March 22nd, 2013 The Essence

I’ve had articles and videos of my work being held in the wings. But as of late my intuition has prompted me to begin revealing these one small piece at a time. I’ve always had grandious ideas of how to market my work and an intensity to make it happen. But sometimes despite the best of efforts my thoughts, ideas and planning just don’t come to fruition. At least in the way that I envision. Perhaps it was a phone call from a friend today that has reconnected me with the fragility of life, perhaps the fact that I have just made more permission in my life to be ME. Whatever the cause, here is an article excerpt of what will be a multi-part blog submission.
Meeting Cheyenne for the first time was an exercise in patience. She battled her owner, reared up, ran over him and threw in a kick for good measure. It was clear she had some attitude. But horses aren’t born combative. They are made that way by experiences in life that leave them with scars.
Her owners had warned me about her during my initial visit with them over the phone.
“She’s hard to handle. Nobody can handle her but me.” Said her owner. “She can’t be trimmed because she rears up and won’t stand still.”
Watching her brace as I walked up to her I noted that next to her was the stallion pen. Around her was her herd, but across the fence from where she stood. It was clear to me that Cheyenne was their leader. A fearless and fierce one at that.
I took the rope from her owner’s hand and as I steadied her she countered, evasive and aloof. She wasn’t going to be an easy nut to open.
“She’s been like that her entire life.” Said her owner. “I want to sell her but who would buy her?”
This intrigued me. At risk horses always intrigue me. Like some drug, I crave them.
“If you could handle her and have anyone handle her, would you sell her then?”
“Yes, I raised her from a baby and we’ve even had a colt out of her but every time we try to do anything with her she gets combative.”
The owner went on to explain that Cheyenne had suffered a hoof injury and that even the vet had given up trying to treat.
“When we breed her she has to be hobbled.”
Horses like Cheyenne are sending a message. It was clear hers was, “Leave me alone and nobody gets hurt!”
Somewhere along the way Cheyenne had decided that the only place she was really comfortable was in with her own herd. But even horses like Cheyenne need care and it was clear that she needed to have her hooves trimmed. I liked the challenge of taking her from combative horse to one that would work with anybody or any professional. Horses like that are saleable and Cheyenne’s owners were determined to find her a new home.
I started working with her and each move I made she countered with one twice as big. At times she was threatening and downright volatile.
I was there as her farrier but I could see that what Cheyenne really needed was training and a lot of decompression exercises. She was so amped over what possibly could or would be done to her that she couldn’t consider cooperating.
Carefully, I looped my rope around her front hoof and she responded by exploding up in the air and then expertly turning and launching toward me, hitting me full force with her chest. I bounced to the side and let her hit the end of the long lead I had on her. She was fast!
“She’s had about thirty days of professional training but that didn’t go very well.” Her owner said. “He gave up on her and said she should just be a brood mare.”
Rule number one in Karina Camp. Female horses that are difficult to handle should not be bred. Period. There are enough horses in the world and plenty of responsible breeders. Hard to handle horses need to be cared for, loved, and trained. Their owners should be treated the same.
I let Cheyenne have her way a moment and she trotted around me pulling on the rope, clearly set on getting back with her herd. She was escalating.
I continued to work with her and let her settle down. For Cheyenne settled down meant moving constantly. Movement was her defense.
I let her move on the end of the rope until suddenly she stopped and looking at me, she decided that perhaps I had a treat.
I could tell from working with Cheyenne that while she was difficult she was not beyond taking treats. In fact, she gave every indication that she was used to getting a lot of treats.
Rule number 123 in Karina Camp – Treats are fine in moderation so long as they are given correctly. When this does not happen, horses can become distracted, pushy and aggressive. Treat trained horses aren’t all bad. The same goes for owners who give treats. The cure is in knowing the difference and working with horses and owners that are in conflict because of treat overload.
Cheyenne had all of the markers of a horse that had everything figured out. Her aged owners were limited in what they could do with her so she simply took advantage of the fact. Plus, she was the boss in her world so it suited her that people could be instructed by her as well.
I let her pull on me a time or two and then snapped the rope to pull her head in toward me. Normally I never do this. Horses that are pulled on will learn to pull back. Cheyenne was already passed this lesson and had moved on to being belligerent. As I expected, she responded by pulling harder on the lead rope.
I let her continue circling, then snapped her up short again. She stopped and I stepped in to pet her but instead, she took off going the other direction. I let her go and again let her settle down on her own terms. She stopped and then, began to lick and chew. But for Cheyenne, the licking and chewing wasn’t submissive. She was in control every step of the way. She eyeballed me with a knowing and defiant stare. She wasn’t about to give in without a fight.
I stepped in to work with her again and once more she took off. I snapped her short and brought her head around. She stopped short and I petted her. She pulled away, moving off again. Repeat.
When she stopped I stepped to her shoulder rubbed her leg. She darted off, clearly anxious about me picking up her hoof. We went on this way for several minutes but then, she began to settle down. I put up a few boundaries for her and this time, she began to respond. Her defenses were beginning to drop. She eventually started communicating although on her part, it was a tense conversation. She would only give me access to her body on her terms. Still, forty minutes later I had made some progress on her hooves. Enough to warrant her being turned back out to be with her herd as a reward. It had not been a pretty session but her owners were thrilled at my success.
Karina’s interpretation of what occurred to change Cheyenne’s aggressiveness: Cheyenne tested me several times but my body language and firm reprimand on the rope helped to establish that I wasn’t there to push her around. I was there to help. The fact that I kept calm, didn’t jerk on her unnecessarily and gave her a chance to help me, assured her that I was fair in my communication. I didn’t allow her to be pushy with me (as evidenced by my stalwart pull on the rope) but I did allow her to move freely so long as she wasn’t pulling and belligerent. She settled in to our discussion and eventually, stopped altogether to give me access to her hooves. A sign of her willingness to work and evidence that she had been handled in such a way prior that she wasn’t excited about getting into the same conversation again. Sometimes horses are anxious, not misbehaving. In Cheyenne’s case she was both. Sometimes at the same time but I exercised patience with her anxiety and got cooperation from her instead of misbehaving.
“She has a lot of ideas of her own.” I said. “She wants to be in charge.”
“Oh yes she does!” her owner said. “Do you think you can fix her?”
“Yes.” I said.
“How would you go about doing it?” he asked.
“First I would work on the issue of her dominance.” I said. She is clearly capable of calling the shots for you and for her horse herd.” I had noted that while I had been working with Cheyenne that all, and I mean, ALL of the horses had reacted.
Adults neighed to one another, the stallions ran back and forth into a froth and the colts trotted, cantered and crisscrossed in their pen in agitation. The entire time I had been working with Cheyenne the whole herd had been in an uproar. She had only given me glimpses of focus and the rest of the time had been intent upon getting back with her herd who had all agreed that Cheyenne was in trouble.
Horses don’t necessarily give obvious objections to being with a human. However, in this case, it was clear that Cheyenne’s insecurity about what would be asked of her and her intense dislike over being asked to do things she found intolerable had translated into total herd nervousness.
Karinaism– What is going on in your relationship with your horse is not as important as what is going on in the herd! By watching herd reactions we can learn a lot about how horses internalize their experiences with us. When herd leaders have a dislike for working with humans they will often influence the rest of the herd. These relationships within the herd are more important to observe than our own work with the horse. Herd relationships that are soured toward people are dangerous. Many people fail to realize this.
I was never told that Cheyenne was the herd mare. Her owners were oblivious to her herd relationships. They explained her behavior as flaws. A typical response to horses that don’t obey our demands but entirely wrong about the source of the problems they are experiencing.
Cheyenne was only four years old but held a very high position of influence with this herd despite the fact there were many older mares in the herd. Telepathically she was sharing her dislike of humans with the rest of the herd. Sure enough, I learned that most of the horses out in her pen were hard to handle. Cheyenne’s attitude was filtered through the herd like a bad virus. I couldn’t rule out that the older mares had held the attitude first.
This left me with an intense picture of what the daily herd banter must include. Sometimes it’s possible that horses can have the best of care but at the same time possess little or no understanding of what their emotional needs are. It is my belief that this was the case with Cheyenne and her herd.
I noted that Cheyenne could clearly see all of the other horses of her herd but still she felt it necessary to behave defensively. In fact, some of the colts had come to sniff noses with Cheyenne. What I was seeing was clear indicators that people, not lack of contact with her herd was what was setting Cheyenne off. It would be necessary to help Cheyenne understand that humans could in fact be a part of her herd. The only way I was going to be able to do that was to have access to the entire herd. I needed to interact with Cheyenne and her family in a non-aggressive way.
We talked a bit more and I agreed to come over again to work with Cheyenne, her owners giving me permission to work with Cheyenne in her own environment. A lead mare, a warrior mare, out in her own herd.
The next visit with Cheyenne she had thought about our visit.
Karina break – Horses will marinate on the information you give them. They will think overnight or even over time about their last experience with a human. They may decide not to interact on a positive note the next time and this is normal. They instead choose the safety of their own herd and will act accordingly. Cheyenne had given me access to her hooves but she was not about to give me access to her and her herd.
The minute I stepped into her pen she locked her eyes on me. I countered by remaining near the gate. As I expected, her herd surrounded me, the bravest seeking my counsel.
Herd law states that leaders do not come forward first. They wait to let the underlings inspect and do their dirty work for them. Herd leaders find food sources, sometimes selfishly and resolve problems during times of danger. Underlings filter information to them about curiosity items much like worker ants carry food back to the hill. The tasks discourage inappropriate contact and give herd leaders time to decide escape plans if they are necessary. Sometimes in herds like Cheyenne’s, there are younger horses without as much human experience and they are just naturally drawn to be more neighborly because they haven’t had the same experiences. As I stood with some of the herd members checking me and my pockets out, I watched as she shifted her position at the round bale feeder. She distanced herself several horses deep and watched my every move.
I let a customary polite amount of time pass and noted that Cheyenne had begun to telepathically group her herd. She wanted nothing to do with me. I took a few steps toward her and pushed our energetic bubble. She immediately pinned her ears and walked away. It didn’t take much energy for me to push her away. I tracked her and she swung around aggressively. Her resolve to exclude humans from her equine world was tangible. Now I was on her turf. Her turf, her rules.
I waited while the other horses filtered in and out of my communications with Cheyenne. I approached her several times but she met my advances with dirty looks and evasiveness.
Alpha horses will often position themselves behind other horses and use them as shields from having to communicate with a human. With twenty plus horses in her herd this was an easy task for Cheyenne to accomplish. I waited instead, ignoring her and got busy meeting the rest of her family. Some of the colts chewed on my coat while others ran away, not ready to face the new human in their midst. I waited while older horses chased young ones off and soon, all had sniffed, chewed or inspected me in some way.
Cheyenne didn’t like this at all. Swinging her head she trotted first one way and then the other, rounding up the herd and pushing them past me. They thundered out into the vast pasture. This is very common when you are integrating into horse herds so I followed, trotting along and then running to keep up. They circled the field, running, bucking and wildly enjoying their agility over my two legged wandering. I followed along, kicking at the grass and overall behaving just as another horse in the herd would. They regarded me inquisitively, clearly amused and curious about my strange behavior.
New horses are often sniffed, bitten, kicked, pushed and otherwise greeted. Lots of running follows until the new horse is either absorbed into the herd, which is rare in the immediate, or pushed to the outside where it must wait to be invited in. This is where most horses begin their journey toward becoming a worthy member of a new herd. I was no different.
Once again the older horses came in, one by one, sometimes two or three at a time, and sniffed me once over again. This continued until the last young colt had his turn. Youngsters are always last to be in the middle of excitement. They are kept within the herd until a threat is no longer present. Then they are permitted to curiously stalk new stimuli. Still Cheyenne did not approach. She watched intently but did not advance to greet me as the others had. Two or three other mares did the same. This too, is not unusual. Herd mares bond as groups and clearly, they were content to take care of their herd without my help.
I advanced once more toward Cheyenne and once again she took off running, the herd following her. She thundered up to the water and skidding to a stop, drank long and deep.
Water is a resource and horses learn to protect it just as they do grasses. Cheyenne was clearly waiting to see if I would take her precious water or belittle my lowly station by taking to the water without waiting my turn. I circled around instead and stood a fair distance off, just as any respectful horse would do. Several horses followed and taking their rightful turns, they sucked in the water.
I stood aside and waited.
Cheyenne swung her head toward me and marched past toward the hay. She was testing me. Would I be insolent and try to take it?
I did not and she began to drop her defenses. It was clear in her body language that she was beginning to see that I was not a threat but a visitor. I allowed her to start to teach me the ways of the herd.
She sauntered over to her mare support group and they grouped semi-circle, clearly defining for me my position as an outsider and I replied with respect. I waited and watched.
Soon, Cheyenne headed back out to the open pasture. She dropped her head and ventured over several off limits grassy areas she had clearly defined as her own personal buffet. I had seen them when I was walking the pasture and had carefully avoided them. I knew she would think me intrusive if I had mashed the green tender shoots she loved.
Walking briskly she sniffed one manure pile then another.
Horses scent with their manure and I had not dirtied her pasture.
All of Cheyenne’s behaviors were normal. She was clearly indicating to me that the pasture was hers. Her prior interaction with Man had taught her that we are takers of turf. I have worked many horses like Cheyenne who learn to raise their defenses and always answer “NO!” when they are asked for cooperation. This is generally learned through multiple experiences absent care of their emotional well-being or understanding of their herd dynamics.
Sauntering out to the openness of the pasture she laid down to roll and because I had followed her, I lay down and rolled too, copying her.
She rolled, got up and then, as she went to rise the second time she saw me laying on the ground. I lay there, aware of her astonished stare and waited for her. I could “feel” her softened spirit. She didn’t know why I had done it for I expect no human ever had, but she liked that I was partaking of the pleasures she was showing me of her pasture.
She rose to her hooves and swallowing, she stood, looking at me, puzzling over my inhumanness. She stood and stared for a long time and then, she let out a big sigh and shook her head, blowing in the way horses do when they are releasing endorphins.
It was a grand moment and I waited. Soon, because I knew Cheyenne could not resist it, she walked over to me and after a few moments of pause, she sniffed me, then bumped me with her nose.
I opened myself to her and she looked toward the owners residence with a wistful stare. You can see it in the video. She was telling me she wished beyond wishes they would join her in her world instead of always being outside of it. It was a poignant moment. These are the moments I live for. I assured her I would help them cross that threshold into her wisdom and told her I would do everything in my power to find her the person who would love and cherish her for all eternity.
Honestly, she doubted this but then, she’d had a lifetime of humans doubting her abilities. Sometimes you just have to start small and I conveyed to Cheyenne my heart was open to hers and together, we would at least enjoy this day, this moment.
She sniffed me again, then, one more bump. That’s mare speak for I’ve acknowledged you but you still do not exist until you prove that I exist. Cheyenne was after all, worthy of respect and she wasn’t entirely ready to give herself to me yet. She still had herd duty and wasn’t entirely convinced I was well informed of mine.
I respectfully allowed Cheyenne her lead and let her walk past me to the rest of the herd. I followed at a respectable distance. Had I walked too fast Cheyenne may have escalated and bolted again with the herd. She was keeping one ear tuned to me, expecting my insolence.
Instead, she inspected several more choice grazing areas and integrated back into her herd. I was once again greeted by the youngsters and several more of the young adult horses and then, two of the older mares that had hung back with Cheyenne. Cheyenne had given them the “all clear”.
Cheyenne began to lick and chew enormously. That is what you see on the video. I had not touched her but my energy had helped her to let go of some of her anxiety. She was processing and I let her do so in peace, acknowledging my mending of fences to her by smiling. Warmth left my body for her and I mentally caressed her, helping her to heal.
She sighed heavy enough that I could hear it and shook her head, shaking her body in the way that horses do when they have become comfortable. Cheyenne was no longer tense. Her eye lost the guarded look she had carried with her and she began to inspect me with the help of her herd. Clearly she had signaled that I could be trusted. At least for now.
**Part II titled Cheyenne Warrior Mare Part II is available at
BIO-Karina is a nationally known trainer whose work with horses is revolutionizing the way we think about them. An approved trainer for the Bureau of Land Management and industry leader, Karina has worked with hundreds of wild horses and horses with “behavioral” issues. Her work has been showcased on television, in magazines, newspapers and radio. Karina is also a full time farrier, farmer and author. You can download more photobooks and articles and read more about Karina on her eco-friendly, wind energy powered website,

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