We started bright and early with a chat about herd dynamics, then some deep breathing exercises and stretching. Then we moved outside and worked on our flexibility, balance and coordination-- just imagine 8 people all teetering on one leg while moving the other in circles, writing the alphabet with our right hand and numbers from one to ten with our left in the air! But it was a great way to recognize just how difficult it is to have truly independent aids and also to loosen ourselves up for the day.
The first horse escaped at the end of the roundpen session and ran all the way back home (she and her owner are from another stable down the road), which pretty much set the stage for what promised to be a crazy but interesting day. For almost all of us, Henry first observed the handler's interaction with the horse, then stepped in to the roundpen to work with the horse himself and finally worked with both of them either giving some one on one coaching or even giving them a leg up to ride bareback and only using the halter.
But when it was my turn, he just gave me some coaching from afar, asking me to walk alongside Starbuck on a smaller circle instead of staying in the middle of the roundpen and to not use any vocal aids. Which was really hard! The idea is to use your energy to transmit your wishes to your horse, then body language if the energy doesn't get your idea across. Starbuck did pretty well but Henry commented that she was clearly testing me, attempting to get away with less work and that I shouldn't let her get away with so much. It was definitely what I needed to hear, I'm so afraid of screwing up and traumatizing her that sometimes I'm not the leader she deserves.
It was a shame that I didn't get to see him working with her, but it was certainly good for my ego to know that our communication was good enough that he didn't feel the need to step in. This is getting longer than I expected so I'm going to split it up into two parts, but I do want to mention how impressive his connection with each horse was, every single one of them visibly relaxed after just a few minutes with him. Lots of lip-licking, neck stretching and long sighs... a real pleasure to see, especially with some of the horses which are particularly stressed-out!