and is rewarded immediately. Verbal praise is important as well. I know my horse understands when I tell him I’m proud of him and how good he is while scratching, stroking and encouraging.
Trailer loading is another game we play and I generally don’t use a halter at all as it simply results in a tug of war. I usually save this game until my horse trusts me to reward him when I ask something and we have played all the other games for several weeks. Then I will sit on the open trailer and first of all ask him to come over and see me, reward, then walk halfway in and reward when he puts his front two feet up. That is enough for one day as I don’t want him to get suspicious or push him until he’s uncomfortable. As with all horse activity, it’s important to quit when you have a positive result and before you get a refusal. Then a few days later I walk out to the trailer with his bucket of grain (maybe an apple or a carrot) walk right into the trailer and put it in the feeder. Generally my horse walks right in after me.
With a difficult horse I will get a friend who is comfortable, invite him in with the grain bucket and my resistant one will easily follow before his buddy gets the breakfast. The important things with all of these activities is not stress, no hurry, all the time in the world to have fun together. If it doesn’t look great today, it will tomorrow, and in the meantime your horse will come to trust, love you, and enjoy your company. One day you will be able to walk out like I do and say “who wants to come and play,” and thirteen horses will come running. Then you’ll have to do what I do and whisper “sneak” in one’s ear and casually make your way to the gate with a horse that looks like the cat who swallowed the canary following close behind. One benefit is that you’ll never have to chase your horse to catch him, or lead him with a halter; he will do it willingly.
This lesson should take months of careful consistent play with your horse. Depending on their level of trust, curiosity and boldness. Never force them or be in a hurry. If today your horse is fearful it could be the wind or something new nearby. Enjoy the journey and the relationship. It is not a contest but a private club which only you and your special horse belong to. It might take a while to build but if the foundation is strong it will last forever. You will be amazed what your horse will remember months later if it has a positive or negative experience. Make it a positive and you will always have a willing partner running to spend time with you.
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