Wednesday 23 November 2011

Trotting on Trust

            When Elm River was first established in 1935 and for many years after, they relied on ‘tractors’ that ran on oats to farm the land. My dad loved working with horses and sometimes helped break wild ones. I grew up hearing countless horse tales, thus began my fascination with these magnificent animals. I especially enjoy watching humans and horses doing extraordinary things in tandem.
So, when I heard about my second cousin, Judith Maendel and her horses, I was chomping at the bit to write about it, knowing it would make a unique and interesting blog post. “She’s made a video clip where she’s interacting and playing with her horse,” her sister, Tirzah informed me. A day later I started emailing with Judith -- educating myself about horsemanship with the Parelli program. This includes, learning how to communicate in a way that the horse understands, which can be accomplished with the universal language called body language.  Parelli believes their program ‘allows horse lovers at all levels and disciplines to achieve: success without force, partnership without dominance, teamwork without fear, willingness without intimidation and harmony without coercion.’

            I’m grateful that Judith took some time to share her knowledge, video and pictures with me and generously agreed to allow me to post her story. She has been learning from horses for five years and with each email it became clearer how passionate she is about her hobby. And some of this is definitely captured in the pictures and video. Watching Judith communicating with her horse, Tess is magical and you get a good sense of the beautiful relationship between the two.
After watching the video, one of the questions I had was about Judith and Tess in the water. I’m not sure why I was so intrigued with this part, other than one never sees a horse patiently waiting in the water till its rider gets back from an impromptu dive. I only fully realized how significant and amazing this moment is, after hearing Judith’s response:
            “About the water. . . "Horses are born Skeptics, Cowards, Claustrophobics, and Panic-aholics by nature." (Pat Parelli)
(You'll find me quoting Pat more often than not because he has the words and quotes to explain most everything and if you study him long enough his words become your words.)
What I'm saying with the above quote is, yes, getting Tess to trust my leadership enough to go into the water is huge.  Here are a couple reasons why that is true. . .  First, horses can't see potential predators in the water (like alligators) and trust me some horses really believe there is an alligator hiding in a one inch deep puddle of water.  Secondly, horse’s feet are their main means of escape from predators either by running, kicking or striking and once in the water, that power is taken away from them, which puts them in a very vulnerable position.
So getting Tess to go in the water and staying there until further notice is all about trusting me, her leader.  And that trust comes from having a relationship that was established through love, language and leadership in equal doses.  The love is the easy part, the language needs to be one that she understands, and the leadership requires a competent leader. Everything I do with Tess, all boils down to how good my relationship and communication is with her.  
 I, as the leader need to be able to realize if Tess is refusing to go in the water because she's afraid or refusing because she's being defiant and testing my leadership.  As her leader, it's very important to make that distinction.   If I force Tess to go in the water when she's afraid, I lost the rapport, respect and trust and have a mental wreck on my hands.  However, if I realize that she's afraid and take time to build her confidence, that will build on her level of respect and trust in me as her leader.  The latter, will result in a happier and more confident horse who wants to be with me. Now, Tess loves the water, especially on hot summer days!”   
            The following article written by Judith Maendel was first published in Nov/Dec 08 issue of Horse Country, a Manitoba magazine.  


Way More Than Riding

“If this horse was a motor vehicle, I would condemn it for malfunctioning throttle, sticky steering and worn brakes!” complained one resident of Baker, the Hutterite Community where I live, southeast of MacGregor, MB.
“What would you do,” another chuckled, “if he was one of your children?” 
“I think Olvetter, grandfather, had it right when he proclaimed that the best leaders and managers in a community are those who have experience with animals.” a cousin added.
When Baker acquired several quarter horses for recreation, teaching the young people responsibility was the main motive. At first, everybody who was interested went riding.  For most, though, it tapered off due to frustration, revealing not only how little we knew about horses and riding, but about the fundamentals of animal/people behavior.
The die-hards, Daniel, Chris and I kept at it, allowing the familiar myth “You just need to show him who’s boss!” to stoke our hopes.  Numerous futile attempts fed our conviction that the horse was just being stubborn and rebellious. We didn’t realize that our poor communication was about as effective as shouting out orders in Hutterisch to a non-Hutterite.
Through Pat Parelli’s Raise Your Hand if You Love Horses we learned a tremendous amount about horses and their nature, which inspired us to buy the Parelli Natural Horsemanship (PNH) Level 1 home study program.  We didn’t anticipate that we were going to learn more about ourselves than about working with horses!
The program architect states, “It’s about building a relationship with horses through communication, understanding and psychology instead of mechanics, fear and intimidation.”  It taught me not only how to solve problems, but prevent them by enlightening me on how to communicate in ways the horse understands, and understand so the horse is able to communicate.  One example is recognizing whether the horse is terrified or defiant when refusing to cross a creek.  His tense body reveals lack of trust.  His slower “try and make me” expression shows his respect level.   I learn to read and address the situation appropriately, thus earning his trust and respect.
Kahlúa, the horse I learn with most often, provided the perfect opportunity for me to practice and develop my leadership skills.  Helping me discover the ingredients necessary for building healthy relationships, and improving mental and emotional well-being.  Since horses are such intelligent animals, it’s hardly surprising that these essential skills transfer to situations such as babysitting, teaching, directing a choir or being a parent.
Another example occurred last summer.  I was supervising the school children for a week, during my turn with ‘Group’.  One of our tasks was collecting old shingles strewn around the cannery.  Five minutes into the job most of the children were either sitting on the trailer or wandering off saying, “Komm schu foedn! Let’s go already!”
“How can I to get them to pick up those shingles without tiring myself out by nagging or forcing them?” I wondered. I remembered a Parelli story about a horse that refused to jump a log.   No amount of hitting could convince this gelding to jump. However, he shook his head and stamped his feet whenever a fly landed on his nose.  Instead of becoming frustrated, and aggressive, Parelli used the strategy of tickling the horse's nose with the end of the lead rope. This gentle irritation compelled him to jump the log.  There was no force, but even more important, the relationship remained intact, probably with increased respect from the horse. 
This was my goal with the children.  “Listen, I need a forklift here!” I suggested as I picked up the shingles. “Or better yet a loader!”  Miraculously, all these human forklifts, JCBs, and loaders came running.  Indeed, now I had another problem. The children were fighting to be next in line!  I could only smile.  They unloaded their stack and came back so quickly I almost couldn’t keep up. The game, along with the job, lasted close to an hour.
 This incident demonstrates what children can accomplish when they are motivated, instead of forced.  Just like horses. My imagination is my only limit.
 Having Kahlua as a willing partner, is only a fraction of the rewarding results of the PNH program.   The knowledge and experience I’ve gained positively influence all areas of my life, inspiring me to become the best me I can be. I am challenged not only to realize, but also practice the values it teaches.   It has helped me in teaching our children, giving piano lessons, working with others and even dealing with myself!  Kahlua still has a lot to teach me.

          Judith has kindly agreed to respond to comments and as a student of the Parelli Program will answer any questions to the best of her ability, which I’m sure will be just as remarkable as her horsemanship. Or as Judith humbly points out, “It’s not so much the things I do with horses, but the psychology and principles behind it all.” 

In closing, I’d just like to add, while horses played a huge role on Manitoba Hutterite colonies years ago, today they’re mostly used for leisure activities. And some, like Judith redefine leisure marvellously – proving that the proper mix of psychology, principles, practice and patience, plays out as a phenomenal human/horse partnership.

Judith is a Brandon University nursing student and the fact that the BU professors are on strike right now, made it possible for her to help me with this post. As much as I'd like for her to be able to continue her studies, I'm grateful that she had time to share her experiences with all of us!   All the best as you work towards your degree, Judith! This post demonstrates that you're a dedicated and patient individual -- traits that will serve you well as a nurse.

Thanks so much for taking us along on this awe-inspiring ride!


  1. I posted the video and a link to your blog. check it out:

    How do I imbed the link to my blog so u can click on a word (like here) and it will take u straight to my blog?
    I also loved the water scene. Your cousin must be a very, very patient woman. May God Bless her.

  2. Hi Plain Girl, I tried checking the blogspot out, but got a pop-up telling me I have to be invited. If I understand your question about imbedding a link correctly...highlight the word(s)then click on link, which will take you to a page to help you, Hope this helps. If not, send me an email.

  3. what is your email so I can sned u an invite? Or maybe I should just make my blog public. Do u know of anyway I can change my URL?

  4. To the right of this post, just click on 'contact me'. Not sure I know how to change a URL. But maybe some other reader knows...

  5. I hope you don't mind that I checked both interesting AND inspiring..because it was both! Wow! Very amazing work your cousin does, Linda! Horses are beautiful creatures..and I found Judith's training relationship with her horses to be a beautiful thing and I wish her all the best with nursing school :)

  6. Hi Linda, After re-reading ur post (I had skimmed it earlier) I realize how much work goes into training a horse and getting it's respect. Well done Judith! She must have the patience of Job! I wish her good luck in her nursing path.
    Horses are my favorite animals (along w/ dogs), but I never knew horses either were afraid of water or don't respect your leadership. Thank You Judith for teaching me something knew:)
    I would love to have a horse, but I don't have the patience. When I took public riding classes it seemed like all the horses, if they did wrong, were either hit or had the crop on them. So, I don't know if they are broken into listening (for fear of punishment) or if they do respect. Question for Judith, do u ever use the crop? How do u discipline your horse?
    Great job and a great learning experience! Keep up the good work!

  7. Thanks for your kind words. How do i discipline a horse? Horses understand positive and negative reinforcemnent but they do not understand punishment. The most important thing to a horse once he feels safe is comfort. With that knowledge I am able to motivate and teach a horse using comfort and discomfort. When discomfort is used fairly and effectively the horse will respect and understand me. However if I get mean or mad, or use discomfort as a punishment the horse becomes scared or mad, and disrespectful; and we all know nobody is able to learn in such an environment. Very simliar to how children learn :) So, yes I do have a 'crop' like tool when teaching my horse, which I use as a communication tool by following the above principle. I hope that answers your quiestion.

  8. Great video...super nice work! I have had my mare since she was 2 yrs old and she is now 25 and still being ridden and shown, etc. Talk about being part of the family! LOL!

  9. Could you please give an example/scenerio of how you use discomfort fairly? Thanks!

  10. I'll give the example of asking Tess to back away from me when I'm playing with her on the ground.
    My initial phase of discomfort comes from my body language, I have this "You better back up" look on my face and in my body. Remember that look your mom gave you as child where just by looking at her you knew you were going to get into trouble if you don't do what she said? If this "look" doesn't motivate Tess to back up, I start with the tiniest wiggle of the rope (The lead rope) and get progressively larger with the rythmic motion. This is uncomfortable for her and as soon as she backs away from the pressure, I relax completely (providing comfort). This release teaches her that she did the right thing. Pretty soon, all I need is the "look" to get her to back up.
    (Linda, you'll find this interesting, Parelli calls this look "Schwiegermutter look." Not very nice I know, but its german :)
    The fairness is in, starting with a suggestion and getting progressively stronger with my rythmic motion, without getting mean or mad. Like saying to your child by the count of 10 I want you to pick up that toy. This gives them the opportunity to respond to the suggestion or deal with the consequences if they don't, the choice is theirs.
    thanks for your quiestions!

  11. Linda and Judith, I am impressed. Thanks so much for the lessons. Fascinating is my verdict.

  12. Thanks for sharing this video. I watched it a while back and it's fascinating! We still use horses to work our cattle and it's amazing how they seem to be as one with the rider. Truly a work of art.

  13. Very interesting work, Judith, and impressive. I watched the performance at the MacGregor Fair on Saturday and enjoyed it. Then I heard about this video so watched that, too. I will tell others about it. D. Gamache

  14. Hi. I would really appreciate it if you would take the time to help me with a couple question about my horse. Thanks

    1. Sorry, I don't know enough about horses to answer questions.


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