Hoofprints of a Natural Horsemanship Journey


Rocky is leaving hoofprints in the red clay sands of North Texas while I am walking along a white sandy ocean beach. The rhythmic waves of the crashing surf are mesmerizing and thought-provoking as they wash away my footprints and leave behind a smooth sandy beach. Each wave washes away all traces of the past and leaves a clean slate ready for something new. While watching the waves wash over the beach, I am reminded of the many poems, stories, and analogies have been written about footprints in the sand. Is there a story to be told by Rocky’s hoofprints in the red clay sand back home in Texas?

Our natural horsemanship journey can be understood by looking at how Rocky’s hoofprints in the sand have changed as our horse-human relationship developed. Early in our relationship, Rocky was an angry aggressive horse that made hoofprints that were as deep as his anger and frustration. His big Tennessee Walking Horse (TWH) feet often made deep hoofprints and trenches in the sand. Rocky always seemed to find a way to move earth while in motion or standing still. I now understand that those deep hoofprints were a reflection of his emotions as we were developing our relationship. As we progressed along our natural horsemanship journey, the never-ending winds of North Texas swept away those deep aggressive hoofprints continuously giving us a clean slate for something new as I developed the skills needed to build a horse-human relationship with Rocky.

I started Level 1 as a totally green horse person and had a huge learning curve with an extremely difficult horse. Rocky was often aggressive toward me and I had to learn to be safe while convincing him that I would protect my personal space just like another horse. The dirt would fly through the air as Rocky endlessly charged, bucked, reared, and kicked his way through our encounters. His hoofprints were as deep as his opposition and frustration. Often, he left huge trenches in the sand as he would charge toward me and skid to a stop when I defended my personal space. Rocky could buck up and down in the same space leaving deep hoofprints when he landed and throwing dirt everywhere with his next bucking action. When he bucked forward, the kicking of his hind legs would throw sand everywhere and leave deep gouges in the sand. When he reared up, his rear hooves made deep impressions in the sand and his front hooves landed with deep gouging holes. One of our biggest successes of Level 1 was finding ways for Rocky to simply stand relatively still without making the dirt fly everywhere.

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There was a lot of dirt flying and deep gouging hoofprints while I improved my horsemanship skills and learned to be an effective leader in Levels 2 and 3. The dirt flew through the air as Rocky would buck and kick to show his anger or frustration as I struggled to learn new horsemanship skills. Rocky seemed to find ways to kick up dirt while moving in 6 directions (up, down, forward, backward, right, and left) at the same time.

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Even in Level 3, Rocky’s hoofprints often shifted from a pattern of aggressive motion to deep holes as he planted his feet and refused to move. There were many times when his body became rigid as he sank his hooves deeper into the sand with each panting breath as he became an immoveable object.

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Communication is essential for our relationship and Rocky constantly watches me for directions. Along the way, I learned to slow down and watch Rocky for his subtle reactions to my requests. Early in our developing relationship, if Rocky did not understand what I was asking him to do, he would aggressively paw the ground and dig deep trenches in the sand. I learned to recognize Rocky’s frustration and improved my communication skills so that I can clearly communicate with him and help him stay calm and focused. Now, when Rocky does not understand what I am asking, he lowers and leans his head toward me and wiggles his nose. If I keep trying and fail to communicate in a way that he understands, Rocky will lift a front leg up in an arc like a question mark and simply waves his leg in the air to let me know that he is trying but I have failed to communicate my request. He no longer digs deep trenches with his hooves when he is frustrated with my poor communication skills.

Getting back to the original question: “Is there a story to be told by Rocky’s hoofprints in the sand back home in Texas?” Absolutely!

Rocky no longer makes deep angry hoofprints or digs trenches with his hooves. Dirt no longer flies through the air when he moves. The North Texas winds swept away the deep hoofprints made at the beginning of our journey to build a horse-human relationship and gave us the opportunity to grow without the baggage of the past. Now, the easy motion of Rocky’s body seems subtle and dainty compared to his exaggerated actions that once dug deep hoofprints in the sand. Rocky now leaves behind the hoofprints of a well-adjust confident horse.

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