Lessons With Carolyn Resnick: The Waterhole Rituals

4-28 STI’m enrolled in Carolyn’s Waterhole Rituals* online course this spring, and it’s been a real eye-opener!

First of all, it’s freed me of my obsession with needing to “do something” with my horses every time I’m with them. That attitude has been crippling, to the point where there have been times when I’ve dreaded going out to the barn because I haven’t know what my agenda should be. All I knew was that I should do something with them—but what?

The very worst thing about that mindset is that it has hindered my relationship with my horses, particularly with Galahad. “Work”—groundwork drills, riding around and around in the arena, and that kind of thing—are definitely not his favorite activities. In fact, he doesn’t enjoy them much at all most of the time. He did absolutely everything I asked of him, but clearly, he didn’t enjoy it.

What Galahad really does enjoy is having me around, close by, and then going about his own business. The few times I allowed myself to do that, he loved it! He’d go graze, then come and check on me, then wander off to graze again. He’d follow me when I left the pasture, wanting more.

More what? “Doing nothing?” Apparently so, but I “knew” that was bad. That was just spoiling the horse. I wasn’t riding him, wasn’t doing groundwork with him, so in effect I wasn’t doing anything with him. Bad Kay. Then I’d see others riding their horses on the trails and in the arena, but I was still afraid to do that with him. So I’d get in the car and drive away, feeling inadequate, kicking myself, and dreading my next visit to the barn.

Lots of tears were shed over this, believe me! I love my horses—all of them!—and they love me. I knew that—but it wasn’t enough.

I discovered liberty trainer Robin Gates via a friend who took a 4-day intensive from her last year. Through Robin’s site, I found her mentor Carolyn Resnick and the online Waterhole Rituals course. Watching Carolyn and Robin and their students dancing with horses at liberty, without bridle, saddle, or even a halter, was mesmerizing. That’s the kind of relationship with my horses that I want, I said to myself. So I signed up.

Now, here’s the interesting part: Carolyn’s method* relies on enacting rituals that horses do with each other in their natural state. What’s the thing that horses do most when they’re together? Hang out, “doing nothing” except grazing. So the first of the Waterhole Rituals is called Sharing Territory.

First and most basic: hang out with your horse in the pasture. I’m not going to go into any detailed explanations of any of Carolyn’s work—for that, you’ll need to get her book or videos, take her online course, or (best of all) attend a clinic. The important thing here is that our class assignment was to hang out with our horse in the pasture or arena. That’s it, at the beginning. Forget about any agenda, and don’t even pay attention to the horse unless he becomes a pest.

That is all.

Oh, yay! An assignment! That means I have permission to just hang out and do the thing that Galahad loves most in the world.

But then the second lesson in the course was explained, and the third…and all of a sudden I felt overwhelmed, behind the eight-ball, and totally inadequate. When I made the class videos of Galahad and me doing the lessons, I looked hard and could see where he was arguing with me, where he was being belligerent (though in his mild, inoffensive way). Or so I thought.

Carolyn, on our conference call, said, “I don’t see him as being belligerent at all!” Huh? And then, when I asked what to do when he doesn’t mind me, she said, “Don’t give it any attention. Don’t focus on it. Just say, ‘Look at how my horse is hanging out with me!’ and just keep your focus on that.”

Oh rats. I get it. It’s that old voice from my past that says, “If you’re sitting around ‘doing nothing,’ you’re wasting time. No sitting around slacking. You have to have an agenda, and you have to be doing something with your horse. And YOU MUST MAKE HIM MIND!”


It wasn’t the first time I’ve recognized that particular inner voice and that old “recording” that plays in my head all the time. But at least now I’ve seen it at work with Galahad and me—and I have a way to erase that tape and make some new decisions for myself.

The result: the last couple of weeks I have pretty much just shared territory with my horse, and have not worried about moving beyond that. He and I are growing closer and closer—I can see his attitude change in step with mine. He enjoys my company when we’re together even more than before because he understands that I don’t want anything from him. He’s become more interested in following my leadership in the pasture and outside. It has become so much easier on both of us, and we look forward to our time together.

So now I see why Carolyn said, at the very beginning of the course, that her focus in the course is not on “how far” we get, how many rituals we “complete,” during our time in the class. My understanding is that the focus is on the quality of the relationship that we develop with our horse. There isn’t, and can’t be, a set time frame. It takes just as long as it takes for each step, and the work together is never finished. There’s always more to learn. And along the way, you discover the magic. That’s the point: the magic of connection.

So: “horse time.” Back to grazing. Back to being together, in the moment, and letting everything else drift away except for the love and the silent connection. Another life lesson.




* Disclaimer: I’m a student, and I don’t claim to know ANYTHING about Carolyn Resnick’s methods. Don’t take anything here as coming from Carolyn, other than the quote. For information about her courses and methods, see her web site and/or her published material.