How the Waterhole Rituals have Changed my Horse by MaryGaye LeBoeuf

This is a response from a student, MaryGaye LeBoeuf, to the last blog about rudeness in your horse.  I loved her outlook on my Method and her outlook on rude behavior and how it plays into her daily life.  I wanted to share this with everyone.  Thank you MaryGaye for your post.


MaryGaye and CowboyRudeness. Having what used to be the rudest horse that could be imagined, I hated missing your Webcast the other day; but duty called elsewhere. However, whatever was said, I know that your advice was gold! I know because my rudest of rude horses, Cowboy, has become a very refined gentlehorse under your tutelage. However, your Blog triggered for me, the precise reason why what you have taught us, makes such a difference: “Politeness.”

As you know, Cowboy was a horse that charged, head down, ears pinned, mouth open, teeth exposed, at any horse that came within 20-30 feet of him. He would run right over the top of me to do it, too. At feeding time, he kicked the walls, charged the horses on either side of him, biting at the wire stall dividers. On trail rides, he would charge, bite and kick at other horses. His idea of a “tea party” was to violently clear 20 other horses from around a huge round bale before choosing his spot to eat. Then he would allow a select few other horses to timidly approach the bale and get permission to eat on the other side of the bale. In addition to occasionally running over the top of me, Cowboy was very skilled at pushing me all over the place, without me even knowing I was moving.

RespectThat is all History. Yesterday while Cowboy, Nemo and I were having an extended tea party over the small hay cart, I was thinking about your blog and the concept of “politeness” of which you wrote, finally became abundantly clear. As I watched the boys enjoy their tea party for almost two hours – while having to occasionally, yet gently, suggest that Cowboy step away from the tea table to remember his manners, I pondered the differences between “respect” and “politeness.” As always, Carolyn, you have managed to state something profound, in the simplest way possible.

This is what I have figured out. Normally, people talk about the horse “respecting” us. But “respect” is a loaded word. It involves boundaries and obedience, but it has connotations not applicable to your teachings. There’s the respect a new marine in boot camp feels for his drill sergeant. That’s not what we’re looking for. Then there’s the respect a grandchild feels for an elderly grandparent. A student’s respect for a favorite teacher, or principal. These are close to “polite”, but even in these examples, there’s usually a bit of awe, sometimes discomfort and possibly fear. And sometimes in such relationships there’s little testing of the limits. Then, there’s the “respect” that some horse people demand, with whips, spurs, bigger and fiercer bits etc ad nauseam. Well, really, that last example is not respect, its torture, but some people would call it “respect.”

MaryGaye and CowboyBut “politeness” is very different. Politeness infers respect and boundaries, but it also means softness and gentleness, caring, and most especially, empathy for the others around you – wanting to make the other person feel welcome. Endeavoring to behave in calm, quiet, thoughtful ways that will make the other person feel comfortable. However, politeness also calls for clear boundaries and a certain code of conduct. Whoever is “mother” for any tea party has very clear duties, as do the other participants. There are boundaries for everyone’s roles. And it is knowing the boundaries to proper decorum and everyone’s roles and duties, that makes tea a calm, relaxing, enjoyable event for all participants. It is when someone comes to the tea party and violates the rules and boundaries, that things turn topsy turvy, to the mental, physical, emotional and social discomfort of all. Often these negative consequences are felt most strongly by the violator. It is the violator that feels confused, left out, and angry – not only does he not know the rules, but now other people are angry and rejecting him for violating those rules.

Cowboy and NemoThat was Cowboy. He didn’t know how to be polite with horses or people, and I didn’t know how to teach him. He was unhappy, alone and frustrated. The Waterhole Rituals changed all of that. Through the Waterhole Rituals you taught me and Cowboy how to be polite: human to horse, horse to human, and horse to horse (and even human to human). By doing everything at Liberty, I had to learn and truly understand the rules – otherwise, Cowboy would not have paid any attention to me. If I had used tack, I would have ended up using some degree of force, however small, in teaching and enforcing the rules. There can be no force in true Liberty. Thus, the understanding of the rules and what it takes to invoke behavior consistent with those rules, is on a much deeper level – now it only takes a mere noise in my throat, a word, the pointing of a finger, or the movement of a reed, and Cowboy understands and responds. Cowboy loves having rules and knowing what they are!!! He is only unhappy when I forget the rules or don’t enforce them consistently.

The direct result of the Waterhole Rituals and your work with me and Cowboy is a happier and more polite existence for us both – along with my elderly Arabian gelding, Prince and friend Nemo. Actually, it was having tea parties with Prince, each taking turns with bites of carrots or senior feed, that brought another revelation about politeness. Because I was so focused on making sure Cowboy remained polite, I found myself ignoring Prince’s rude behavior – being pushy and grabby, moving from his “spot.” Then I noticed that when Prince would act rudely, Cowboy was responding with what appeared to be “rude behavior”. Of course, at first, it was Cowboy who was reprimanded for being rude. Well, as usual, I have to be hit over the head with a rock before I see what is plainly before me – Cowboy was not being “rude” he was trying to correct Prince’s rudeness. That dilemma has been resolved — as Cowboy was trying to tell me, everyone has to be polite – the same rules apply to everyone, horse and humans.

shadowAs always, Carolyn, your words are an inspiration to my thought, reasoning, direction and action in my aspiration to become the best horsewoman I can possibly be. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!

Love MaryGaye


Thank you MaryGaye for such moving and wonderful words and a great testimonial.  I hope everyone has a great weekend!  Be on the lookout for new horse and human sightings and may the horse be with you.

Warmly, Carolyn

The Tea Party with Cowboy and Nemo -



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