The Right Horse At The Right Time

  By Christalee Froese

I'm standing in the middle of a massive horse-riding arena in Kendal, Sask. along with two of the nine other participants in a personal-growth weekend.

Horses are involved.

The haunting tones of a recorded Gregorian chant are meant to help create an atmosphere of calm but I barely hear the monks because three snorting mustangs are racing around us at breakneck speed and my rapidly beating heart threatens to burst my eardrums.

I've been told that a horse will choose me, but I'm going to take matters into my own hands and be the one who does the choosing. There's a bay that looks just like Beauty, our beloved family horse.

So I ignore the massive gray mare that has been trying to make eye contact since she entered the arena. I don't care that she slows down when she runs by or that she tries to get close. I raise my arms and holler to scare her away. She is too big, too muscular, too strong, too feisty and too determined.

I can tell.

I reach for the bay but he moves away, having chosen someone else. Now the gray mare stands patiently waiting for me to acknowledge that she and I are the only ones left.

Tag, I'm it.

"Horses are so connected to body language that they are able to read even the most subtle postures right away and within seconds they seem to make a connection," says horse guru Cain Quam. "Horses survived for thousands of years by being drawn to an environment that they're comfortable in and that will benefit them, so I totally trust that they'll choose who they're meant to be with."

I suppose he should know. He's trained about 4,000 horses, been Canadian cutting champion and is respected coast to coast for his soft approach to training.
Apparently the gray mare - her name is Katie - sees something in me, a safe haven, perhaps.

Cain can't explain exactly how the horses consistently partner with the right people. He has also stopped trying to explain why certain horses show up at the barn door on the day of a particular workshop, while others are nowhere to be found. Or how, without fail, the right horse arrives at the right time.

Today, Mustang is Ute's right horse.

Mustang wasn't even supposed to be part of the self-help workshops offered by Cain, his wife Roberta and professional counselors Judy Wright and Dave Beriault.

He had been abandoned and had a wild attitude to suit his mustang bloodlines. But on the day of our workshop this unruly, sometimes temperamental, mammoth of a horse showed up at the barn door.

Cain tried to shoo him away, but Mustang wanted in. And, once in, he got just what he needed - a strong-willed 54-year-old pre-school teacher named Ute Bosley. As Cain takes us through the paces of leading horses while walking, deeper lessons of trust, confidence and leadership begin to emerge. He tells us to rub our horses just behind the ears. They like that. He tells us not to pat them as cowboys do in the movies, but to caress them in a circular motion. He tells us to lead them with authority and to keep them out of our immediate space.
And then he tells us to walk them onto a gargantuan teeter-totter. Now I'm no horse expert, but the last thing I'm likely to do is walk a strange horse across a teeter-totter.

Then I paused to watch old Mustang.

On the first day, Ute couldn't get Mustang to even sniff at a piece of wood she wanted him to step over. He reared up and snorted but with Cain's urging, and Judy and Dave's subtle intervention, Mustang finally sniffed a raised platform on which horses are asked to stand. Hey, it was a start.

Katie let me go at my own pace. First I walked her through a plank maze, then over a jump and right onto the raised platform that measured only four feet by eight feet. My fear had subsided and confidence was beginning to take over as we approached the shaky teeter-totter. I looked Katie in the eye and told her "Here we go girl."

And away she went, up and across the unstable apparatus as if we'd be doing it together all our lives.

I learned something.

I hadn't expected any big revelations at this therapeutic clinic, but I got one anyway. I had been creating my own fear the whole time and I'd conquered it. If I could conquer this one irrational fear, what other fears could I conquer?

"It's so freeing to work with these horses because they see the authentic you, not the external facade. They're basically saying, 'I just want to be with you for you, so tell me what to do and I'll do it'," says Regina, Sask. counselor Judy Wright.

Then I watched Mustang some more as he puffed and snorted and pawed at the elevated platform. He pranced to the left and hopped to the right but Ute coaxed him to the right and led him to the left. Suddenly this 1,200 pound wild, anxious horse stepped onto that platform with one trembling foot, then another and another until he stood on the tiny stage, head high, as if he owned it.

Ute, standing on her tiptoes, reached up to caress him behind his ear and tell him how proud she was of him.
"I had to work for his respect," says Ute, her face beaming with pride. "It was a big deal for him to trust me, but he did it. At first I was demanding that he do it, and then I just let that go and trusted in the process."

While Mustang overcame a great deal of fear and frustration over the two-day workshop, the process wasn't about the horse. "He taught me patience," says Ute. "He taught me to persevere."

Horses get to the heart of the matter.

Cain, Judy, Roberta and Dave say they see all kinds of breakthroughs during workshops at the Kendal horse centre, from the thundering businessman who quickly realized his dominant personality wasn't suiting his horse, or his life, to the introverted young lady who lacked the confidence to even raise her eyes.

"When she walked into the barn, her head was down and her voice was so muffled I could hardly hear her and I thought, 'how am I going to help this girl?'" says Quam.
Turns out, it was Catch, one of the softest, quietest horses in the barn, who helped her. Catch chose the young women, helping her to raise her head, make eye contact and to assert herself. By day two, there was brightness in the woman's eyes and at the end of the workshop she declared that she had never experienced true happiness until that day.

"You can spend hours and hours in counseling trying to make people realize their power, but the experience of connecting to horses and making them move where you want them to move creates that experience almost immediately," says Judy, who is certified in neuro-linguistic programming and is completing her masters in educational psychology. Cain says "The horse hasn't read the book about you and knows only what you're offering right at that moment, so our job isn't really to heal anybody. It's to create a space where you can connect to your authentic self which then connects you to this animal who only reads you, not your story."

Roberta, who offers yoga sessions during the horse workshops in order to help people get centered, says "There's a lot of tears, but there's a lot of laughter too."

Counselor Dave Beriault says incorporating horses into the self-help process has been a revelation. "Horses are really authentic - what you see is what you get, they're not judging anybody. They teach our participants that they can be like that, too - authentic and not judgmental."