I recently had a photographer friend come out and spend part of a day taking pictures of my horse, Chaco and his herd. Since I keep Chaco in as natural of an environment as possible and let him have his own opinion, even when it differs from mine, I let my friend know what to expect so he could decide if it would work for him taking pictures.
Here were the parameters:
The horses live in a herd on acreage. They come and go as they please. Their resting heart rate is half the rate of ours, so we need to allow double the amount of time that we think we do. If they sense any agenda from us, or a tight time frame, they will feel it and likely respond with less cooperation.
He was fine with that, so one fall foggy morning we met at the field where my horse lives with his herd. We entered the field and walked away from the horses, ignoring them. It’s a great way to give horses space, and let them decide of their own free will if they want to close that space between us and come over and say hello. A human can walk up to a horse, enter its space and say hello, however, that is the human initiating the contact. A fun experiment is to allow the horse to initiate or not initiate the contact.
So we walked the other way, far away. Sure enough, Chaco, the herd leader picked up a very active, forward walk coming in our direction. The kind of forward walk that is treasured in the dressage world. He started following us, and Pearl, the second in command under Chaco, followed suit, right off of Chaco’s hip.
I had never had horses follow me with such determination. He and Pearl weren’t mean or aggressive, but rather, very curious.
It was as if he was asking, “Who is this new person with a large camera and a backpack? And he’s ignoring us. Who does that other than Mary?”
After we walked a few hundred feet, we stopped and looked back from where we had come. Chaco and Pearl were still hot on our trail with their very active walk. But the walk was not a straight line toward us, but rather a meandering line. We decided to keep moving. Here we were on several acres trying to get away from these very curious horses.
Chaco did not give up his curiosity.
Finally, I said, “O.K., Let’s stop. I think he wants to check us out. Let’s let him say hello.”
We stopped and Chaco came straight up to me and my photographer friend. This was a two-eye approach for Chaco. When a horse gives you both their eyes, you know you have their complete attention.
Chaco was particularly curious about my friend. He breathed on him (horses breathe into each others nostrils as a greeting, and they have an incredible sense of smell, well beyond our capabilities). He also checked out the camera. Chaco was right there in our space. It was natural for my friend to pet him on the neck. After several moments, Chaco decided everything checked out o.k., so he turned and left to graze about 20 feet away.
Just as quickly as Chaco decided he really needed to meet my friend, he just as quickly went to grazing as soon as the meeting occurred.
As we watched Chaco graze just a few horse-lengths away, my friend commented, “Wow. After all that (being intently followed), it’s suddenly over and no big deal.”
The next several hours my photographer friend and I walked the field and the trails, taking photos of Chaco and the other horses. Chaco was agreeable to all of it. Once we passed his initial inspection we had his approval for being in his home.
I think our biggest fear as humans is that if we allow a horse to have an opinion and act of their own free will, they will NOT want to be with us. That is a legitimate fear. On the flip side of that fear is a connection with horses that is beyond our wildest dreams. When they connect with you of their own free will, it is one of the most amazing experiences because it can’t be forced, nor scripted. It’s really them wanting to communicate with you.
Over the years of experimenting with this idea, I have found that horses are curious animals that when allowed to express their opinions of both a “yes” and a “no”, there is a third option that starts to appear that’s not about yes and no, but rather about wanting to connect with you, wanting your help with something, or wanting to just be in your presence. It is then that you see who they are, and how they want to interact with you. And it’s the real you they’re interested in, not the you that has a million things to get done.
I think horses are just as curious about us as we are about them. Allow them the space to be themselves and prepare to be blown away by what they have to say about being with you. It will change your life. I know it has changed mine.