There are times when you won’t even see it coming. BAM! You get knocked by a horse and the world is a blur. Hopefully you take your hit and are still sound enough to brush the hoof print off of your pants. We are not dealing with plastic model horses anymore (I speak from experience when I say those little hooves are pointy if you fall on them though.)
Sometimes you are going to get surprised out of the blue and find yourself on your hindquarters in the mud. Perhaps you could have seen it coming and just didn’t. Hopefully you will be ready next time.
The most critical tool at your disposal is your awareness of energy. Horses have powerful energy fields. You may think you don’t have the skills to read energy, but you do. I have watched my students in a session step back when the horse moves in their direction. “Why did you step back?” I ask.
Initially they might not be sure and sometimes they didn’t even realize their feet moved, but as we delve into the question deeper:
“It just felt like he was pushing on me.” Bingo. From 20′ off! The same thing that causes you to step back at a party with a close talker BEFORE that person is actually in your comfort zone. You can feel the push.
You can enhance your awareness of the energetic push before the physical one, if you are present enough to notice. Pay attention to your feet, to your breathing, to the sounds around you. I make a game out of scaring the daylights out of paddock picker, Emma, while she is doing chores in the barn.
I once drove up the driveway 5′ behind her in my car and followed her and she had NO idea. She actually texted me to ask when I was coming home to teach her lesson minutes later. If she is so engrossed in her iPod with a vehicle practically on her heels, is she going to notice my mares in a turf war around her?
Stay present and feel the energy coming at you so you can proactively step out of danger or move your horse away.
Develop a boundary, a circle of safety or a forcefield around you if you like and then defend it! I change the size of my circle depending on the horse, or the scenario. If I know a horse is prone to kicking out then I make sure my boundary is out of kicking range. That horse is not permitted to come into the boundary.
Watch a horse’s speed. If a horse is galloping full tilt towards me then my safety bubble is going to expand rapidly. That horse will come up on me fast, but if I expand my bubble to 70′ out and then tell the horse to back off, he’s not going to make it to me. If I wait until he’s 10′ away and then tell him to back off, he’s coming right over top of me because he doesn’t have time to change course. Alternatively if he’s just ambling along, I don’t need to give him a cue until he’s closer to me because it’s easier for him to stop and he’s in a placid mood anyway.
Feel the intention and the mood. You can combine observing a horse’s body language with feeling the energy of intention. Irritated horses pin their ears, wrinkle their nostrils and push their shoulders or haunches into your space. Avoid the shark bump before it happens by noticing the horse’s demeanour. If you don’t feel safe, trust yourself! Send that horse out of there. You are better to offend a well meaning horse by overreacting than to get stomped by a rude one.
Teach your horse how to back off, halt and leave you in quiet situations before the energy is high. Don’t wait until your horse is jumping sideways because he’s afraid of a squirrel. Teach him not to trample you when there’s nothing to be worried about. Teach him the cues to stop, back up and move away from you. Find the body language that works for the pair of you. I like to hold my hand up like a traffic cop to stop horses or wave my whip like a windshield wiper.
Be the leader in a herd and defend the horse you are with. It’s easy to get caught in a dispute between horses if you aren’t making the rules. You need to call the shots with every horse in the group. Keep your head up and move more dominant horses off early so you create space for your horse and yourself. She shouldn’t have to worry about being attacked as long as you are around to make it clear to the others to stay away.
Wear the right equipment. You’ve watched liberty videos and the people are wearing gossamer dresses and sequins right? That’s just for the photo shoot with well schooled horses. It’s a good idea to wear a helmet, boots and a protective vest if you are going to be training at any time.
Stay safe with your horses so you can have fun and play another day!