Galahad Is Still My Teacher

20170518133641(1)Another stream-of-consciousness post, as I’m working on something that feels new:

“Making” my horse do anything is no longer something I want to do, unless it’s absolutely necessary. So we’ve been studying and trying things out.

Yesterday I went to the barn to work with my Galahad on a lesson from the online course we’re enrolled in.

The assignment was to get him from the pasture and take him for a walk on the lead without pulling on the lead rope. I was in each moment to try to figure out what he was feeling, ask him to come along instead of insisting, etc.

His feet were sore, he said (true enough—he’s recovering from a bad bout of thrush), so he didn’t want to walk on the lane where there are rocks. If we walked on grass, though, all he wanted to do was eat. He wanted to go say hi to all the horses in the turnout runs, which I couldn’t let him do. He didn’t want to go across the bridge over the creek, because ROCKS and SCARY. Mostly, he just wanted to eat grass. Our communication seems pretty clear, but it kind of feels like I now have a grass-eating monster who asks politely—by stopping dead in his tracks and pointing—to eat more grass. He will, if asked quietly and several times, lift his head and follow me for a few steps. That’s a very good thing.

After half an hour or so of grazing, we found the big indoor arena open, so I took him in there and took his halter off. He explored for a little bit with me, but wasn’t too enthusiastic. I tried asking him to move, which he did, but then he went back over to the gate and stood there getting sleepy…. Our session obviously wasn’t going anywhere, and I wanted to end before he got really shut down, so we left.

I tried really hard not to be disappointed by this, but OMG I am so disappointed.

It’s all my fault, not his. I just can’t seem to drop the agenda. But it just seems like all we ever do together these days is clean his feet, feed him, and walk around while he grazes. There’s nothing else. It’s not like I don’t enjoy his company, but I watch other people ride their horses (which I would never force him to do even if it were safe); I watch the videos of people with horses who happily move around them, pay at least some attention to them, and dance with them. Sheesh. I want Galahad to enjoy something, anything, that we do together that’s not grazing; I want to play with him. Other people do that with their horses…why not us? And Galahad plays with his friends…why not us?

I feel like pretty much of a failure; I shed lots of self-pitying tears over that. I feel bad because I know Galahad knows that I’m not satisfied, and he’s so sensitive that it can’t be any fun for him, either.

There is actually a different way of looking at this—but maybe it’s too dreamy. Dunno.

My horse loves me, I know without a doubt. And he seems to enjoy being with me as long as I don’t ask anything of him. It’s exactly the same when I used to try to ride him: I can sit on him and he’s fine, but as soon as I ask him to do anything, he rebels and bucks.

But here’s the thing: It could actually be that this grazing is more about him wanting to be with me peacefully, without any agenda, without me asking him for anything that he doesn’t want to do or can’t do for whatever reason. It could be that he really is avoiding the pressure of me asking anything of him. Because here’s the thing: He never wants to go back out to be with his horse friends; he always stops me several times on the way back. He has such a good time outside the pasture—and it’s not just about the grass, because he’s just as bad in the dead of winter, and it’s not about treats, because I don’t carry them.

I wonder if what he’s actually thinking, when he blocks me on the way back to the pasture, is something like, “I’m not ready to go back yet, Mom. Can’t we just hang out some more?” and then he offers the thing he likes best in that moment, which is grazing quietly, side by side.

I like that interpretation, and it actually feels accurate…but what do I do with that?

Anyway. Like I said, it’s not him; it’s me. But I’m about ready to give up and just quit trying.

And then, this morning, an insight that was probably obvious to everyone but me: At some level, Galahad and I are replaying my childhood experience with my dad, with me cast in the role of Arthur The Great. Like so many girls, I was desperate for my dad’s love, attention, and approval—and he (narcissistic, perfectionist, domineering) was never satisfied with anything I did. It was a losing battle, though I never knew that. Kids never do.

And like Galahad, I did the best I could to please. A part of me rebelled, like Galahad does, though not outwardly (that was always punished). Galahad’s lucky—and this is what makes him such a great teacher—because he’s incapable of artifice. He is himself, and only himself. If he can’t please me by being himself in the moment, he will just shut down; and thank goodness, at this point in our relationship, he doesn’t get punished for it. He gets to express an opinion.

At least that’s one possible interpretation of what’s going on, and it’s a really useful one for me personally.

So I’m wondering…. What if I work with Galahad but in the knowledge that I am working with myself as well? I mean, do the “repair” work consciously, as a practice, almost? What would that be like? Healing the two of us? Because we’re both survivors of a terrible “parenting” or “training” style. “Obey me or I will hurt you,” and “No matter what you do, it will never be perfect, and therefore it will never be enough for me to accept you.” Seriously. Both of us.

Could I do that? Could I overcome my internalized parenting style enough to do this? What an interesting thought…. But it could take forever! I want to play with my horse NOW! I want him to trust me NOW!

Yeah. And how old are you, Kay? And how many decades has it taken YOU to work through this? What? You haven’t figured it out yet?

Yeah. It’s gonna take a while…. He and I are worth however long it takes…and it will take ME way longer than it will take him, I bet.

[Cross-posted on It’s an Alchemical Life]

Update

DSC_9660E2The Alchemical Horse is in transition. Looking back, it’s been happening for some months now, but I just wasn’t aware of it. Some time during the winter “vacation,” when the weather got too cold and unpredictable to schedule clients, the energy shifted. I met some lovely, talented horse people; we talked about maybe working together. But for some reason, I felt “stuck.” I talked about re-vamping this web site, but just never could get up the energy or the ideas to do it.

Then came March…and Nevada died.

Nevada’s sudden passing really threw me. It feels like someone pulled the rug out from under me—I just crashed into the ground, and now, two months later, I’m finally trying to stand up after spending a very long time just sitting there on the floor, holding my head and blinking, looking around to try to see what the hell happens now. And I still don’t have an answer.

Here’s what I do know:

First of all, my equine-guided learning and dreamwork practice is definitely on hold. Galahad, bless him, is not interested in being any kind of therapy horse. He just doesn’t care sufficiently about anyone else’s issues. Nevada did care; she was always interested in new people, and would gently breathe them in, stand with them, and really pay attention. At least for a little while—she usually went back to eating grass pretty quickly. But I could depend on her to interact with whoever I brought to her. Galahad—not so much, unless they have cookies.

Galahad’s just not interested. He doesn’t have Nevada’s gift of somehow conjuring up situations that bring about a epiphany, and I’ve never had him “speak” to a client the way Nevada so often did. He pays no attention to whether or not the client understands what we’re talking about; Nevada would regularly stop walking and just stand still when someone missed the point, or suddenly had an emotional reaction to something. She was my co-therapist and partner, without a doubt.

Galahad has so many other abilities and talents that are important to me, and he’s my personal friend and teacher, no doubt about it. But as far as my practice goes, I can no longer just assume that I can bring a client and have my horse work well with them. Plus there’s his size and energy: He can be quite intimidating, and that puts limits on whom he can work with successfully.

Nevada’s death feels to me like a great big red STOP sign for this part of my work. Am I overreacting? Dunno…. But without an absolute confidence in my horse’s willingness, and now with only one horse, the “business” of my business no longer works. So. Now what?

I’m not sure. My own personal journey with the horses continues, and I’ll be sharing that just as I always have. Guess time will tell….

The next steps on my own journey involve deepening my understanding of liberty work. I’ve recently been studying online with Paulette Evans of Ribbleton Attunement and learning a huge amount.

The most exciting development is my upcoming trip to Wisconsin for a five-day clinic with Frédéric Pignon and Magali Delgado. Those two, who were the original artistic directors of the amazing show Cavalia, are my idols—Pignon in particular. Studying with them is a many-year dream come true. So this spring and summer I’ll be getting myself physically back in shape and working as much as possible with my Galahad at liberty, so that I’m prepared to soak up every single thing that I possibly can during those five days.

I’m finally moving into acceptance of Nevada’s death, though I miss her every single day. No other horse has appeared on the horizon; but if another one shows up in my life, then things might change again. We’ll just have to see.

 

A change for the better!

 

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Yesterday afternoon I spent a wonderful hour in the pasture with Galahad. I told him that I was ready to change my way of being with him. I told him about my intention to be calm and present, without expectations, and to really listen to him. I didn’t know if it would make any difference at all—would I be any different? Would he notice, if I was?

And it was blissful. I really did manage to be in the moment, without an agenda, and with (almost) no expectations. When something did show up in my mind, I was at least aware of it, and was able to let it go. Most of the time, actually, I was just there with him—not even thinking about trying to do anything at all. That so rarely happens.

And Galahad really could feel the difference! He showed his happiness in horsey ways—nuzzling me even though he knew I had no treats on me, leaning gently on me, breathing in my ear, staying close. And “guarding” me—he stayed between me and his friend Dancer most of the time, preferring that I pay attention to him only. That was sweet! The interesting thing was my re-interpretation of things he often does—especially the “leaning” on me. He has done that before, but not often, and  I have always interpreted it as him being “pushy.” Therefore, it was always something I needed to correct strongly. Yesterday, though, I was paying attention to the energy behind it. There wasn’t any pushiness, particularly—he was just being affectionate—and I could respond by leaning back and just thanking him for his love. So different!

After a while—at least 20 minutes, I’d say, and maybe longer, I moved away from him and headed off to see HRH in the mares pasture. She had been grazing in the same spot the whole time, keeping an eye on me. The other mares were elsewhere, but she hadn’t moved.

Just as I got near the fence, Galahad came trotting over to me “yelling” that there was a fly on his neck (there actually was—interesting timing) and would I please kill it for him, which I did. Then he got between me and the fence and gently persuaded me to come back with him. Oh my goodness…. I love that horse so much. It was pretty astounding.

So I stood around with him some more, showing him some choice bits of grass—he always comes right over to see what I’ve found—and just being with him. It was really a magical time. So unusual for me to be in a space where there’s no sense of time, no sense of wanting or needing to be elsewhere or to do something different. Very peaceful.

After a while I did go over to the mares pasture, and this time Galahad let me go. Nevada (still grazing in the same spot) greeted my outstretched hand, but as soon as I dropped it, she scooted off and into the shed, where she got behind the other horses and watched me. She still doesn’t trust me, I guess. I went in and stood near the door of the shed, too, but didn’t do anything but greet her. After a few minutes I just left. Moments later, she came out of the shed and resumed grazing. I’m not sure what to make of that, except that she’s still uncomfortable around me. Disappointing; I can’t help but feel sad about it. But there’s really nothing I can do except continue to just hang around with her, taking her out when I need to but otherwise leaving her alone. Or at least that’s how it feels to me…I’ll continue to play it by ear, by feel.

But my sweet Galahad continues to teach me, thank goodness, and it feels like I’m actually, finally, ready to learn the next step.

 

Fun with my best boy

20140613110116 (2)I had such fun with Galahad yesterday afternoon. We ran around just a little in the big arena by the pastures, but it was way too hot for me to chase him and persuade him to do much more than trot. He was happy, though. Then I took him down to the outdoor jump arena by the indoor arena, and since no one was there, turned him loose.

Not such a good idea. First of all, there were two mares in an adjacent paddock. I should have known better, but was focused on “doing stuff” with my horse. Still learning to PAY ATTENTION from the horse’s point of view, after seven years….

He got all puffed up and full of himself and decided to show off for them. One of the mares took offense at something he said to her and squealed mightily. I discovered later, from the bloody gash under his mane, that she also took a chunk out of his neck. (He does know how to court a mare, when he has a mind to do it.)

He huffed and chuffed and snorted all over the place, then pranced out of the arena (!) through a gate I didn’t even know was there. It leads to an alleyway along the side, probably where they would move their calves around when they used to do calf-roping. The fact that it was narrow and fenced on the other side made the opening all but invisible to me. Oops…. But fortunately, he got sidetracked by the yummy clover in there, and I was able to get his halter back on before he wandered into the cattle pen. After that, the halter stayed on. Enough adventures.

I love how Galahad has developed so much self-control the last couple of years. As I walked him out, I could feel him vibrating, on the edge of a head-toss and a prance and maybe a rear—but I spoke quietly to him, and he didn’t do any of it. Such a wonderful fellow he is. (And this makes me absolutely certain that I could ride him if I weren’t afraid to do it. One firm word to him from on his back, and probably a one-rein stop and some disengaging of his hind end, and he would be just fine.)

After that we went into the big indoor arena to look at stuff and walk over one of the little jumps. He was willing to do that on the lead, but once the other horse and rider left and I took off his halter, not so much. But that’s OK. I only asked him for what he was willing to do. He had fun, got to roll in the sand, and felt good about what he did for me. That’s all I want. More willingness will follow as we work more and more together.

 

Galahad and the Hula Hoop

20150603_162758Galahad loves his games and toys!

I got him a hula hoop early in the summer but never got around to giving it to him until a few weeks ago. The plan was to ask him to stand with his front feet inside the hoop.

When I first showed the hoop to him, of course he told me it was a horse-eating monster. Oh, the snorting! But he had such fun with it. Here’s the video; you can watch almost all of our first session.

Later that day I posted the video on Facebook—I was so proud of him! But then I started second-guessing myself. Typical behavior on my part, and something I sure wish I didn’t do.

By midnight, I had convinced myself that I hadn’t done anything right. I couldn’t sleep for judging myself and imagining how others would judge me, especially my natural horsemanship friends. I “should” have been tougher on him—asked, increased the pressure, and so on, until he actually DID it. I know that stuff, inside and out.

Wow…. What a complete dodo I was, in my mind, at least.

The comments I actually got, when I read them the next morning, were mostly very positive. But of course I looked for that ONE that questioned what I had done, and therefore reinforced my self-doubts. That was NOT what the friend who posted it had in mind, I know! She was trying to be helpful:

” ‘Yeah yeah, that could be a Galahad-eating hole instead of a hula hoop!’ says Galahad. 😉 How about putting a carrot inside the Galahad-eating hole?”

I spent an hour or so thinking about that, and finally, amazingly, realized what had happened in the arena. The cool thing is that I had a goal, which was for him to accept and touch the hoop…and the bigger goal was for him to have a good time and really enjoy himself.

Finally, then, I started feeling good about the interaction again. I realized that of course, as my friend suggested, I could have made it go faster; but watching the video, I don’t think it was necessary. Galahad likes figuring things out. Notice in the middle of the video, he didn’t even take me up on my offer to leave the hoop to get a carrot.

And most important of all, the point of the exercise, in my plan, was not to make it happen quickly, but for Galahad to accept the hoop and to have fun doing it. We accomplished those things! He had a blast!

One of the things Galahad has always enjoyed is being “a little bit scared,” and then getting over it. We’ve played that game since he first came to live with me—we used to do “scary things walks” around the barn when I first had him (even though my natural horsemanship friends assured me that it would ruin him). In this video, I love the way he comes over toward me and THEN makes another approach to the scary thing.

This horse loves a challenge. He likes to play. He trusts me, and I like that he comes over to me. The natural horsemanship folks would likely say he’s invading my space, being disrespectful, and so on. It’s true—he does tend to crowd, and he’s a big horse. That’s partly why I carry a stick when working with him. In this case, if he’s crowding it’s because he’s asking for comfort and reassurance. In the video I’m constantly aware and reading his energy, and I move away in a safe manner.

What I really like about the video is that it shows our relationship so clearly. We’re having a “conversation;” it’s definitely two-way. I’m not ordering him to do anything—just encouraging him, supporting him in his curiosity, and building his confidence. I think he understands that—even though he was nervous, he never moved away from the hoop or from me.

That’s how it is pretty much all the time with us, no matter where we are or what we’re doing. If I’m calm, he calms down. Back in October, I led him around the ranch the night of the big Hoedown. Crowds of people, kids running around, kids playing UNDER the tractor (which is, of course, NOT RIGHT), and all of it happening at night. Although he spooked a couple of times, he never tried to run, or to leave my side. I was impressed, and very pleased.

I just love the state of our relationship!

Another thing about Galahad is that if you push him AT ALL, he gets sullen very quickly—a leftover, I think, from some of the treatment he received when he was a youngster, when he was punished for expressing his opinion about anything at all. When he’s sullen, he’ll do what you ask, but without energy, and certainly without any pleasure in the doing. So these days, I just let him figure it all out on his own, in his own time.

Here’s another example:

A week or so after the hula hoop encounter, I took Galahad into the arena. He wasn’t in the mood to “work” that day—he’d been fine and happy while we were out walking, but put his head down and pouted as soon as we went through the gate. No problem, fellow. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.

While he stood there and sulked, I laid out some ground poles in an “L” shape, and let him watch me as I walked through them a few times, exaggerating the turn in the middle.

I could see it, the instant his attitude shifted from sullen to curious—it was like someone turned on a switch. Suddenly, I had his attention. His ears flicked forward, and his eyes lit up. At that point, I started talking to him, and once again walked between the poles.

Then I asked him to come with me, and he did, watching closely. I stayed outside the poles. He walked halfway through, but didn’t negotiate the turn properly. I showed him again, then asked him to come around and try it. This time, he made the turn perfectly. He was happy with himself, and I made sure he knew I was happy, too! We didn’t keep at it—I wanted to end on a high note for him, and not drill him at all. This way, it’s all his idea.

I wouldn’t work with Nevada this way. She doesn’t have issues, and doesn’t mind being asked to do something that isn’t her idea. In fact, she prefers it if you just tell her clearly what to do so she can do it efficiently and get to the carrot part of things.

Here’s a video of Nevada with the hula hoop. I deliberately used the same techniques with her that I did with Galahad, to demonstrate how very different the two horses are. You can see how it doesn’t work at all well with her.

With the big guy, though, I’ve learned that unless I want an argument and a sullen horse, he needs to be in the right frame of mind, and I have to be in dialogue with him. Once he’s engaged, he’s smart and fun to work with.

My hope, and my belief, is that he’ll become more and more willing over time, as we continue to work on liberty exercises that grow our bond. The level to which he trusts me—and trusts me not to demand things of him—is growing quickly, and he’s already begun to look forward to coming out of the pasture with me—as far as he’s concerned, all the fun stuff happens out there.

I plan on keeping things that way.

 

A really good day!

Galahad and the bridge(12)Today was a really good day!

I went to the barn around noon and spent quite a while with Galahad. First we did an Easter Egg hunt in the muddy jump arena (plastic eggs with bits of carrots in them, hidden near the jumps; he has to find them and touch them with his nose). It took him a bit to realize there were eggs hidden there—at first all he wanted to do was eat the grass around the edges. Once he saw the first one, though, he was all attention (other than taking time out to roll).

His problem was that I had deliberately put the eggs fairly close to the jumps—and he’s nervous about those jumps, which was my whole point. He managed to touch the first one after I moved it two inches (!) farther away from the post. When I asked him where the next one was, he looked around, saw it (I swear he saw it, over by the next jump), and spent a LONG while examining each and every fallen leaf, clod of dirt, or spot of poop in the area, just in case one of them turned out to be an egg.

Finally he made brave to go and touch the egg—and tried to roll it away from the jump so he could get it himself. No, fella, you have to touch it, raise your head, and wait for me to open it. Nice try, though.

He does love this game. I’ve learned to use only the biggest plastic eggs (so he can’t get them into his mouth) and limit the number of eggs to six or seven so that he doesn’t get bored. So we finished up quickly and sampled a little more grass at the edge of the arena before moving on out to the next event.

I let him graze for a little while near the “bridge” that I’ve been trying to get him to walk over. Back in June, we spent some time working near it, and he would walk over it the short way but not walk along it with me (the photo above was taken on that day). Today I decided to see what he’d be willing to do for me.

What I most love about learning to work with my horses in a less structured way is having a big “toolbox” of techniques and skills and being able to pick whatever tool or method works in the moment. As my relationship with Galahad grows closer, it seems that “less is more” for sure. Our training sessions have become shorter, less demanding, and way more fun and effective.

Today, for instance, he still didn’t want to walk along the length of the bridge. When I asked, he’d paw at it; he’d put both feet on it—no problem. I made sure he knew that whatever he gave me was wonderful—he got praise and grass in between tries…and then I’d ask again. It was a slow process, and very low-pressure.

We started by watching another horse walk over it twice, with a rider. Galahad paid close attention. I asked if he would just follow that horse across, but he declined. Too scary, still. I asked if he’d walk behind me across it. Nope, he couldn’t do that, either. So we just kept at it, slowly, over a period of fifteen or so minutes—not long, really.

What I did was based in the natural horsemanship methods that I’ve studied in the past—from one of the best trainers in the Midwest—and learned quite well. But there was no “increasing pressure.” Instead, I made a request with a gentle “send” signal and the barest hint of a wave with my other hand. He knows what that means, so the communication was perfectly clear. Then I waited for him to respond. And then I’d ask again, in the same, low-key way, and wait. If he tried to evade it completely, I’d gently ask him to back up and try again, but I never pushed, pulled, or smacked him with the rope.

Galahad knew what I was asking, and I think he appreciated the fact that I didn’t try to pressure him into doing it before he was ready. And he got praise for the slightest try! That big horse—stubborn as he can be when he perceives something as “work”—really does like to please. He likes knowing he’s done something “right.”

Finally, he offered to sidepass over the bridge—that’s always his fallback move. “Can I do this instead?” Um, no, buddy, it’s WAY too wide for that. How about you walk behind me, and let’s go across it together.

Suddenly, I could feel him make up his mind. I wasn’t looking at him—in fact, I was already partway across the bridge when I felt the change, through the loose lead rope. No idea what it the signal was that I received—but I KNEW at that moment that he would follow me across, and he did.

Wow—good boy! I turned around to face him as he made the last few steps, and just praised him to the skies! He put his head down and I swear he looked pleased as punch! What a good horse he is! Needless to say, we went and got carrots and dinner after that!

It was such a thrill—a silly little task in the grand scheme of things, but heartwarming to realize how far the two of us have come. Clear communication, mutual trust and respect, and virtually NO pressure…we got the job done and had a good time doing it.

It just doesn’t get much better than that! Boy, do I love that horse of mine!

(“Leading Tarkin” is another post that describes this method I’m using these days.)

Such different horses!

20140417 Deb adn Nevada6(1)Had an interesting encounter with Nevada yesterday afternoon. It was cool and overcast when I got to the barn around 2:30 or so. It didn’t look like they got as much rain out there as we got here at the house (just under 3”!), so it wasn’t especially muddy, thank goodness.

Nevada and the mares were grazing toward the east side of the pasture, keeping an eye on one of the barn staff, who was trimming bushes along the fence. She acknowledged me when I arrived, but didn’t offer to come over, and declined to walk with me back to the fence where I’d left her food (out of sight). I stood around with her for quite a while, just watching and being in the moment, matching her movements and hanging out. It was so pleasant outside for a change!

After ten or fifteen minutes, I checked again to see if she’d come with me—nope. So more matching/mirroring for a while longer. Still nope. So then I decided to move her around a bit, to get her more in the mood to follow my lead. I kept her going, slowly and gently and in no particular direction, but wouldn’t let her stop and graze.

After a little while I began to direct her over toward the west fence, away from the herd. She went, but stopped every few feet and moved as though to turn and go back to the others. When she did that, I just pointed toward the fence and gently raised the tip of my stick (if I hadn’t had the stick, I could have just signaled with my hand). She’d then walk along a few more steps and stop again, asking if I had changed my mind.

I think she thought I was going to take her out of the pasture, and while she would have gone with me, she wasn’t too much in favor of the idea, for whatever reason. But when we got near the gate and I motioned away from it and toward where I’d left her feed pan, she figured out what was going on. Then she was more than willing to move with me. Food!

After her dinner, I walked back with her toward the rest of the mares. She moved easily in that direction, but stopped every time I asked her to, so it was clear that she was walking with me, not the other way around. Halfway across the pasture I asked her to stop. Then I backed away to break our connection, and sent her away quickly. She trotted off with a little toss of her head.

Good girl!

Galahad, on the other hand, came over to me from way across the pasture almost as soon as he saw me. I met him halfway and we walked back to the fence together. He also stopped whenever I asked him to.

Galahad wanted to go out, though. As far as he is concerned, all the fun stuff happens outside the pasture, and he hasn’t been out for a while…too hot for this old lady! When I tried to send him off after he ate, he kept running off and then circling back to the gate. “Out, Mom! Let’s go out and play!” I never did get him to actually go away. Eventually, I just laughed, called him over, and did a few minutes of moving around and backing up. Then he got the last carrot and I left.

Love those horses! Every day is different, and the two of them have such different personalities. It’s exciting to be around them, and to just let them be themselves like this.