Girls and horses
Many girls enjoy reading novels about horses. I was no different. I remember stories about gymkhanas and trekking and the incredible bond between a human and a horse. Every week I went for riding lessons at the local stables.
Unfortunately it wasn’t a very good school and they never picked up that I was actually terrified of horses. I was happy walking slowly around the fields, being led on a white rein, but trotting edged me close to panic and I never got as far as a canter, let alone a gallop or a jump. I was regularly sent into the stables to muck out and although I loved the earthy peaty smells and the sounds from the stalls, I was very frightened when I had to go into a small space with an actual horse.
Sometimes I was very scared
One of my jobs was to put on a tail bandage – I never knew the purpose of this but I did know it meant I had to ignore my mother’s advice never to stand behind a horse. I would rush through it without enjoying the feeling of closeness or feeling any pride in my work.
They never taught me how to be with a horse and I don’t suppose they ever helped the horses know how to be with a frightened child either.
To show us we were safe, they lined us up with arms linked and raced a large horse towards us. This was meant to prove that horses will never, or rarely, run through a group of humans.
There is another way
Imagine how wonderful it was to discover a place here in Catalunya, near the mountains of Montseny, where people and horses learn to respect each other and to work together with love. That was what I always wanted but never found.
Creating rapport with a horse
Happy Horse is run by Una McLister, a Scottish woman who grew up in New Zealand and has lived in Catalunya for 18 years.
She uses only techniques which involve love and respect and body language rather than the far too common ones of force, fear, punishment and domination.
We went to watch her working with this beautiful tall black proud stallion.
I don’t want to say he was being trained as it didn’t seem like that. He was being horse-whispered so that he could listen and respond, relax and enjoy, give and receive.
Stallions are often kept away from other horses as they may be ‘difficult’. This difficulty comes from the fact that they are not allowed a normal life, often being kept in confined spaces and only allowed out to mate. They are used for breeding and the more ‘difficult’ they become, the less love and human contact they receive. In the wrong hands a stallion can be a dangerously powerful and frustrated animal.
This graceful intelligent horse had been through this kind of experience and was depressed when he arrived at Happy Horse. Watching Una and her students work with him was deeply moving and unforgettable. He now allows his ears to be stroked – he’s not comfortable but he can cope it. In the past his ears were hurt and so they are highly sensitive and it takes great trust for him to let another human touch him in this vulnerable place. You see in the picture above that his ears are back and he is not totally relaxed – but what a change from when he first arrived and he couldn’t tolerate touch at all.
As I watched the humans and the horses move around the ring together, sometimes using the motion of a coiled rope to indicate direction and speed, I could see the highly attuned sensitivity of both horse and person.
It was like watching a tango.
Tiny movements communicate clear messages. Just the thought of a change of direction ripples through the air and the other responds to it. It is unbearably sad that so many horses are man-handled around the world without any care for their finely tuned antennae.
Happy Horse runs courses both for interested individuals and for those seeking a professional training. I will go there to heal my own past difficulties with horses. I want to learn how to build rapport, to get close to a horse, to communicate and to share a safe space together. Perhaps I will learn to ride too but this is not my main goal. I want to discover how to be present and to open my heart to a horse.
I want to learn how to dance tango with a horse. As in tango, you need to open your heart.
Please help spread the word about this wonderful horse heaven. You can do this by:-
Sharing this post with your friends and especially those who love horses
Visit and like the Happy Horse Facebook page. There are more photos there and updates about how it is going with Cariñoso and Pujol and many more.
Come over and do a course in Catalunya with Una. Her web site is in Spanish but she’s an English speaker so don’t hesitate to ring or email her with your questions.
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Have you ever had riding lessons? Do you feel confident standing behind a horse? Have you ever had a dream about a wild horse? Let us know in the comments section
Till next time, happy Spring