Control Dramas

by Alana Eagletree

I am riding Sunrise, my Golden Palomino Quarter horse, along the fence line and across the back of my property. I check the level of corn in the three automatic feeders and water in the troughs. We are near the house. He turns toward the barn figuring his work is done. I say “No,” I want to make one more loop. I let him feel the end of my spur and firmly redirect with the reins.

Sunrise’s immediate reaction was to throw his head low to the ground, pull the rope reins through my hands and commence a wall-eyed bucking fit. I held on for the obligatory eight seconds yet was dispensed to the hard ground. The dark golden healthy dapples on his hips glinted in the Texas sun as he galloped off to his stable, kicking and squealing his glee.

I was angry – and embarrassed. This was not the first time this horse and I have had a control battle. Too often, this outcome is repeated. With rope burned hands, I tried not to limp as I made my way back on foot.

In the barnyard, Sunrise was watching and waiting for me. His pretty head was up and ears were pricked forward. The snow white mane and forelock were lifted by the breeze. The wide, white blaze down his face offsets the black, liquid eyes wide and wondering what I was going to do next.

Years ago I was taught this is the time to teach the horse “who was boss” by using extreme predatory measures like jerking, yelling or whipping. For the last thirteen years I have been practicing “Natural Horsemanship” which is based on building a relationship with the horse. Punishment is NEVER appropriate when building a relationship with any entity.

The principles of stalking myself were remembered – awareness, responsibility and ‘seeing’ the world as a mirror of my inner being – as in, if I have a controlling horse and I am reacting to him with anger, the horse is a mirror of my controlling tendencies.

To build a relationship with my horse and not have control battles, I first look in the mirror and face up to what I see. I stalk how else I am trying to control the outside world because my relationship with my horse is a microcosm of my relationship with life. I cannot push the river. I step into the stream and go with the flow. I decide not to exhibit control behaviors of my own.

Horses are prey animals. Humans are predators. Horses need to feel safety and comfort in what they are doing before they can feel confident enough to come out to play. What comes up for both of us in a control battle is FEAR. My horse’s fear as a prey animal is that he will soon be eaten. I am afraid I will be hurt or killed when bucked off.

The next step is to feel my fear and go into the middle of it. This can be scary and tricky. As I go inside my fear, I feel consumed by it. I can’t breathe or swallow. I have a lump in my throat. My chest is constricted. My heart is pounding. Suddenly, I realize when Sunrise gets scared he experiences the same symptoms! When he is in fear, I can feel his heart pounding between my legs. He mirrors me. And as I go to the middle of my fear, my horse feels less fear, as he “follows or mirrors” me.

In concert, we take a breath. We step forward. A transformation has occurred. Our hearts are beating in rhythm. Our minds are calm.

Next time we go riding and he gets scared, we will walk back to the barn together, because I will remember my own desire to control originating out of fear. We may stop short of the gate and play some riding games for a while right there. The barn is in sight for him. His body and mind are moving with me. No one is “In Control.” We are in fluid synchronicity.