My name is Cheryl Ward. I’m a being housed in a human body. My horses are beings housed in horse bodies. When we get together, we chat being-to-being, rather than human to horse. This type of communication has changed my life from one of intolerable heaviness and tension to lightness and that dream come true life that I imagined was out of my reach, until now.
This whole being-to-being stuff brings about a type of communion. The definition of communion includes phrases like: mutual participation, fellowship, action or situation involving sharing, intimate, reverential exchange, breaking down of barriers for the purpose of inspiring or strengthening.
The beautiful lightness I’m experiencing is a result of placing my focus squarely on the question of How can I make my horse happy? This seems to have a crazy effect on losing my ego, forgetting that I had someplace to get, and suddenly I find myself completely present in the moment. My horses are literally showing me hallowed moments of enlightenment where nothing exists except this breathtaking moment, where time stops, all is well and I feel good and my horse feels good.
I’m married to a man that “I can’t believe is my man” because he’s so amazing, and have one “I can’t believe she’s my daughter” daughter, who is completely amazing. I’ve got a degree in Speech Communication. I live in Florida with my husband, four horses, three dogs and two cats. I’ve been a voiceover artist and worked in television production. I’m a painter and so are my horses. I’ve written and produced a children’s book.
My Painting Horses
Since 2004 I have been collaborating with my horses to create what I call ‘interspecies collaborative action art.’ My four horses paint with brushes in their mouths and I choose the colors, brushes and direct the canvas. During this time we’ve appeared at festivals, horse shows and art shows. We’ve been on national TV and I’ve written articles for magazines both here and abroad (see more at paintinghorse.com).
The overwhelming response to what I do has been:
How in the world do you teach a horse to paint?
Actually, the question that explains it best is,
How in the world do you teach a horse to do anything?
The way I see it you can teach almost anything one of two ways. You can use force or you can use attraction. “Clean your room or else!” That’s force, pressure or the threat of something painful coming down the pipe. On the other hand, “Clean your room and we’ll go get ice cream,” is the anticipation of something wonderful. That’s attraction.
Can’t Keep it to Myself
After five years of training my horses with practically pure positive reinforcement, I’ve ended up with so much enthusiasm for this type of training that I wasn’t sure where to go with it. I thought about a writing a book, but for now I figure a blog is much more alive and dynamic. This way I can share with you the results of exploring how far we can go with training by attraction.
When I first started training with attraction instead of pressure I instantly felt that my horses didn’t want to be any place else but with me. I didn’t need a rope or a round pen to contain them. I didn’t need to use fancy footwork to establish my dominance or status as herd leader. They seemed to instantly respect me and listen to me. Suddenly every question I had about training I felt I could answer. I only had to figure out which choice felt better to my horse.
Would my horse rather hold still for me to get on its back if I whacked it for moving? Or would it hold still if something great happened after it held still? The promise of not whacking for holding still was not nearly as motivating as something great happening if it did hold still.
My Inner Cowgirl
I didn’t need to be a fifth generation cowboy to have success with my horses. I didn’t need to channel my horse’s inner spirit to contact him in a past life to find out why he wouldn’t lower his head for his bridle.
I felt as if I debunked some giant myth that horse training was either super technical and required a lifetime of experience, or it was mystical, magical and highly spiritual.
Silly me, I just began using more attraction than pressure. I created a situation where my horse moves towards what feels good, not away from what feels bad.
This blew my mind. It was so easy. And cheap! My horses were very quickly doing all the things that people would pay lots of money to get their horses to do. I’m a relative novice, an adult returning to horses after 20 horseless years.
I figured if I could do it (a tiny, soft-spoken, attention deficit, dyslexic who can’t following directions), anyone could.
The awareness of being able to recognize when I was using pressure and when I was using attraction was the major turning point in my training success. Never in my life had I felt this liberated and, well, powerful. The exciting part is that my horses felt the same way. Instead of taking away their liberation and power, I gave it back to them and they’ve given me their hearts.
A Little History
My dad was a professional artist and did everything in his power to dissuade me from a career in art. He died when I was 17 and didn’t get to a chance dissuade me some 20 years later from allowing my horses to have a career in art.
My grandmother on my mom’s side broke broncs in the Calgary Stampede during the early 1900s. I guess genetically I’m preprogrammed for unconventional horsemanship.
A Horse In the House
When I looked back on my relationship with my horses as a child, it never occurred to me to me to make my horse do something. If I needed my pony Nugget to climb the carpeted flight of stairs into my living room when my parents weren’t home, I wasn’t behind the him tapping his round little rear with a crop. I was at the top of the stairs eating an apple. When the horse reached the living room, we ate the apple together.
Looking back, I gave the horse something to look forward to, not something to run away from. I may have been running away from my parents if they knew the real reason why the shag carpet lots its shag.
Twenty Years Later
I never had any formal riding instruction, so my first imprinting with horses was based solely on instruction from a horse, not from a human.
It was this instruction that I brought with me two horseless decades later as I reentered the horse arena as an adult. So much had changed. I had a lot of catching up do. Thank God for the Internet. If I counted all the hours I spent researching and reading everything equine, I could easily have a doctorate in Horse. If I started babbling about something or other, I’d sometimes hear, “Are you a vet?” I usually replied, “No, I’m just research addict.”
As I volunteered time at a variety of stables in a variety of disciplines, I felt like I was making up for 20 years of lost time. What I saw disturbed me. It had become a Horse vs. Human atmosphere. Lots of talk of dominance and leadership. Lots of whacking and stomping and waving and shushing. All of this was very foreign to me.
As fate would have it, I bought an extremely troubled, feisty, Paso Fino gelding who turned out to have had 7 owners in about 8 years. No surprise that Romeo was not at all fond of the whacking, stomping, waving and shushing methods of horsemanship. He had perfected all sorts of moves to counter my attempts to be the dominant or passive or whatever kind of leader I was supposed to be. I felt like we were always engaged in a game of battleship. This didn’t feel good to me, nor to him I’m sure.
I missed Nugget. I missed our easy, telepathic, apple sharing relationship. After some serious soul searching about what to do with Romeo, I decided there had to be another way to reach him (without fear, tension, fancy foot work, gadgets and money), that felt good and natural to both of us. And there was! Since I was having so much fun with these methods, I had to try them out on a variety of horses.
Now I have four! In addition to Romeo, I also have a Paso Fino mare named Juliet, a flashy grade pinto, DaVinci, recovering from post traumatic stress disorder, and Raleigh, a young bay roan, PMU Clydesdale.
These four diverse horses are my mentors. It is my delight to share with you all that they teach me about the beauty and simplicity of training with attraction.