Interview with Carolyn Resnick
Carolyn with Tami at liberty. Tami came to Carolyn to learn to enjoy doing her tricks again.
Carolyn Resnick is a horse trainer, teacher, and writer who has developed a way of working with horses at liberty that fosters a horse-human relationship of true friendship and deep trust. Worked in this way, horses develop an extreme desire and ability to learn. They become expressive, engaged, enthusiastic partners in their work.
Carolyn’s first book, Naked Liberty, (published by Amigo Publications, Inc., 2005) is a detailed account of how she gained the knowledge upon which her “7 Waterhole Rituals of Wild Horses” are based. During three summers in her childhood Carolyn became part of a herd of wild horses, beginning as the lowest ranking member and working her way up in the pecking order. She learned the rules of equine behavior and communication directly from these wild horses and the thousands of horses with which she worked over 40 years. Carolyn developed the Waterhole Rituals to teach others how to build a true heart connection through magnetic leadership.
Carolyn Resnick lives in California and is currently at work on a second book, Beyond the Whisper, a guide to The 7 Waterhole Rituals of Wild Horses.
How long have you been working with horses?
All my life. When I was 5 years old I trained a horse to be what I needed it to be, do what I needed it to do. I trained cats, I trained chickens… If I couldn’t train it, I would say I had trained it. I would come in saying “I trained a bunch of worms today.” My parents would ask, “Well, what did you teach them to do?” and I answered “to crawl in the ground and dig holes.” Training is what I did. I played with it.
What can people learn from horses?
Humans honor intelligence. We spend time thinking.
Horses honor instinct. They spend time being in the moment.
Carolyn and Cavo in piaffe at liberty.
Working with horses is one way people can learn to be here now and get in touch with their instincts. We think of base instincts, but I think of instinct as being plugged into the universal connection, and when you are, you do not make mistakes.
We look at instinct as base, but it is just as deep and rich as intelligence. Animals know what time it is. They do not run around with wrist watches. More and more, people are depending on machines to tell them what is going on in the world.
Another thing is that horses have a natural understanding of when individual rights supersede the rights of the community and when community rights supersede the rights of the individual. That is something about which human beings could use more clarity.
Horses have feelings of guilt. It is what makes them trainable. If a horse bites you, and, by your response you show him that you did not deserve to be bitten, he will feel bad. Horses bite to find out what is inside. By your response you show them. So, working with horses will teach you what is inside yourself.
What are “The 7 Waterhole Rituals”?
Carolyn and a horse in a playful, interactive rear-upon-request.
Wild horses taught me the “Waterhole Rituals.” The program is based on seven daily ceremonies and rituals wild horses display in their natural environment. These interactions set up order and community networking that is instinctual to horses and which can be used to decrease the need for training by creating companionship in teamwork. Once they are learned, the rituals should be used every day to optimize teamwork and performance.
The rituals are:
- Sharing Common Ground to create Acceptance
- Saying Hello to create Trust
- Taking Territory to evoke Submission
- Hazing to evoke Willingness
- Eye Contact to create Focus
- Companion Walking to bring forth the horse’s desire to match energy in movement
- Go Trot/Come Up to develop an ability to perform quickly in all circumstances
This work is pre-school for horses. It is a basic education. It is something that every horse should have as a foundation for the rest of his education, whatever the discipline, because it builds enthusiasm and an extreme desire and ability to learn.
How is the work you do with horses unique?
Sutter and Carolyn in unity at trot. In this moment she is asking him to move away from her to the right.
The Waterhole Rituals guidelines require human beings to step into the horses’ world and play by horses’ rules.
My method does not require the use of fancy tack or specialized equipment. The work is done with “naked” horses, at liberty in an area large enough that the horse can escape the person’s influence. The horse is free to choose us as his leader, or not. He is free to choose whether he wants to do something with us or not. This freedom enables him to help direct his own education. It makes him a more intelligent, willing, and engaged partner.
Horses have a very strong instinctual urge for companionship and to bond. It is natural for them to follow and be led. If a horse chooses to escape it is because we are not behaving enough like leaders, as horses define the term. The horse’s response to us in every moment lets us know how we are doing in our leadership role.
All training methods are only as good as the relationship you are sharing with your horse in the present moment. If a horse feels a bond with you he will not buck, kick, strike, bite, or prefer to leave your company. So, in my method, the relationship, the bond, must come first. We work with the horse as we would with a young child – with respect, and a sense of fun and direction. In the beginning the focus should be entirely on the development of the bond.
When the bond is in place you then focus on respect, and when respect is in place, focus on developing the horse’s attention span. When you have his attention and respect, and you have him needing your companionship, ask for performance at a moment you think he would do what you are asking him to do. If at any time in our work together the horse behaves negatively we go back to liberty training, re-establish the bond, and use the rituals that would fix the reason the horse is not following our lead.
Why do you want to share your method of working with horses?
Because, I love horses. Because, I love empowering people to work with their horses in a way that builds enthusiasm and self-worth.
Describe an important component of the training.
You must learn not to force the horse. The first thing your horse must learn is that he is in control of whether he wants to perform or not, because as soon as he learns that you are not going to force him, he becomes more trusting and more willing.
Forcing a horse to do something against his will creates a horse that is always trying to find a way out.
Remember, you are not trying to create a horse who will perform what you ask perfectly on a given day. You are trying to create a horse who always wants to work with you.
What I want people to learn is how to create harmony with their horses and to recognize when harmony exists. In the moment of harmony, there is an opportunity to lead.
Compliments of Pepper the Pony
(Excerpt from Naked Liberty, page 47, reprinted with permission)
When you are in the company of your horse, he should have your full attention. A horse feels more secure with a rider who manages, directs and monitors his flexible nature. A person that is most aware of his horse at every moment has the most dependable horse.
Let the moment guide you in your training decisions.
Follow safety rules at all times.
Notice your horse’s responses — desirable and undesirable.
When correcting your horse’s behavior, never ask for anything you are not qualified or experienced enough to accomplish.
Enjoy every interaction with your horse as a lesson in relationship.
Focus on your horse’s successes, not on his failures.
Never be in a hurry.
When things get tough, go back to something that he is willing to do and start over again. No matter how challenging your relationship, you can go back to this seed as your starting point.
Imagination is the key to finding solutions.
It is your job to keep your horse in a good mood or to create the proper mood before you ask him to perform for you.
A good horseman is a person that depends on his ability to lead rather than upon the benevolence of his horse.
Can you offer some everyday tips for horse handlers?
Most people do not spend enough time with their horses. Go spend a day with your horse just following him around and hanging out with him. See how that changes the relationship.
More tips (from Carolyn’s website):
First, all horses have a natural desire to follow a leader, even lead horses. But most all horses will also try to take over and become a leader if you allow him to get away with certain behaviors and actions.
As a leader we must keep our horse in line. If we do not exhibit leadership qualities a horse will take over leadership.
For instance, when putting a halter on your horse it is best to let the horse walk up to you rather than you walking up to the horse. This way the horse will be more compliant. I like to see my horse turn his head towards me and drop his head into the halter. If he doesn’t do this, he will eventually, if you take your time and coax him to turn and lower his head each time you put on his halter.
Wait and make sure your horse can stand still on a loose line before walking off with him.
When you lead your horse, notice the speed he would like to walk. When you have established his natural speed at the walk ask him to walk a little faster or slower. If he is poking along ask him to walk faster. If he is in a hurry, ask him to walk slower. This will alert him that you are the leader.
Pick a straight line you intend to take and don’t let your horse choose the path. This is very important. All horses will try to get you to walk a little left and right of the course you intended to take. It is a power play your horse loves to exhibit.
Never let a horse circle around ahead of you if you can help it. The best way to get rid of this habit to control us is to give the horse leading lessons when his energy is not so out of control. When he tries to circle in his lesson, stop him. Make him wait on a dropped line and when he complies, ask him to step away from you and again to stand on a loose line. You can then proceed forward. To get him to circle you so that you may correct him is just walk very slow and he will naturally try to circle. When you correct him he won’t be out of control and he will be much easier to train.
What is your dream, your vision?
A center where creative people can come to support and be supported by other creative people, where the whole purpose of the center is to help human beings enjoy community energy, and where horses help us learn to live blissfully as a herd.
For more information:
Carolyn Resnick / Dances with Horses
1835A S. Centre City Parkway #248
Escondido, CA 92025-6504