In my last couple of posts, we’ve been looking at how to begin working in the round pen with “Mind” horses and “Pressure” horses. Today, I’ll explain how I use the round pen to start a conversation with a “Space” horse.
While there are some similarities in the beginning work with a Pressure horse and a Mind horse, your first steps in the round pen are usually different when working with a Space horse. These horses are usually mentally present, not fearful of pressure, and they are very willing to enter your space because they are looking for spatial interaction. They are the only type of horse where your first round pen conversation will likely involve directing the horse to move away from you.
It is very common for people to label a Space horse as dominant or rude, but I believe they simply have a strong need for clarity regarding your relationship and your intentions. When they ask for clarification by engaging you spatially, you can choose to interpret this either of two ways. You can see their actions as disrespectful or threatening, in which case you will likely respond emotionally (see previous posts on “Emotional Horsemanship”) and feel justified in “getting after” them. Or, you can interpret their engagement as an invitation to a conversation, which is a golden opportunity for you to establish a great foundation for your relationship. Here is how I would go about this:
First, you need to give some real thought to your own personal space and what kind of energy or “presence” you project into it. This is very important, as the idea of space within Relational Horsemanship is not about “being the boss” or who moves whom, but about who has a deeper sense of confidence, awareness and peace within their space. When you have these strengths, they fill you with a presence that the horse can feel, and it gives the horse a sense of security. The spatial conversation is then one in which the horse gains awareness of who you are within your own space, not one about the human concept of “respect”.
Next, you need to figure out which part of its body the horse tends to use when attempting to engage your space. Some will come in more strongly with their nose or shoulders, and some will be more expressive with their hindquarters. If the horse is the front end type, the first thing I am going to do is ask the horse to yield the front end away from me, and I will then turn the horse into the fence, which helps establish yield in the nose/shoulders.
Now, just a quick note on turning a horse into the fence: I am aware that there are people who say that you should never turn a horse into the fence, as that puts its hindquarters towards you, which they believe is “disrespectful”. But I have found that when a horse tends to get strong with its front end, it is actually very helpful to turn them in this way in the beginning. The fact is that one-size-fits-all ideas that tell us we should always do this or never do that can sometimes lead us down the wrong path, as we need to see and address what the horse is actually presenting, rather than sticking to prescribed, mechanical methods. It is important to recognize that horses can turn towards you with or without softness, and they can turn away from you with or without softness, so I am looking for how they yield, whichever way I direct them.
That said, when you are working with a horse that is strong with its hindquarters, you will direct pressure to move the hindquarters away and turn the horse towards you, as that is the conversation that needs to be had at that moment. Your eventual goal is that the horse becomes willing to yield both the hind end and shoulders softly, without frustration or worry. Try to remember that how they yield (softly or not) is at least as important as the yield itself, though we can’t expect perfection right away.
When we are working relationally, we also really need to keep in mind that with a Space horse, there is no disrespect in their actions, only unmet needs. If they do something like wring their neck or kick into the space, don’t take it personally or allow that to pull you into a negative frame of mind. Those behaviors will simply go away once you have met the horse’s need for clarity in your spatial communication.
If you are going to accomplish that, the Space horse requires that you begin focusing on your own spatial awareness and what you tend to do in your interactions with the horse. Say you have a tendency to be inward or “small” with your energy, or perhaps you lean or step backwards if the horse pushes into your space. You may not even realize that you do this, but you can be sure that your horse is aware of such truths in your spatial conversation. If you commonly give up your space in these ways, the horse will naturally believe that you are not the one to take care of things and “lead the dance”. You may then see the horse do various things that you might interpret as “bad attitude” or pushiness. However, most often, such behaviors are merely reminders of a contract you have already made with the horse when you yielded your space.
If you are the type of person who tends to give up your space or hold your energy down within yourself, you need to learn to own your space — but this has nothing to do with chasing the horse, being mean, or punishing undesirable behavior. It has more to do with you recognizing your tendencies and making a change within yourself that you can then communicate to the horse. One helpful exercise for this is to stand close to your horse and own your own space within yourself. You don’t need to think or do anything aggressive; just be confident about the fact that you have the right to occupy that space. Do not move — simply stand calmly and wait for the horse to feel awkward being too close to you. Soon they will move away and you will have achieved a very positive change, for you and for the horse. This is the beauty of working with a Space horse, as they will often lead us to discover a great deal about ourselves! When we fix these tendencies within us, the “bad behaviors” our Space horses present usually just disappear, and quite quickly too.
Whatever kind of horse you are working with, remember that Relational Horsemanship always strives to bring the horse into a more peaceful and connected state of mind than when you started. If things start to go sideways — and there are going to be times when they do — try not to get upset with either the horse or yourself. Just take a breath, regroup, and go back to something you know you can both feel positive about. Success will come if you aim to keep yourself centered, continue to focus on what the horse needs from you, and remember to take the time it takes.
Click HERE to check out a video in which I begin working with a Space horse who has a tendency to nip as a way to try to engage people in spatial conversations.
To learn more about working with different kinds of horses in a Relational way, visit us at JoshNichol.com.