Reward and praise are a constant theme in Manolo’s being with horses as is quietly standing by, while working in-hand. Giving horses the space and time to absorb a new situation, a new exercise, giving them the time to ground themselves before asking them to move one foot.
I have observed this quiet standing many time.Sometimes before working together with a horse. Sometimes while working with a horse and sometimes afterwards. it depends. If there is someone present, Manolo will be turned slightly away from the horse, in mid-distance or closer as he judges appropriate and he will talk away. If alone, he may lean on his bamboo and gaze in the horizon with mellow eyes…waiting without pressure, expectation, impatience.
There comes a softening in the horse which often is very discreet, like a wind ripple on a lake. Perhaps the neck lowers 1/2 and inch or the nose unwrinkles a wrinkle or two, the horse’s gaze mirrors Manolo’s….then Manolo approaches. Casually, a friend greeting another with respect and pleasure.
He will caress the horse, run his hands in long, smooth motions over its body. Sometimes, he will embrace its neck or lean on its shoulder, an arm over its neck in comfortable companionship and he will stand a bit more. His long arms may gather the horse, one hand on its poll or chest, one on its croup..his chest lightly resting on the horse’s ribcage, matching breath for breath. His touch connecting the horse from feet to ears, mind to body, connecting him to the earth beneath its feet, the arena space, the cavesson, the bamboo, the man. The lunge almost umbilical in its connecting role.
In silence and through touch, the horse is no longer alone, now there stands two united beings, present in the same stillness, sharing the same reality where before was a man and a horse, separate.
All of this the work of seconds or minutes or less or more depending…
“It depends” being something any student of Manolo will get accustomed to hearing…and learn along the way that being flexible and adapting to the horse you have today is a good way to train for the horse, and for his person.
In these photos from a few years back, Manolo was working for the first time with a Connemara gelding who had little training and was anxious about a new place, a new person, a bamboo and a cavesson. This was towards the end of the lesson, another opportunity to stand peacefully and reflect in quiet contemplation of all that is new and good.You can see the progression from unsure to slowly relaxing in his carriage, ears and gaze.
NOTE: I wanted to add that Manolo’s work is rooted in having grown up in rural Andalusia on a farm and learning to be patient planting rice, tending crops, watching over cattle, sheep and swines. You cannot hurry the land, you cannot hurry the ewes into giving births, or the orange trees into bearing fruits.
This is an experience that is very foreign to us who live in a world where we are asked to deliver results immediately (I NEED IT NOW) and do not get to experience for ourselves what it is like to be given time and space.
What he does is not new but it is very liberating. It is ok to take time, to take weeks and months if needed, to be content with standing quietly today. And its a gift you can give your horse, but also yourself.
Most importantly yourself – it brings back joy into horsemanship that can become very stressful and adversorial when it is focused on instant results.
Taking time gives us the time to figure things out, see patterns, connect the dots – things we miss because we are too focus on the doing.
Taking time, giving ourselves time and being given time are all expression of kindness and respect that I suspect we could all use a little more of in our daily lives.
Photo credit: Pamela Stuart