California Riding Magazine • January, 2008

Ask the Alpha Mare
Forge stronger family connections
through horse empowerment.

by Kathryn Kincannon-Irwin

Dear Alpha Mare,

We have a good-sized acreage and I am fortunate to have the time to start many young horses. I have learned a lot from both your columns and your husband Chris Irwin’s training DVDs. Here’s my question: My 19 year old daughter has just dropped out of college – not at all sure what she wants to do with her life – and is living back home with her dad and I. We have a young filly, just 2 years old, that I am getting ready to work with. As my daughter and I are struggling a bit with understanding each other, I wondered if it wouldn’t be a good idea for the two of us to work with the filly together; but, how? My daughter has lived with, worked around and ridden horses all her life, and I felt that maybe this could give us some common ground. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

- High Hopes in Temecula

Dear High Hopes,

I bow to your intuitive sensibilities! They are, from my perspective, right on the money. Over the last few years I’ve had the privilege of honing my diagnostics with mares of every breed, age and temperament. As I work with them, and the women they are partnered with, more and more I am blown away by the reciprocal empowerment that can happen when drama and fireworks evolve into breathtaking poetry in motion.

That said, it won’t come easy. Your filly may be very sweet and accommodating by nature, but she won’t just love you because you love her. She won’t necessarily come around just because your heart is in the right place, and you have the best of intentions. You can count on her to take a sensible approach to her survival, which requires her to test to the nines the worthiness of anyone who presumes to be her leader. Your filly’s mantra will be, “You have to earn the right!”

No amount of bribing, baiting, cajoling, forcing or enabling will win her over to you. You have to be good - really good. She knows it, you know it and your daughter knows it. Until your filly consistently sees in you, and how you are with her, an asset rather than a liability, she’ll be a hold out.

Who among us wouldn’t? We’re all doing our best to determine who’s “real” and who isn’t. What’s worth believing and what’s just another egotistic schtick. We’re all trying hard to “cut to the chase” and “read between the lines.” But how do we know if we’re actually succeeding, or just faking it and living in our own illusions?

Peek Inside Pandora’s Box

The beauty of adding a lovely, young and impressionable filly in to the mix of this feminine human drama is that our raw emotions find themselves tempered by the honesty and transparency of a prey animal’s soulful intent. She will open Pandora’s box as her “read” will be virtually impossible to explain away. So if you are brave enough, and open enough to seeing what is inside, the stage is set for you, your daughter and your filly to learn a lot about and from one another.

The good news is there won’t be any necessity for spoon-feeding about where your daughter is at and how you feel about it, etc. etc. Shelve all that and just focus on the filly. Pay attention to everything she does and says with her body language. Make it about how you (collectively or individually) respond to everything the filly throws at you – every challenge, every cocked hip, leaning shoulder, playful kick and uppity head. Learn to respond to her antics in just the right way – with just the right level of push, to the right place, at the right time, not too hard, not too soft. Don’t ignore anything.

If you both pay attention to every move she makes, and she sees that your awareness skills are superior even to her own, she will be impressed. She will see that you care enough about her to speak to her in her own language, with fluency, fluidity and finesse. She will also see that you have the confidence of self-respecting boundaries blended with the empathy of consummate compassion; and she will give you your due with a bow.

When this filly sees that she is safer following you and your daughter’s lead than you would be following hers, the connection will be real, solid and lasting. When she sees you both have risen to the challenge and won all the games, that you are into the Zen of moving with her, body to body, with the ebb and flow of give and take, she will melt like butter and drop her head and sigh and follow you like her long-lost good shepherdesses.

And the floodgate will open for recognizing and realizing that what you have both given this filly is exactly what we all desire in ourselves, and wish to receive from others. When your filly sees that all you want is her well-being, for her to truly be okay with the big bad world around her; when she sees your bedside manner is respectful, consistent and always appropriate; when your approach shows her you are assertive but non-threatening and she feels better being with you than she does on her own, then you have found the balance. Don’t take this lightly. That is a tall order indeed.

She won’t give of herself fully until she sees this in you. And when she does, she’ll give her all – not because she has to - but because she genuinely and enthusiastically wants to.

The Road to Self Discovery

When the magic washes over you like a tidal wave you learn that when you can be this for a horse, you can be this for another person. In this case, that other person is your daughter. This path of self-discovery with all three of you affords an incredible bonding experience.

While it will indeed embody all the good, bad and ugly that fills up one’s soul, the pearls of success – the moments your filly lets either of you know with a sign of willingness and trust that what you are doing works for her – you may find something sacred in the fact that you two alone have shared this painstakingly progressive experience with your young horse. You will feel the strength of your own heightened awareness infiltrate everything you feel and everything you do. Both of you will experience this, and it can’t help but change you for the better; definitely for the better.

Embracing the unknown, embarking upon such a journey – where to, you haven’t a clue – takes guts. Horses are definitely not for the feint of heart. It’s daring and crazy, but compelling nonetheless, as while there will indeed be pitfalls and set-backs, elations and triumphs will take form as well.

When you see your daughter reveling in her ability to strike the balance between being too soft or coming on too strong; when you see her preventing rather than reacting; when you see her awareness skills kicking in so acutely that she can read the world without a second thought and be right on target, then you will relax, exhale and know she is going to be just fine.

Whatever roads your daughter chooses and decisions she makes, your filly will have taught her to be real, to reach inside herself for the answers to the human condition; and from there, to develop her own grace and dignity in the process. It’s the ultimate exhale – a bond stronger than any human drama can ever tear apart, and the most rewarding reciprocal experience imaginable.