Here are a some personal stories from Robin's students who have experienced amazing transformations in their relationship with their horse, as well as inside themselves, after working with Robin Gates and the Carolyn Resnick method.
Leading From The Heart
I took my horse, Toci, for our first liberty walk yesterday. We spent a delicious hour exploring 18 acres of serene beauty – smelling, breathing, and enjoying each other’s company. We wandered at liberty, no halter, no rope, nothing but heart connection between us. Occasionally, we’d stop - Toci would nibble grass, I would breathe in the beauty of the land and my equine companion. Soon another corner of the property would intrigue me – I’d ask Toci to leave her grass and come along. Up would come her head and off we’d go. Yesterday is also the day I learned of her suggested execution. After joining us along our meander, the lovely owner of the property and now dear friend allowed as how, unbeknownst to me, the first vet to meet Toci and her sister Koko, upon their arrival a year ago as PMU rescue mares, had recommended that they were dangerous, unreachable and should be put down immediately, in plain talk: killed. He was ready to do so. My heart breaks for the untold magical lives and dreams we kill to assuage our own fear of the dark and need to control.
And there was dark, plenty of it - Toci and Koko were huge and scary, I had never owned a horse in my life and what did I know? But I said YES to them and vowed never to force them to accept domination again. Instead, I began the long slow process of winning their trust. Spent many hours, days and months building relationship and respect - practicing consistency, allowing them choice while being clear about my boundaries, looking for the YES, for a way that all of us could win. If they balked, I needed to step back. Where had I over stepped their trust? Where had I asked for too much? All of this under the guidance, vision and love of our gifted trainer/teacher, Robin Gates. Robin held the light and kept guiding when I was afraid and lost, always reminding me that the short cut is using force and intimidation, the long way is through love and trust. The short cut would get them under my control more quickly as long as I remained a dominating force. The long way takes, well, longer. . . . .
The first two months were spent sitting in their field, just being - doing nothing more than allowing them to come to me of their own free will. As they got used to Robin and I, we'd ask for a small thing: hold out a hand, would they look at it? They weren't sure, were nervous. Hands had not been kind. We'd be patient, keep the hand out, if they moved even slightly towards it, they were greeted with a gentle 'good girl' and a cookie. Then possibly, could they touch the hand? Could the hand touch them? Could the hand touch their ear, their shoulder, their foot? At the slightest sign that they were uncomfortable or nervous, we would back off. The hand meant no harm. The hand was here to feed, groom, scratch. And many times the hand was met with a glassy hard stare - no one home, no one allowed near. But we were patient and, always, the hand meant no harm. We made inroads.
We moved on to new lessons. Would they touch new things? Could new things touch them? Would they move away when signaled? Would they move closer? Would they not move at all? All learned in tiny increments at first. A slight movement, only a shift in body weight, in the direction of our request was all it took in the beginning to get an excited "Good Girl!" If there was a transgression on their part (an invasion of our space that was not respectful or invited), there was never a reaction. There was always a moment of pause, of reflection, then a clear, consistent and calm request for them to leave. They were not chased or hit, BUT they were clearly not allowed to stay in our presence if they were not going to be respectful. They could stay away for as long as they wanted. We watched them pouting sometimes, and thinking as well. "All is good", would say Robin, "they're figuring it out. Let them come to it in their own time." And, wouldn't you know, they did! Sometimes within a few minutes, sometimes days, but they liked learning. They always chose to come back. And usually the next interaction would be a perfectly executed response to our earlier request that had seemed unendurable before they quit. (Believe me, the early unendurable activities were priceless! Could you wait here for 2 seconds? Could we touch you lightly with a towel? Would you let us stand quietly next to your left shoulder? You would not believe some of the very large hissy fits that those requests engendered!!) It was clear as time progressed that they loved learning, and even more rewarding was watching them accept us as wise and respected herd leaders. We were worthy of leadership. They could trust us enough to follow us. They could trust us enough to accept our corrections. All of this at liberty with little to no use of ropes or halters.
I am forever in Robin’s debt. And the lovely thing is, I like this feeling! To find a teacher so gifted and committed, not to the checklist of ‘things I know how to make my horse do’, but instead to the path of love and connection. . . is astounding to me. It so flies in the face of all that I have been led to believe in how to ‘train’ and interact with horses, that I still struggle to put words around it. What I do know is that Robin is guiding Toci, Koko and me on a journey of the heart. And along the way, my focus is expanding. I began studying with Robin to become a more confident horsewoman, and yes, she has taught me well. The unexpected gold is that every time I leave a session, I find I have become a more conscious human being. I have learned to lead, not by offering domination and pressure to conform (i.e. creating a world unpleasant anywhere but by my side); I have learned to lead by offering choice, compassionate vision, and inclusivity (the world is wide and varied and by my side our joy is doubled).
Toci and Koko are now two of the biggest cuddle bugs around. And yesterday, a year after their suggested execution, as we wandered together through the early evening spring light side by side with nothing between us but our connection to each other, a year seemed such a small investment of time indeed. To have made such a friend and have gained such trust. . . . . . . I'll choose the long way every time. I am full of gratitude and wonder for the lessons still to learn. How many years? As many as I have. . . . . .