“To gentle” is a verb which means to take a horse from legit wild to being able to touch it with your hand, lead it, pick up its feet, get in & out of a trailer without it thinking you are a mountain lion trying to kill it. It’s a crazy powerful phase in working with untouched mustangs that brings to the surface every ounce of tension and impulsion in a person’s body for the horse to reflect.
A wild horse is reliant on its instincts to stay alive. They have to know if the predator coming through their space is on the prowl for their next meal or has just eaten & is just passing through. The energy the predator projects can be felt by the wild horses before it is in sight, giving the horses a head start if needed.
So now in captivity, humans appear to be the predator. Building the initial trust to be able to touch a wild horse can be a lengthy process. They are most comfortable when we are congruent – so our inside thoughts & feelings match our outward appearance. Imagine being with an animal that insisted you be present – no anxiety about the future or worry about the past, here in the moment. That in itself is impactful!
So the dance starts as the person approaches the horse, when we get to the edge of their comfort zone we pause then turn away and release the pressure. Approach & release until we get close enough to encourage them to reach out and touch us. The connection is intense & the relationship very rewarding.
These steps our horses must take to trust people and adjust to their new life with people, these often feel like the same steps our veterans must take to readapt to civilian life. The hypervigilance in the wild horse feels familiar and bridges conversations for several veterans. It is a lot easier to talk about steps the horse has to take to be turned outside than the steps to be able to go to the grocery store – though sometimes they are the same steps.
Gentling a once wild horse is a unique opportunity. It is an opportunity to see yourself from a totally different perspective. The trust built between horse & human is captivating & life changing for both participants.