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NHE International Seminar 2010 Quebec, Canada

The second NHE International Seminar held in Quebec, Canada on 2010, October 2nd and 3rd was hosted by Cloe Lacroix, Dean of the online school and Michael Bevilacqua, Senior NHE Representative. It took place in a small town named St-Sauveur in the scenic Laurentians during the beautiful autumn colours.

The seminar presented the main philosophy behind NHE which is to treat the horse with respect and to level the playing field. That is to view the horse as an equal without any notion of dominance that is so commonly perpetuated in the horse world. The main objective was to help people realize that the only ‘method’ required was to find a way to become understandable to the horse. There is no textbook formula to expressing love and that there is nothing to stand in the way of simply communicating with a different species that is more than capable of comprehending.

Participants were supplied with basic guidelines and rules that could help them answer any questions or doubts about whether they were proceeding correctly when interacting with a horse on their own. It is very important to spend time explaining and discussing in a classroom environment, but there was also very important time spent with horses at a nearby stable. Aside from discussion, Michael presented live examples through various video clips of how he worked and played with his own horses. NHE is so new to some people that much of it seems vague and mysterious. Seeing it in action helped people to realize how simple it all can be. One of the best examples was the positive progression involving a young girl who wanted to be able to spend time with an old mare who wanted nothing to do with people. It showed from the start the threatening aggression from the horse to the different changes in attitude, both in the horse and the girl, of curiosity, willingness, and learning to understand each other. A horse that wanted to turn and kick anyone approaching now came forward with eagerness and pleasure to be with the girl. It gave them happiness, freedom, play, as well as, achieving the start of NHE elements and natural collection. For the horse, the development was not only emotional or in showing her pleasant character and intelligence, but also in noticeable overall physical improvement.

Cloe presented her own video clips of her horse Thunder, walking in hand, example of the thinking game, warm up, pedestal, etc. The video presentation with her horse describes the beginning of developing a relationship, the art of asking and the importance of knowing when to stop asking. Alexander and his horses doing capriole and levade is spectacular showing the final results. The participants appreciated Cloe’s presentation and they said that it made the exercises accessible by seeing it in action and how it all starts.

The indoor sessions took place in a lovely quiet setting surrounded by wall to wall windows and the only sound was the one made by the wood crackling in the two fireplaces. This peaceful ambiance was perfect for the participants to listen to Michael and to ask questions which he generously answered. The spacious and rustique room is where the main indoor activities took place, including the fabulous meals catered for the participants. For the outdoor sessions, everyone carpooled up to the nearby stable for practical demonstrations.

There were a few horses that were available for the event but it was still dependent on whether they were comfortable with all the people showing up. Although it certainly aroused a lot of curiosity, the horses that were willing followed the people into the paddock. Participants really liked the fact that the paddock door was always open and that the horses chose to stay with them, rather than grazing on the 70 acres available.

While the horses were wondering what was going on and inspecting all the people, Michael showed participants the subtlety of the cordeo touch. After explaining the different nuance compared to a lead line and showing examples, participants practiced with each other. It was interesting to see the person being led ‘blind’ by closing their eyes and responding only to the slightest movement of the cordeo.

One of the highlights shared by many participants was the reaction from the grey horse because of his dramatic change between the first and second day. First he stayed outside the paddock and observed from afar. The second day he entered the paddock area, spent the day with everyone while willingly assisting in practice. Another horse, a Canadian mare, showed similar reluctance on the first day. Although she entered the paddock to see what was going on, she did not want anyone approaching her. Cloe got her to play a little, but the mare was still unsure. Cloe just let her be and allowed her to adjust at her own pace. It was interesting to see how quickly the horses would realize how that group of people were different. The horses went from solely investigation, but reluctance, on the first day to curiosity and willing participation, and patience to try to understand what those people were doing by the second day.

There was one horse that was not supposed to be part of the group. After everyone went through the main entrance that led to the paddock, Taco, a Paint Horse, approached Michael and just stood near him as he was closing the main gates. Michael could see that this horse was kept in a standard way with halter and horseshoes and that he had difficulty breathing. His mane and tail were completely filled with burrs (little spiked balls from plants that stick to everything) Michael welcomed him with gentleness, love and sympathy. Just by being noticed and appreciated, that horse followed Michael and wanted to be part of the group. Although they had no permission to touch that horse, he was already outside, so they let him stay and accepted him into the group.

It was a pleasure to see that what was discussed indoors about the way to be with horses was actually the same when outdoors doing things with the horses. There was no contradiction to what was said and what was done. There was no pressure to try to get a horse to do something just to impress people. An important part of the lesson was also to see how the horses were given the choice. With patience and a little time, by giving the horses freedom, it was astounding to see the difference from one day to the next.

Those horses wanted to participate and did things with strangers that they had never done before with anyone else. Horses were not forced, intimidated and not lured by treats. At the end of the outdoor session on Sunday Cloe's boyfriend brought a big box of apples and participants got to thank the horses. It was the icing on the cake for the horses. It made the entire overall experience pleasant and memorable.

Stormy May, producer of The Path of the Horse, filmed the entire event. She was onsite from the opening sentences, the outdoor sessions, to the closing statements. With every moment on video they took the opportunity to analyze some footage from the session with the horses on Sunday morning. People could see the entirety of a situation and get another perspective when they see themselves and others in action.

The experience did not completely end after the weekend. Participants sent emails of thanks and gratitude. Friendships were made and some people wanted to remain in touch with each other. Cloe sent personal statements to all participants noting the strong and impressive points in every person. Michael sent out a series of follow-up emails containing more information and summaries of some of the topics discussed over the weekend. That is already rare enough or non-existent in the regular horse world but Cloe and Michael remain available for any questions from participants and to provide on-going support.

Cloé Lacroix, Michael Bevilacqua, photos by Catherine Scott

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