Perhaps you know the childhood game: “Mother, May I?”
In this game the players line up, and the ‘mother’ calls to one player: “Take 3 baby steps forward” (or something like that)
That person needs to ask: ‘Mother, May I?’
The mother then can say: “yes you may’ or ‘no you may not’.
If the player moves without asking for permission, or if they move even though they weren’t give permission, they need to go back to the start line.
The first one to reach the ‘mother’ wins
The children can get impulsive in their desire to move forward, so this game teaches the children good listening skills, self control, and it establishes a clear leadership. Paying attention, following directions and using self control will create the most success!
I use this game a lot with my horses.
A Simple Conversation
When things are going well, my conversation with my horse sounds something like this:
Me: “Ovation… “
Me: “Ready to step forward”
(Ovation: Yes! Mother, may I now?)
Me: Yes you may!
Of course I am using my intention and body language to communicate this, but I think it is helpful to have a simple sentence in mind… So you know what you are embodying!
Depending on the horse there are different versions of them not asking ‘mother may I?’ If the horse is the energy conservative type he is just standing at the start line sleeping and didn’t even notice that it was his turn or that the game had even started. If the horse is the more over-ambitious type he is jumping the gun and moving before you even finish your sentence. If he is a more pushy type he is just doing what he wants and he is already on the phone to his lawyer saying that he never agreed to play the game so he can’t be sued for stepping on you. If he is nervous he is too busy checking all his possible exits.
What ever the case, this is an excellent game to play with your horse. Horses are very aware of space, where their feet are, and who gets to tell whose feet to go where.
You forgot to say "Mother, may I?"
Once I added a very pushy and precocious horse to my herd. Her name was Malin. My horse Monty was the lead horse and it was VERY important to him that he was the leader. He took one look at this horse and made sure her attention was on him. If she was not looking at him and asking for permission, he was ‘sending her back to the starting line’ in no uncertain terms. She would then watch him intently. He would graze, keeping an eye on her. If she took her attention off of him or walked away he would send her back again, snaking the ground, baring his teeth.
I had never seen him do this with any other horse. There was something about her that he knew needed ‘adjusting’. I was actually impressed and enjoying it, because she was very pushy and I had had some trouble feeling like she would really let loose to the basic training on the ground.
After 45 minutes of this there was a shift. She softened her self, dropped her head, asked for permission… Monty saw it change and left her alone as she took some baby steps forward, checking with him on each step. He turned away and ended the game. They both grazed quietly… Sometimes together sometimes apart.
That was that. It never happened again quite like that… But that’s because every time Monty looked at her, she looked right back at him. “Malin?” Monty would ask… “Yes?!” Malin would answer. “Just checking” Monty would say…
The best news was she was better with me after that experience, too! (Thank you, Monty!). It wasn’t just about submissiveness and dominance. She didn’t feel or look more submissive after this, she just looked softer, more relaxed, more attentive, more open.
We want to be leaders that can create those same qualities. Sometimes the lessons are hard, sometimes they are easy… But they always must be fair. Monty was perfect in his technique and I learned a lot from observing it.
Trust your instincts
Be able to move the feet
Know the qualities you are looking for
Release the game the moment you gain those qualities
CLICK HERE for an excerpt from a full video in the Video Classroom where I help a student establish clear boundaries with her horse in a way that creates calmness and attentiveness. It’s not nearly as exciting as what Monty did with Malin (yes, I wish I had that on video)… But it is a good example of the first steps of this game: Standing quietly on the starting line.
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photo of Karen Rohlf by Dana Rasmussen