It was my turn to enter the round pen during an Anna Twinney clinic at The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch in Shell, Wyoming (800/354-8637; www.thehideout.com), just east of Cody.
I was prepared — or so I thought.
I positioned the mount assigned to me — Marlena, a Quarter Horse mare — so that she was facing the gate inside the round pen and unhooked the lead.
I waited for the right moment, took two steps back, then approached her at a 45-degree angle, “projecting energy” to cause her to break away — the desired response. But she kept coming toward me.;
As confident and ready as I thought I was, my heart was pounding. I’d planned to show everyone how well I could speak the “Language of Equus.”
What went wrong?
I’d researched Anna’s natural horsemanship methodology, and was eager to meet and work with her. Through her Reach Out to Horses® program (303/642-7341; www.reachouttohorses.com), she helps horse owners like me build a connection and trust-based partnership with their equine friends.
I never expected to be working a horse at liberty on the first day, learning how to “project my energy.” I also didn’t expect to gain awareness about myself through my interactions with a horse.
The five-day clinic consisted of three days with Anna, bracketed by two days in the saddle during which we could get to know our horses, learn a little about ranch life, and tour the spectacular trails surrounding The Hideout Ranch on horseback.
Upon arrival at the ranch, we were first treated to a hearty lunch of buffalo burgers served up by Hideout head chef Sheena Ernst.
We could then choose to ride, shop, or sit in the hot tub sipping wine. I chose to ride, as did fellow guests Laura and Gemma, British veterinarian twins.
Wrangler Allison took us to a nearby region they call Sedona, due to its red-rock landscape.
The weather took a nasty turn, and we found ourselves at the back of the ranch, across a river, learning how to push cattle in the snow. Not quite what the British participants had expected when they booked their vacation to Wyoming in October, but we all had fun.
The contrast of snow against the red rock was stunning. The trail was slippery, but we did manage to get in a nice canter. I felt confident on Marlena, a ranch mare who’s believed to have been bred on an Indian reservation, due to her cheek brand.
Back at the ranch, we all got to know each other in the cozy dining room by the fire in the main lodge. At dinner, we were thrilled to be joined by Hideout Ranch owners Dave and Paula Flitner.
Obstacle Course 101
The next day, our first clinic day, Anna began in the indoor arena. We watched her work with a variety of horses on a makeshift obstacle course: a bridge made from skids and cones; panels with hanging lead ropes; a jump; and a large tarp.
As each horse entered the arena, Anna would observe him briefly.
She picked up on each horse’s confidence level, personality, and hierarchy in the herd simply by his actions, head carriage, and response to seeing the obstacles for the first time.
Anna then maneuvered each horse through the obstacle course using her stance, body language, hand movements, eye contact, and a long line, which is used as an extension of the arm.
We each took turns in pairs to give it a try; I was amazed to see how easy it could be.
We then moved on to the energy and telepathic communication portion of the clinic. We each picked a partner and were given a set of dowsing rods — L-shaped pieces of metal used to read energy.
I partnered with Diane, from England, who was there with her husband and her twin sister.
As instructed, I pointed the dowsing rods toward Diane, who stood at the other end of the arena. As she approached me, the rods picked up on her energy and crossed over each other, forming an X. When she stepped back, they straightened out.
For the next exercise, we were to project our energy toward the rods without coming closer. This wasn’t easy. You have to picture sending energy from you to the rods.
Eventually, Diane succeeded. The rods miraculously crossed over.
We then had to contain our energy, moving toward the rods without them moving or recognizing our energy; that is, be invisible.
This turned out to be equally difficult, but eventually, we both succeeded. This form of transferring energy is key to communicating successfully with horses, Anna told us.
Anna believes that to work with a horse, you need to be true to yourself and emotionally well. Only then can you begin to reflect your energy toward an animal.
In essence, she’s attempting to protect the horse from receiving our negative energy.
Anna encouraged us to “be” rather than to push, convince, or entice the horse to do what you want him to do. She told us to free our minds of complicated energy to focus on the task at hand.
Horses see in pictures, she explained, so to communicate with them, picture what you want them to do visually, in your mind.
However, she added, before you attempt to do anything with your horse at liberty, you must first go in with a plan and goal. Otherwise, he’ll pick up on your hesitation and indecisiveness.
If you want your horse to respond to your signals, Anna noted, you have to know in your heart and mind the goal you want him to fulfill.
“You have three-eighths of a second to respond to a horse’s indecision, so you must commit to your actions and be quick to respond — or even better, anticipate — the motion,” Anna told us.
Eye-contact work, signals, and hand motions are intricate, Anna explained, but just as important is rewarding the actions for which you ask.
For instance, when you wave a hand to push your horse’s nose away from you, drop your hand the instant his nose moves. Then thank him for his pleasing action by looking at the ground and relaxing momentarily, taking a calm breath.
This is where the trust and understanding begins.
Anna has honed her communication with horses so expertly, the quickness of their responses boggles the mind.
Something else impressed me: Anna doesn’t seek to conform every horse to fit into a preconceived natural horsemanship method. Rather, she reads each horse’s personality, then decides what that particular horse needs to do to benefit his existence.
Benefits can include gaining more confidence, learning ground manners, or simply being more comfortable in a strange environment.
“Every horse is different, so we should accept each individual horse’s personality for what it is and honor it,” Anna says.
The next day, we moved to the outside arena for the Trust Based Leadership (TLC) portion of the clinic.
We started with the relaxation phase, which involved massage. I rubbed Marlena’s ear tips, then her whole ear. She was quick to respond, relaxing as I gently covered her eye, then her muzzle, with my hand.
As Marlena started to trust me, she allowed me to massage her gums. Anna explained that this level of trust can come in handy when you need to check your horse’s teeth, put in a bit, or deworm him.
I was able to teach Marlena to lower her head with a soft pressure-and-release method. I first tried this method on her nose, then her poll.
Finally, I was able to ask Marlena to lower her head by placing my hand just above her withers. This is a great tool to use to ask your horse to lower his head while you’re mounted.
Next, while on the ground, I bent Marlena’s head to my hip, disengaged her hind end, then asked her to jog with me. All went well.
I noticed that I could influence Marlena’s speed through the energy of my legs. When I dug my heels into the ground, she’d slow down; when I lifted my knees high and stepped out, she’d step out.
I began to sense the energy between us. When Marlena responded to my requests, I remembered to praise her by looking at the ground and relaxing.
Lastly, we were to learn what Anna calls “Reaching Out,” a “getting to know one another” exercise. This includes personality assessment, recognizing the horse’s history, and what she calls “gaining a contract.”
As Anna demonstrated this exercise in the round pen, she told us it needed to be done just “one to five times” in a horse’s life.
The ultimate goal is for you and your horse to accept and respect each other through visual and energetic communication.
This goal is the “contract.” To begin, you ask your horse to move away from you. Then you influence his speed, change his direction, and, ultimately, at the perfect moment, connect with him through eye contact, which reaches out to him and invites him to come into your space for final praise.
There’s no dominance — just trust, understanding, and communication.
Anna displayed “the contract” with several horses. Each horse was a little different.
Watching Anna’s eyes when they locked on to a horse with so much intent sent shivers up my spine.
Now we come back to my round-pen experience with Marlena. She’s a fairly dominant mare, but I felt as though we were connecting.
As mentioned earlier, I felt confident, ready to show everyone how well I could perform the task of communicating through the Language of Equus.
But as I entered the round pen with everyone watching, my heart began to pump and my confidence started to wane. My mind raced. What do I do first? Don’t screw up. You can do this.
Marlena was quick to pick up on my fading confidence.
Inside the round pen, I turned Marlena toward the gate and released the lead. I waited for the right moment, then took two steps back and began to push Marlena away from me with my body language, energy, stance, and eye contact to create the breakaway.
I used the hand motion I’d learned to request that she move away from me, but instead, she came toward me. The harder I tried to move her away, the closer she came.
What was I doing wrong?
Upon later reflection, I realized that first, I entered the pen with the wrong goal. I wanted to personally succeed and impress everyone with my abilities.
I didn’t communicate with the mare. I didn’t picture in my head what I wanted her to do. I was more preoccupied with accomplishing the task at hand.
Also, I realized that my stance was completely wrong, focusing on the mare’s hind end, which caused her head to move toward me.
Marlena responded properly to the aids I gave her; I simply gave her incorrect aids. She did everything I asked of her, but I didn’t praise her. She could sense my frustration and became agitated.
Anna stepped in to assist me with the breakaway. I eventually managed to control Marlena’s speed, but whenever my eyes went to her hind end, she stopped and moved in.
I realized then how intricate this language is. Everything has to be spot on: where you focus your eyes; how you position your feet and shoulders; how you move; even what you’re thinking.
To speak or connect with horses, I’d need to learn their language and learn it correctly. Any grammatical error will result in miscommunication. But, once learned, this language is universal.
I saw that by learning the Language of Equus and managing my own energies, I gained insight into my own personality.
I truly believe Anna’s mission was to free us of our inhibitions so that we could become open-minded. This, in turn, allowed us to connect with the horses from our hearts and chakras, instead of our overloaded brains.
Time for Reflection
That night, Halloween, The Hideout kitchen staff outdid themselves with Halloween treats and a delicious dinner served up by the staff in costume.
Anna was leaving the next day. It was wonderful to sit around the table, sipping wine while listening to her experiences with wild horses and her in-depth knowledge of the equine world.
“If I can save one horse at a time, then my purpose is fulfilled,” Anna told us. She added that many horses are misunderstood, but when you take the time to speak to them in their own language, they can often go from an unfavorable life to a life of fulfillment. This becomes true for both horse and owner.
The last morning, Wrangler Tom took Gemma, Laura, and me on a ride to the McCullough Peaks wild horses near Cody. That afternoon, Tom took me to Devil’s Leap, not far from the ranch, where I enjoyed spectacular views.
It was the perfect time to reflect on the week. I asked myself what I’d learned. The answer: I have a lot more to learn. And learning these intricate lessons takes time, patience, and, above all, consistency.
What I do know is that Anna’s methods have intrigued me enough to not only take the time to learn them, but also to encourage others to do so.
I believe Anna Twinney to be the true human communicator of the Language of Equus.
As the owner of Clix Photography (www.clixphoto.com), Shawn Hamilton travels worldwide to cover equestrian events. Her images regularly appear in top magazines. She lives with her husband, four children, and five horses on a farm in Ontario, Canada.