How Moving My Horses’ Feet Has Improved Our Relationship
How I Improved My Relationship with My Horse
by Teddie Ziegler
One day while I was talking to a friend about some funny new thing my horse had come up with, she asked me, very cautiously, how I felt about my relationship with my horse. I told her that I was very happy. My horses loved me, I loved them and we had great times trail riding and spending time together. It seemed like an innocent question, but I could tell I had just stepped into the “Twilight Zone” and my life was getting ready to be changed.
I remember talking about how I had owned my horses since they were born and how happy we all were as a family. Jazz is the leader, who has been with me since he was a yearling. I bred Jazz and I got my own baby horse, I named Apollo. They have both always been my family, my heart and my soul! Anyone who knows me can feel the love and the bond we have.
Jazz and I have grown up cutting, team pinning, roping, showing western pleasure and western equitation and I even started him in dressage. My background growing up with horses was in dressage and jumping.
Then came my friends’ next question, “Is there anything that you would change in the relationship with your horses?” “No”, I said. I am very happy and everything is great. She had seen how much love my horses and I shared and how they never wanted to leave my side.
It loved just hanging out with my horses, watching them, cuddling with them, watching the clouds, listening to the birds and smelling the roses. I couldn’t get enough. I used to joke with my friend that I never needed to ride again, because we had so much fun just hanging out. She used to say, ”Just do what makes you happy”.
I still would go on trail rides with my friend and we had a lot of fun together. But it was interesting that I could tell it was different. My horses and I both enjoyed to company of my friend and the other horses. However, I could tell that my horses seemed to have more fun spending quality time just hanging out with me in the arena having fun or doing nothing together.
As I said, I was quite happy with the relationship I had with my horses, but a funny thing was happening as I started spending more time just being around them. It could be just grooming for hours or just laying on my horse’s bare back looking up at the stars at night while he ate. But now I was seeing more in my horses, I was feeling more joy, I was seeing changes I didn’t even begin to understand.
We were having so much fun just being together that they became too “stuck” on me and now when I asked them to back up or leave my side, they didn’t. Oops! That made me uneasy and I now felt a bit unsafe. So I had to figure out what to do. I saw how my horses played with each other and moved each other around as they played. So I decided to do the same thing and it worked. They became more responsive and lighter to my aides.
I was watching how my horses reacted together in the herd and how they reacted to me as part of their herd. I was noticing their body language and how they communicated with each other and how they were communicating with me. I was learning how to talk to my horses in their own language.
I couldn’t believe it. I can’t express the exact words of how magical and amazing my world became with my “boys”. And this was just from spending time with them for a long time. Promising even more joy, I started reading while hanging with my horses and even started listening to music with them. I couldn’t believe how my horses responded to the music! One horse loved Rock and Roll, another loved Country, and the third loved Celtic music. It was a lot of fun playing with different types of music to see how they responded too.
My horses have gone from looking at me as their best friend and ‘carrot dispenser’ to counting me as part of their herd and actually now as their chosen leader. By taking the time to watch, listen and learn from my horses, I was able to ask them to lead. From there my horses could then choose my leadership or not. Because the bond was strong and horses have a natural desire to look for leadership, it all went swimmingly and they were glad to accept my leadership.
I find it very interesting and if I had to tell someone which one thing made the biggest difference in my relationship with my horses, I would have to say it was the asking my horses to play and move. By doing just this one thing changed how my horses looked at me and opened the door to our growth as a true herd family.
So many times I hear and see people afraid to move their horse away from them because they are afraid that they will hurt the loving bond they already have with their horse. I understand, as I was someone who didn’t want to hurt my horses’ feelings either out of my love and nurturing for them. I had to think of it as giving him his freedom and asking him to go have fun.
It’s a normal process that moves from simply feeding and keeping them safe as babies, to teaching them how to be socially acceptable; and finally to just taking a leadership role by being available when they need us. We do it with our human family, why not with our horse family? If we want them to see us as family, we should see and treat them as family.
I am not ashamed to say it hurt my feelings at first, as I didn’t want him to stop being a “lap horse”. But I knew it wasn’t safe to have him that close and pushy. After I sent Jazz away, and really meant it, he seemed a bit upset too. Originally I thought it was because his feelings were hurt. That’s because I was projecting my human emotions into his actions without remembering he is a horse and he thinks differently. However, I was upset because I felt as if I was now challenging him for the leadership role. What I was actually doing was what lead horses do to create order in the herd. My horses completely understood and we now were having a conversation about leadership. This was an amazing realization and a wonderful feeling.
Jazz was the leader of our herd and had taken on the role of a leader. Now he was seeing a friend, with what I now know was a low rank in “his” herd, requesting to take on the leadership role. He really had to think about this and make sure that I was ready to be a leader and see if I would make a good leader. After a few more times, he realized that not only did I know what I was doing and I had finally learned how to speak his language and he trusted me to be a good leader. At that point our bond grew even tighter. The willingness of Jazz was a bit surprising and the turn around was quick.
He was thrilled and happy to bow out as leader and allow me to take his place and follow my leadership. I had to take on the new responsibility as a genuine leader of the herd. It was no longer just an illusion in my mind but it was real to the entire herd. I now had to protect my herd, make sure they were good to each other, shared their food with each other, make sure there was peace in the herd and continually keep my love going. This is a blessing! I look forward to keeping my herd happy and social.
We are still growing and learning together and the magic will just keep getting better and better. It’s like a rose; we started with just a bud, started to watch and learn as the rose opened, and now our relationship is growing and blooming beautifully.
So when you are looking at your horse and trying to figure out what to do next, try turning on music and getting your horse to move their feet. Returning a horse to his freedom by moving his feet around is not only liberating to a horse, but also to you. Your horse will love you for it even more than he does now. Can you imagine?
What a wonderful thing to do with your horse!