I so enjoy my days at the Rescue Ranch. These days I’m creating the adoption videos, and it’s such fun capturing something of each horse’s personality along with documenting where they are in their training and how they move.
It was an especially interesting today. Little “Tarkin,” who has come SO FAR in the last few months since his rescue (he was a little stray stallion, apparently never handled), is now learning to trot under saddle. He is much calmer, but not quite comfortable around people other than Sarah, our trainer, and the apprentices. I’m still a little scary.
After Sarah finished their ride and stepped off, I asked Tarkin if he was ready to say hello to me yet (the good old “cowboy handshake”). No, not quite yet, he said. So I backed off. As I backed away, he took half a step forward toward me for whatever reason, so I asked for another. No, not so much…too scary to approach directly when asked.
Sarah handed me the reins. Since they were attached to a bit, and he’s very new to bits, I made sure to put absolutely no pressure on the reins, other than the fact that I was balancing them on one finger. Then I asked him to step toward me (by backing up from directly in front of him, leaving my hand where it was so as not to pull him). No, he said, that was still too scary, so I dropped back to stand near his withers.
From there, I took a couple of steps back and to the side, to draw him toward me. That, he felt like he could do; and once he took a couple of sidesteps in my direction, I used my body language to suggest that he might walk forward with me. And he did!
Slowly, at first. Then I said “whoa,” which he knows, and stopped my feet. He stopped right with me. After a few seconds I suggested with my body that we walk forward again, and he was willing to do that, mostly. I had to draw him toward me to the side a couple of times after we’d stop, but then he decided walking and stopping was just fine.
I was really happy, for a couple of reasons. First, because this was NOT natural horsemanship, the way I was taught. There was no deliberate “pressure-release” here, but rather, communication in the way horses communicate with each other. I’d make a request, and he could decide whether or not to comply. What really delighted me about this was the fact that I’ve learned enough to be able to facilitate this dialog.
Yes, a horse who’s learned to follow a lead rope and/or reins and bit will naturally be more inclined to follow a moving person when he’s wearing a bridle than he might otherwise. Would he have followed me as willingly if he’d been at liberty? Probably not. But I bet I could have persuaded him, given a little time for him to get used to me. And how cool this little old lady was able to do it at all!
The second reason I was so happy about this little interaction was just the fact that I was able to bypass my “natural” tendency to “make it happen” and, instead, just let things unfold. It’s taken quite a while for me to get to this point. As I’ve said often, natural horsemanship techniques come easily to me because that paradigm was the way I was raised. Un-learning something so basic isn’t all that easy after 64 years of practice and reinforcement!
So the fact that this spooky little guy would feel comfortable and willing to come along with me with only suggestions (made in a way that he instinctively understands), just pleases me to no end!
Woohoo! The old gal’s learning something!