Free work with two horses
Adjust to distinct personalities
My Haflinger mare Mausi and my PRE gelding Harry not only differ in gender and physique but above all in behavior and personality structure. Harry is an extroverted type, is very playful and energetically tackles life; Mausi in contrast, appears to be more introverted, rather dreamy and gentle. Nevertheless, both complement each other well in common free work, provided we grant them sufficient scope for individual development.
Mausi und Harry
In fact, we captured an interesting situation between them during the photo shoot in summer 2017. It was a hot morning, and we intended to do a shooting of me riding Harry for my new book. However, nothing went as planned; maybe all participants had been too excited, and so we soon decided to give in. Mausi intuitively senses disagreement, stress or overexcitement very well; she tries to help whenever possible, and aims to promote a harmonious feeling of togetherness. This morning she left the pasture’s high grass, and came over to us in order to ease the situation. The following pictures will prove her success.
First, Mausi made initial contact by directly stepping in Harry’s way; her head hanging down in a relaxed way, she started to breathe deeply and intensively. The previously excited Harry immediately began to relax; he closed his eyes, relaxed his ears a bit, and lowered his head, as can be seen in the picture.
When I got off Harry, we turned to common ground work. The picture her clearly visualizes the two horses’ very different level of excitement: Harry has a much higher muscle tone; his chest is rather tense in Spanish walk, and he proceeds briskly. In contrast, Mausi follows passively with rather low muscle tone; her steps are low, her eyes are almost closed, and her ears hang down to the sides.
Differences in body tension
When seen from the front, we also perceive a clear difference regarding the individual degree of straightening of the two horses. Harry’s chest is raised and tense, whereas Mausi’s chest muscles are dangling down. She follows Harry and me slightly offset, and does not keep up with us at the same height.
Degree of tension
This moment perfectly illustrates the degree of tension and the increased level of stress in both horses. On one hand, Harry is dropping, and he keeps Mausi at a distance by tilting his head, and raising the nostril. On the other hand, Mausi reacts in a deescalating manner, and sends a calming signal; her licking and chewing is clearly visible, she behaves in a passive way, and averts her gaze.
From a lateral perspective, we can observe Mausi’s high amount of tension in her facial expressions. Her chewing muscles become clearly visible, two thick strands of muscle fibers emerge, and her mouth indicates a chewing motion.
Part of the human
She turns to me, tones up her entire body, and catches up as soon as I relax, and invite her to come along.
Once invited, both start trotting side by side at pretty much the same height. Mausi’s synchronizes her movement a bit more with Harry, and thus becomes more dynamic and faster; her body tension has significantly increased now.
Allowing moments in which we share rewards and relaxation contributes to a more harmonious situation. Harry lowers his head on signal, and both horses wait for their reward.
Sharing treats and eating them together further contributes to relaxation. Happiness hormones are released through chewing and the taste of food; what is more, happiness hormones are the stress hormones’ natural counterparts, and cause the horses to relax more and more.
How can community work?
It is important to make sure that all sides take care of each other if I want do free work with two so different horses. Therefore, I frequently position myself between them to de-escalate a situation, and to keep an eye on both. Harry is able to perform a much greater variety of lessons whereas Mausi generally requires a higher rate of rewards. Additionally, Mausi needs breaks more frequently, and wants to spend more time with slower forms of movement than Harry does. So, it makes sense to let her run on the shorter inner track while Harry is going the longer way of the outer track where we are able to include additional lessons for him. Mausi generally needs more individual space than Harry; this can be seen in all of the pictures. So, I always place myself closer to Harry so that she can follow in distance she considers appropriate. It had been possible to access the delicious grass of the pasture throughout the entire photo sequence, and both of them could have quit training at any time. They would have been allowed to leave; so, their voluntary engagement can be understood as clear indication of being interested in our joint venture.