My name is Mona Sterling and I’m a volunteer at SAFE. One of the things I do is work with SAFE’s companion horses. Some of these horses are forever companion horses due to age or illness and others will move into being riding horses. My work is not about perfecting groundwork (though I do insist on good manners when I am grooming or leading them) but is about instilling confidence and trust in the horses, something that rescue horses are often in short supply of.
I do this using a method I learned from a woman named Elsa Sinclair. Elsa teaches something called Freedom Based Training, which at its core is about giving horses choice, building emotional stability, and developing strong relationships. I am very much still a student in this work, but it utilizes passive leadership as a means to show the horse you are listening. So while it often looks like I’m just hanging out in the pastures with horses doing nothing, I’m actually watching the environment for them and reacting to their movements. I’m trying to show them that I am really paying attention to their subtleties, which horses are masters of. I’m less of a horse whisperer and more of a horse listener. You can learn more about Elsa’s work and how she trained a wild mustang without using any tools or treats at www.tamingwild.com
January 17, 2019
Angel is making huge improvements, though to the naked eye, it doesn’t look like much. She has gone from being very tense as soon as I entered the pasture, to actually taking a nap while I stand watching the environment. I have gone very slowly with Angel, allowing her to set the distance she’s comfortable with. She will allow me to stand on all sides, including directly behind her. Though she does check over shoulder sometimes when I’m in her blind spot, she does not choose to leave and usually goes back to eating. My hope for Angel is that by doing this very slow work, where she always has a choice to leave, that she will start to develop good feelings when humans are around. This should transfer over to any work her other humans have to do with her, such as haltering and grooming. It often looks like I’m doing nothing or just checking my phone a lot when I’m out with Angel, but she really appreciates it when my energy is not laser focused on her. I’m always watching her out of the corner of my eye so that I can gauge her reactions and comfort level. Though I have not gotten close enough to touch her, Angel is seeing that I’m willing to hang out with her on her agenda. The legendary horse trainer, Tom Dorrance said “First you go with the horse. Then the horse goes with you. Then you go together.” I’m giving Angel all the time she needs and will continue to go with her until she’s ready to go with me.
January 22, 2019
Angel and I had a breakthrough today!! Sometimes, when I’m doing Freedom Based Training and I’m just standing around in the pasture taking a step here and a step there, it feels like I will never see any progress. And progress can be so slow, that it’s hardly noticeable. But today, Angel renewed my passion for this work by choosing to leave her best friend and her food and take five steps towards me. She stopped about an arm’s length away and just watched and waited. We stood together (I had to physically restrain myself from wanting to reach out!!) for a few minutes, just breathing together and then I left. It’s always best to leave on the best note and I can’t think of a better one, than her making the choice to come seek me out. I have not coerced her, pressured her or bribed her. I have simply spent hours showing her that I am listening to her and watching the environment so that she doesn’t have to. Moments like I had with Angel today make all the cold days standing in the mud worth it a thousand times over.