Sharing Territory in Companionship: The First Ritual of Carolyn Resnick’s 7 Waterhole Rituals of Wild Horses
Getting started. Hanging out with your horse without interaction allows respect for each other's personal space to develop.
Have you ever been awestruck at how well some children get along with horses? These children seem to be able to do anything with their horses – crawl between their legs, ride them through or over any obstacle, teach them tricks, touch them anywhere on their bodies – and the horses just adore it. According to Carolyn Resnick, these relationships between children and their horses, though magical, are not magic. And they are not available only to children. Anyone can have them – even adults like you and me.
The Fine Art of Hanging Out With Your Horse
Why do children and horses get along so well? Carolyn says it is because what a child wants is to be with his horse as much as possible – he wants the pleasure of his horse’s company. And a horse’s strongest need (beyond the air, water, and food required for basic survival) is for companionship. So, the child and horse are a perfect match for one another. Their effortless, harmonious “performance” is merely a reflection of their relationship, their joy in being together.
As we grow up and our lives become increasingly busy and goal oriented, many of us, in our obsession with “doing,” forget how to just be. Often, our hectic schedules leave us little “horse time.” Sometimes we do squeeze horse time into our schedules, but we bring our busy-ness to the barn with us, even into the saddle, and wind up undermining the relationship with our horse.
Our own modern lives offer a startling contrast to the lives of horses who are kept somewhat as nature intended. Consider the image of crowds of people scurrying to work on a mid-town Manhattan street during Monday morning rush hour, and compare it to a small herd of horses peacefully dozing in the early morning sun. The first step on the journey toward a magical relationship with our horses is to leave that Manhattan street and make our way to that patch of grass in the sun. We have to enter our horse’s world. Carolyn Resnick’s 7 Waterhole Rituals of Wild Horses take us there, and help us navigate the new and unfamiliar terrain when we get there.
The First Ritual
The Eqyptian (Arabian) Stallion
By Carolyn Resnick
At 3.5 years old this stallion was labeled a human hater. He was very dangerous. When offered treats, he had no interest in the food, he wanted only to bite fingers. When he came to me I put him in a stall. (The stall front was solid wood about 3-4 feet high, and then there were vertical bars so that air could circulate, light could get in, and horses could see out.) Then I stacked up bales of hay until they were at the height where the bars began, and unrolled my sleeping bag there. Every night for a month or so I slept on that stack of hay. I had to be careful not to get too close because that horse was just looking for an opportunity to get me.
During the day, I would bring my mini horse called Laddie into the breezeway (aisle) of the barn to train. At the time I was asking him to wait at the far end of the breezeway for my signal, then come to me. On the way, he would have to go over a small jump. When he came to me, Laddie would get a cookie and the stallion would get one too. This went on for about 30 days or so, with the stallion getting a cookie every time Laddie did. One day, Laddie was not there, so I decided to see if I had made any progress. I let the stallion out of the stall (carrying my water gun, just in case). I was not at all sure that he would not attack me. That stallion went straight to the far end of the breezeway, waited for my signal, ran, jumped over the jump, came to me and waited for his cookie. After that I was able to train this horse. He was eventually sold, still a stallion, to a 10 year-old girl as a riding horse. He stayed a good boy. When something is really, really bad, there is usually something really, really good inside. This story shows the power of just being together with a horse.
The first Ritual is called “Sharing Territory in Companionship” and that about sums it up. No special horsemanship skills are required to perform the first Ritual. No special tack or equipment is required – as with all of the Rituals, the horses are naked and at liberty in an area large enough that they can escape the trainer’s influence if they choose to do so. No particular movements or abilities are required of either horse or person, so this Ritual can be practiced even if you and/or your horse are recovering from an illness or injury. Although many of the later rituals are most easily practiced in a large (45’X110’) rectangular area, this first Ritual can be practiced almost anywhere your horse feels “at home.”
The section that follows contains the explanation of the first Ritual and guidelines for practicing it in Carolyn Resnick’s own words. This material has been excerpted from Carolyn’s book-in-progress (Beyond the Whisper), clinic hand-outs, and conversations.
In this Ritual you will share companionship with your horse in the moment. This Ritual provides the glue needed to build the magnetic connection with your horse. Even if you already have a bond, this Ritual is still necessary in order to eventually develop a *working* bond. The connection that horses and humans usually share is not as strong as the working bond that horses share with other horses. While this Ritual, by itself, will not create the working bond, the working bond cannot be created without the strong base of companionship produced by this Ritual. This Ritual will deepen the bond you already have with your horse. The more you use this Ritual, the stronger the bond becomes. In a short time you will notice a big change in your relationship with your horse.
Achieving results from the first Waterhole Ritual is very simple; it takes hardly any ability in horsemanship outside of common sense about safety. However, since this Ritual requires no leadership interaction, many times it is not taken seriously enough. Don’t underestimate its value. The extra time you spend with this Ritual will greatly shorten the overall time it takes to train your horse.
Begin the first Ritual when your horse is completely happy and at peace in his environment. If you are using a special training area do not start until the horse has made the connection that this is his “home” and he is comfortable in the territory. Your horse’s attitude toward his environment can change from day to day. Always wait for him to feel comfortable. Often I see people starting their horse when he feels displaced; such a feeling makes it impossible for him to give you his full attention. This can develop into an attitude of inattentiveness.
When your horse is totally at peace in his environment, walk into the area and look at everything with great interest like a horse does when placed in a new environment. It is a great time to remove rocks from the pasture or paddock. Be interested in his water and food, and push it around with your foot. Study the ground to know every inch of it.
Do not pay attention to him; just be with him in the moment. If he follows you, ignore him. Give him lot of space when you are walking and try to avoid the area he is in. Doing this shows that you respect his personal space.
Spend about 15 minutes exploring your horse’s territory, and then find a spot to sit down and relax for the next 45 minutes (or longer, if you’re enjoying yourself). You can read a book, work on your journal, or saddle soap tack. Oddly, your being involved with a task settles your horse and draws him to you. It has a profound effect on enhancing the bond. When you are reading a book or saddle soaping tack, he knows your focus is on the book or the tack and not on him; this is comforting in the beginning. Your presence is understood as your desire to share space with him.
If your horse comes up to you while you are reading or writing in a journal, keep your attention on your project and stay passive. If he gets too pushy, get up and walk away. If he continues to pursue, turn around and shoo him away. Be careful to shoo him away gently, especially if your horse is fearful. Almost all animals react to being shooed away by wanting to come back – especially prey animals which may see you as a predator. In the act of shooing a prey animal away, you show him that you have no intention of trying to catch him. Then he can begin to focus on territory rights and show you what he thinks is his personal space.
Horses react similarly to being shooed away. Done properly, shooing a horse away causes him to want to come back, and this begins to build a magnetic connection. Be careful: If you cannot make your horse leave your personal space, find an instructor skilled in my method because it could be dangerous to work with a horse that does not respect your personal space. Once you shoo your horse away, get right back to what you were doing as soon as possible.
Being with your horse without any interaction allows you to respect each
other’s personal space. It is natural in the wild that in the passage
of time horses who share space will bond with each other. This is the natural
process of relationship. Always make sure to begin this Ritual only when
you are in a state of well-being, your horse is at peace and circumstances
are harmonious. As you share harmonious times with your horse, he sees you
as the one who brings him harmony. What is not to like about that? From that
frame of mind it is easy to begin to build a true working bond with your
Wild horses taught Carolyn 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:
1. Sharing Common Ground to create Acceptance
2. Saying Hello to create Trust
3. Taking Territory to evoke Submission
4. Hazing to evoke Willingness
5. Eye Contact to create Focus
6. Companion Walking to bring forth the horse’s desire to match energy in movement
7. Go Trot/Come Up to develop an ability to perform quickly in all circumstances
This work is pre-school for horses, a basic education, 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.
Readers who choose to experiment with the First Ritual are invited to share their experiences with us (contact information below).