With Michelle Mantor
PetTalk Editor’s Costa Rica Equine Adventure – Day 2.2

NC_DDC2231Down at the Vinculo barn, Debbie brings in her horse Gitana, which means Gypsy, (the Costa Rica horses, Costarricense de Paso also known as Criollo, are a combination of several Spanish horses (Barb, Andalusian, Arab) and the Peruvian Stepping Horse.), to demonstrate horse behavior and give me a little more insight. She starts by explaining the concept of personal space which we have as humans and so do horses. This is the space where we are uncomfortable if another person (or horse, etc.) comes into this space without our permission. Have you ever had someone get too close to your face while talking to you and you begin to back up? That person was in your personal space without your permission. For horses, as prey animals, they would be uncomfortable or even feel threatened if humans approach them suddenly or without permission into their personal space. Debbie demonstrates how to watch for a sign the horse has noticed you, take a few steps until you get another movement from the horse acknowledging you, then stop and wait, letting the horse know you are not threatening and willing to let them run away if they feel like it, and so on until you get into their personal space to do whatever you need to do…groom, saddle, etc.

This makes total sense and I like things that make sense – it takes away fear when you begin to understand something. My hesitancy or fear with horses is the unpredictability given that I don’t understand their behavior . Learning how to approach them in a polite, safe way is an awesome start to my learning process because now I have a tool to begin creating a relationship of respect.

We spend some more time with Gitana as Debbie explains the use of the parelli stick used in lunging, ground work and she shows how her horse likes to play games, like switching directions when the stick is used, how to move her horse with just the pressure of her finger – always showing us how to reward the desired behavior from the horse when you get the response you’re looking for. Horses weigh over a 1000 lbs and clearly if this horse didn’t want to move with the pressure of Debbie’s finger pushing backwards, she wouldn’t do it. But she does, Debbie rewards her with her voice and a few strokes on the neck. Now that is a relationship of mutual respect and it’s clear to me that the method of “breaking a horse” that is commonly used is misunderstanding the horse and missing the beauty of a common bond and language with the horse that will work with you because they want to, not because you are making them. That’s quite a difference in spirit when one does something out of desire versus fear.

“You want to try?”, Debbie asks, Hmmm…not really but she makes me anyway LOL! With as much calm as I can muster, I use the perelli stick and next thing I know, the horse is following my directions, running around the ring, turning as I direct and it’s the most amazing feeling – this horse is following me as the leader. Who’d have thought I could go from anxious horse observer to horse leader in just one day? Definitely not me!

With a big smile on my face, we leave the barn and head to dinner at the restaurant for a hearty, delicious meal of Tilapia, rice and vegetables that I can’t pronounce but are yummy.
It occurs to me in the middle of the meal that this place, Leaves and Lizards, is like a big family – the workers in the kitchen are giggling and having fun, some of the other staff that takes care of the horses and property are eating and some other guests have arrived and come in to eat in the big open air dining room with a dead-on view of the Arenal Volcano. It also occurs to me that at this moment, I am very happy. And it also occurs to me that I have slowed my pace enough from the city to NOTICE that I’m happy.