Timid horses are the introverts at the party. They aren't usually the first horses to come up and say, "Hello!" but they can make for lovely personalities to befriend. They are naturally super light and responsive to signals and this can make them great fun to play with. Playing with a timid horse is our chance to observe subtle body language and energy manipulation in action.
Carma is one such horse. She has a quiet background, has no history of mistreatment but is just naturally shy. Saskia is ten years old and is practicing her liberty and body language in lessons with this lovely mare of Alex's. Like every trainer, Saskia has to be cautious of the impact that her own energy and movements have on her relationship with her horse. In this case, if Saskia moves with too much panache, Carma takes off like a shot.
(Sometimes in training with a shy horse I will purposely act like a clown to take them out of their worry, but this blog isn't about that method.)
Interacting with Carma is a great opportunity for Saskia to gain body and energy awareness. She does a stunning job for anyone, never mind a young girl!
How can you tell what impact your energy and body language are having on your horse? ...It's all about the horse!
When I'm interacting with a horse I watch ears, eyes, muscles, hooves, the tail and especially which direction the horse is leaning. If I pay attention to which way my horse is leaning then I know where they plan to go before they go there. Watch the slide show video of Saskia and Carma and pay attention to the little signals. Notice when Carma's head is raised, when her muscles are tense. Look at the direction of her ears and where her eyes focus. Then notice how often her head is low and her eyes and expression is soft, especially when she is connecting and checking in later in the video.
Saskia demonstrates the art of changing her focus to free Carma and take the spotlight off. This allows Carma to come on her own terms after the request is made. Saskia could walk up and join Carma, but the idea is to allow Carma to make this decision herself. When Carma knows the pressure is off then she will be drawn to Saskia because of how grounded and secure Saskia is.
Sometimes it can be difficult for us to understand how much internal stress a horse is facing. In the simple session in the video Carma yawns repeatedly. Carma is yawning to release her negative energy and anxiety as she relaxes. Although the session is gentle, all Carma's yawning indicates that she was either finding it to be a big deal or she's finding it is helping her release tension from another part of her life. (I yawn multiple times when I'm meditating because I'm releasing tension from the day. Have you caught yourself yawning repeatedly to unwind?)
It's important to give your horse time to process, release and yawn when she is learning something new.
Saskia also demonstrates in the video that sometimes the perfect thing to do is to ask a horse to move on quietly at the walk. Timid horses do not want to run the show and that's why it helps them to know that you are a leader and you're taking care of it. If they know that you can confidently and quietly move them from A to B then they assume that you will also notice when the lions are hungry. (The only lion in the video is Ron Jeremy but he is harmless).