Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: NAKED LIBERTY by Carolyn Resnick

"Naked Liberty" by Carolyn Resnick is an enchanting memoir covering her younger years of growing up around both wild and domesticated horses, and entails what she learned from them that has shaped her horsemanship philosophy.  Resnick was gifted with parents who had complete confidence in her, her horses, and her ability to handle anything as a child out in the desert on horseback alone for hours on end.  They taught her the skills and knowledge she needed, and then cut her loose to explore and learn from the world and her own mistakes.  She grew up experiencing space, freedom, and the idiosyncrasies of the wildlife around her.  At the age of 8, her father bought her a wild mustang that had only a few short months under saddle.  Though she was a child, adults brought their problem ponies and horses to her for her to "fix", and they respected the magic she could work with them.

She writes, "The reason it is so easy for humans to see nature as predominately violent is that occasional violence in nature brings about drama, action and possible death.  However, harmony is the natural condition in nature that often goes unnoticed because it is a calm, quiet, peaceful state of existence.  There is no turmoil or chaos in harmony; therefore, we give it little attention.  Harmony has not been investigated with as much interest as the ruthless side of nature.  I believe this lack of focus on harmony in nature causes humans to lose interest in the pursuit of harmony and morality in general."

This paragraph struck a chord with me.  Since moving to the desert  a year ago, I've witnessed a lot of amazing behaviors of the wildlife.  At first, my attention was drawn to all the poisonous creatures that got under our feet, causing us to have to watch every step we took.  Then it was the packs of coyotes chasing wild cottontails and whooping it up once they caught one.  There were the Palo Verde Beetles that overtook our garage, followed by the Colorado River Toads after a monsoon.  Nature was everywhere, invading my house and causing inconvenience, potential harm, and destruction.

This year I know what to expect and have been able to concentrate more on figuring out how all these creatures survive in these extreme temperatures, as well as what I need to do to coexist with them.  I watch rabbits, quail, and ground squirrels hunker down in our hedge throughout the hottest part of the day, creating bed baths in mud left behind by the drip system.  I watch the same rabbits and birds return to the same water holes and my haystack at the same times of the morning and evening.  I was even impressed by the snakes' ability to learn to migrate somewhere else once we built our barns and started spending a lot of time outdoors.  We still have a few snakes, but nowhere near as many as last year when the majority of our property was unused barren desert.

I had to figure out how to train my horses to take me on trail rides in unknown terrain, and I learned what an incredibly spiritual experience it can be once everyone is working together in harmony.  I had to learn how to deal with undesirable human behavior and train people to respect my space and privacy.  It's been one big, long struggle, but I am finally being able to concentrate more on how to achieve harmony and appreciate it when everything just works together well.  Resnick's book reminds me that while it is good to know what to do and be prepared in case something goes wrong on a trail ride, it is best to concentrate on getting myself in tune with the horse I am riding.

Resnick believes that horses have the desire to be ridden.  She tells the story of a wild mustang mare setting herself up so that Carolyn could climb off a boulder onto her back, and then calmly carrying her around to other members of the herd to show them that the human was sitting on her back.  Gabbrielle often did that to me when she was too young and small to be ridden, but she saw me riding the older horses and wanted to be a part of the process.  If I sat on a fence, she sidled her way up to me and poked my legs with her nose to urge me to climb on.  I'd pet her and tell her she was too small, but I would ride her in a few years.

The timing of me reading this book coincided with the herd integration of Rock, and she addresses the problem of unnatural or human-forced herd selection.  She writes, "Horses that are put together by humans behave differently than if they had the ability to choose their own herd.  Throwing horses together creates too many 'cooks in the kitchen' in the pecking order...  Unnatural herd selection can create aggressive pecking order behavior in their communication system.  Forced relationships create dysfunctional behavior.  The longer the herd has been together, the more sophisticated their communication system becomes."

Another part of her book that struck me as being timely was her claim that moving up in the pecking order is all about catching other horses off guard.  The horses who are always aware of what is going on around them rise to the top, because no one can take them by surprise, spook them, and commandeer their place in the line of authority.  The horses at the top of the pecking order drink from the water hole first, and then stand guard while the others drink.  That system is essential for herd survival.  Chasing a horse higher in the pecking order away from the water hole is the quickest way to get a promotion.

I've noticed that since Rock was introduced to the herd, there has been a lot of bullying around the main water trough.  Now I understand the intricacies of what is happening.  Before I just kind of viewed it as rude horse behavior, and it worried me that no one would let Rock drink.  Yet there were so many other water troughs he could go to, if worse came to worse.

I also understand Rock's biting behavior better.  At first we just thought he wasn't taught manners.  Then we thought with him being so young, he felt that biting was a game.  Now I am realizing that he only bites people and other horses when they are looking away or distracted.  That is his method of trying to catch us off guard so that he can get a leg up in authority.  This understanding tells me how critical it is to always be paying attention to a horse's body language, and where each horse is located around you.  The only way Rock will accept me as a leader is if I always know when he is about to bite before he bites, and I nip it in the bud.  So, sometimes I act like I'm not paying attention, and then I jump toward him just as he's about to bite.  That catches him off guard and he runs away, keeping me ahead of him in the pecking order.  He's down to only about one attempted nip per week now, so I've made headway.

Resnick has a story about a camel that ran to her for safety in the desert.  I won't ruin it by going into details, but it reminded me of my own odd animal encounter in the mountains that was similar.  A friend and I were hiking along a creek at night with flashlights when the bushes in front of us suddenly rumbled and shook violently.  This huge animal head began emerging between the branches, and we both screamed and ran.  The animal chased us a short ways, and then gave up.  My friend stopped me and said, "Wait.  Let's go back."

I said, "Why?  We don't know what it is.  It could be a bear or a mountain lion... or Bigfoot."

We were actually wandering around at night in the mountains looking for Bigfoot.  I was convinced that Bigfoot exists and is just an elusive species the human race is ignorant about, while my friend thought it was all a bunch of hooey and wanted to prove to me that nothing was out there.  I also suspect that he was hoping he could take me by surprise and scare me so that I would run and jump into his arms for safety.

He said, "Trust me."

We cautiously approached the area where we last heard the animal, and shined our flashlights around.  The light caught this giant donkey head.  It was the first time I had ever seen a donkey in person and I was shocked by the sheer mass of its face.  I had seen a shepherd using a donkey with a bell around its neck to lead his sheep, and I figured he was camping somewhere nearby.  I sat down on a boulder, and the donkey approached me.  I stroked its face and it laid its head in my lap.  We stayed in that position for several minutes until my friend asked me to move so that he could pet the donkey while it laid its head in his lap.  It did.  It was one of the more magical experiences of our lives.

I recommend "Naked Liberty" to anyone who feels a pull toward nature and has the desire to be a better horseman or woman.


fernvalley01 said...

sounds like a great read, and insightful

lytha said...

hi nm. thanks for the nice review. does this book give instructions/tasks we can perform to become better horse people, or does it just discuss theory and themes of horse life? i've looked at her site and read some papers written by her students, but it's all very theoretical and not much instruction.

also, thanks for the compliment on my last post. i was feeling down because that appy lady neighbor said my horse doesn't respect me, i'm not a good leader, or else my horse would never think to pass me while i lead her, under any circumstance.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

lytha - The book is more of a memoir and not a how-to genre. She has instructional videos, though.

I'm really put off at what your neighbor said. I tend to tune out people who are loaded with criticisms but don't take the time to offer activities you can do to teach the horse that you are the leader. And yes, you have to teach them that. I don't think horses just look at other horses and people and say, "Okay, you are in charge." There's always a lot of testing before hierarchies are set, and you haven't had Mara that long.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the book and understood it's value and content.

Carolyn Resnick's Waterhole Rituals changed the relationship I have with my Apache mare in many positive ways. Attending one of her approved instructor's clinics (Susan Smith) here in NM, was the most helpful way for me to learn how to implement the Waterhole Rituals with my horse.

The special bond I have with Apache now is something I never believed I could have with a horse.
It's more of a partnership and an understanding that together we enjoy and live every day.

The Waterhole Rituals don't involve 'working your horse' or 'making them do tasks'. It's a more natural, more simple way of communication on a deeper level, something every horse understands.

Sometimes, it's more important to just BE with your harmony.....with no agenda, no purpose and no expectations.
That's when the magic happens.