Day 3, and how horses train us too

Day 3 of the Running Wild retreat. We ended early because rain was predicted, so we went to our rainy day schedule which starts earlier to get enough training in before the afternoon rain rolls in. Breakfast was at 7:30 (which I almost slept through because I didn’t set my alarm properly) and then an 8am start to the training sessions through to lunch at 1, then another session if the rain holds off (it did, just barely). It was hard to believe this morning that it would rain — the sky was pure blue with hardly a wisp of cloud. But in mountain territory the weather moves fast. Sure enough it started clouding up and by the mid-afternoon the storm rolled in, just as we were finishing the day with a circle on Maddy’s back porch. I love those small circles to open or close each day and check in and take a moment to connect and breathe. There are rattles and songs and lovely things on an altar to catch our magic and radiate it back. The rain was just starting, with lightning both to the east and west, and as we shook our rattles and got lost in a song, the herd closest to the house (which consists of the zebras and maybe 4 or 5 other horses) started galloping together across the field as a singular, pulsing entity. I had my back to them so only caught the last moments of it as we ended the song and when the rattles and singing stopped the herd turned together and stopped their gallop too…. It made everyone laugh because how could anyone not: we were watching actual zebras running in a herd of horses in the light rain at the beginning of a storm, with the sound of the song and the rattles of the closing circle of the day carried down to them on the wind. If my 12-year-old self could see me she would literally die of happiness, which would be terribly ironic so maybe it’s a better thing not to time travel and/or look into the future with too much clarity.

So, Day 3 synopsis (if the above paragraph doesn’t cover it). I had two sessions with Mirror, both around 30 minutes. Unlike yesterday, when the time seemed to go so fast, today’s sessions were much more tiring, and both of them I ended around the 30 minute mark thinking it felt more like 45. Ha, ha. Nothing can ever stay the same. I wonder what tomorrow will be like!!

I was floating a magical high of flow and connection after my sessions with Mirror yesterday, and today I feel like she showed me a little bit of who she is and asked me to do the same. I knew she was a bit sassy and fast and full of energy, and today she kept showing me that side of her but only in smaller little bursts. Yesterday she matched my pace walking slowly or jogging a bit faster. Today she wanted to try out the game her way and made me work for connection at a walk. I made the mistake right away of looking for too much (connection, relaxation in the ears) and the rate of reinforcement dipped a bit too low at times, and then I lost her. She’d just wander off to make sure Maddy’s retired racehorse (on the other side of the fence) didn’t get too close to the water trough in the corner of the paddock. She reminded me SO much today of Mika’s personality and behaviour. A bit of impatience with me, and the need to assert every once in a while her idea of what she wanted to do. I let her set the agenda in those moments, and I think that helped a bit make up for the less than optimal rate of reinforcements in the first half of the session.

Once Maddy came to start watching and giving pointers, I picked up the rate of reinforcement with her prompts and suggestions of different things to try to make Mirror successful. That is one of the things that makes this training process such an intuitive practice — it requires you to develop a finely tuned sense of when to push for more, when to sit back and wait, or when to move on to something else (and what to move on to!). And of course the only way a person can develop both the feel and the the skills is to practice them, ideally under the wing of a thoughtful and effective teacher. Maddy is way beyond that — she’s a truly gifted teacher. And the match between me and Mirror, however accidental or synchronistic, started to blow my mind today because she showed me how much her energy and personality mirrors my Mika. Wandering off to defend the water trough like a grumpy resource guarding little b#&$^ or to visit the girls in the shade of the walk-in shed if I got too boring. Leaning into the protected contact circle to see if she can just reach that bucket of pellets. Giving a little buck that seems almost playful/joyful in that sticky corner with the water trough when we pick up her forward moving pace. The surge of energy, that bit of resistance before she softens and joins up. The impatience if the reward isn’t quite fast enough or is too small. Her showing me what she wants to do.

Although I was a bit sloppy with keeping the reinforcement up at the beginning of both sessions and she took few steps back with the start button/right side neck pets in the morning session, by the afternoon she rewarded me by not only allowing strokes on the right side of her neck, but by hitting the start button like a slot machine and almost leaning into the strokes. Reflecting on the effect of those moments of breakthrough connection (taken together with disciplining experience of having the horse wander off if you’re not doing it quite right), you have to wonder who exactly is training who….. and incidentally just as I was composing that thought, one of the participants made the first post in our facebook group:

Hahahhaha… Indeed.

Anyway, apparently we are all now operating on a herd level, both the humans and the equines, which is a pretty remarkable thing.

I think I’m starting to develop my feel for when a good thing is completely enough, so I stopped both of my sessions with Mirror today at a high point (the afternoon more than the morning) when I got tired. She probably could have kept playing, but I think less is still more right now, and yesterday was a lot — probably for both of us. Today was also a lot, but different. I feel like I connected with Mirror on a more real level, which isn’t all glitter and rainbows and happy endorphins frolicking with dolphins and mustangs. I know she’s going to make me work, and grow, and overcome the things I need to overcome in the next eight days I have with her.

Before I end this post, I want to say a quick hello and welcome to any new readers from the Mustangers group and ESPECIALLY any new readers from this amazing little herd of women I’m getting to know here. I feel so lucky to be here among you ❤ ❤ <3.

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