Courting Nevada

20140417150946 (8)The vet came out to see Nevada the other day to check out some possible causes for the violent itching that she’s suffered from, off and on, as long as we’ve had her. It wasn’t pleasant for her—it involved shaving squares on her neck, skin scrapings, worming, shots. She stayed calm and willing during the interaction, which seems amazing but is normal for her.

The next afternoon I went out to the pasture to get her. True to form after an unpleasant experience the day before, Nevada let me know she hadn’t enjoyed it. She’s always been this way—never complaining during whatever the not-fun event is, but being hard to catch the next day.

This time, she came to me in the pasture, all right. She quickly checked me over to see if I had dinner or treats (nope). Then she was willing to follow me, without a halter, to the gate of the summer pasture and go through it into the winter pasture. Once there, though, she wouldn’t stay with me—she trotted off toward the main gate to the barn and arena area, where I usually feed her before we work on anything. I just let her go.

When I didn’t follow her to the gate, she watched me for a while (I was walking the other way, pretending to ignore her). Then she ran back toward her girlfriends, whinnying. I didn’t chase her, but just kept on pulling weeds and “ignoring” her. She stopped near the fence between her and her buddies and started grazing.

I’m beginning to enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to get my horse to want to follow my lead, especially when they’re “not in the mood,” distracted, or disinterested, without resorting to making them do it in the natural horsemanship way. That way is effective, all right, but this one is way more fun. “Courting” is a great Carolyn Resnick concept; Linda Salinas, one of Carolyn’s certified trainers, has a blog post on the topic here.

So I decided to court my mare.

After pulling weeds at the other end of the pasture for ten minutes or so, I walked slowly toward her, stopping every time she twitched an ear or looked up at me, in order to show her that I understood and respected her boundaries. She didn’t move her feet.

Finally I worked myself around to the front of her and went up and said hello, offering my hand. She snuffled me willingly enough, but she went back to grazing, and I backed away. A few minutes later I greeted her again, and again backed away. At that point she started slowly and casually taking one step at a time toward me while she grazed, and each time she did, I backed up an equal amount. I wanted to draw her to me, but not in an obvious or insistent way. This felt respectful: I wanted to wait until she was ready and wanted to come to me.

Finally she put her head up, looked at me intently for a few seconds, and walked over so I could put her halter on. It was her idea at that point, not mine, and after that there were no problems between us.

It was such an interesting and rewarding experience. It felt like a real conversation: She got to tell me how displeased she was with what had happened the day before, and I could respond that I understood and didn’t blame her for it. Once she felt “heard,” she was willing to come to me. I’m certain that’s not exactly how Nevada perceived it, but I do believe her version wouldn’t be too different.

It feels like magic to relate to my horses in this way. There’s no confrontation, no force, no “well, that’s fine, but you have to come with me.” They always have the option to say “no.” Sure, there are times (vet visits, for instance) where I will have to override their wishes, but that won’t be a problem, because in the majority of instances, they get to choose. I can always pick a different game, or a different approach: one that will be easy and fun for them to get involved in.

I’m so happy about the way Nevada and I handled this situation. I think it will make a big difference in our relationship, and that’s wonderful!