Hawk

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Red-Shouldered Hawk, Florida; photo from Wikimedia.

Well, my morning last Sunday was way more exciting than expected: I went out to the barn around 9:30 to get Galahad out. He wasn’t enthusiastic about it, but he let me put his halter on. He was a little balky when I asked him to come out the center pasture gate. That’s unusual for him—he generally loves to come out of the pasture.

This particular morning, though, he told me that there was something scary in the water tank there—not so scary that he wouldn’t go to the tank, but too scary to get a drink. He kept looking and snorting softly, so I went to look, and sure enough, there was something: A red-shouldered hawk, by some misadventure, had gotten stuck in there and nearly drowned.

I took off Galahad’s halter and went to get a small rag to cover the hawk’s head and several towels to wrap him up and soak up some of the water—he was waterlogged, hypothermic, and not moving much at all. I was afraid he was too far gone to save, but I had to try. I told him each step in the process, hoping he could feel my good intentions.

Even sopping wet, the bird weighed almost nothing—amazing. I carried the soggy little bundle over to the barn to find a dear friend of mine who could be counted on not to squeal, go crazy, or insist on unwrapping the hawk. I wasn’t sure quite what to do next.

And the oddest thing: I asked my friend what she thought I should do…and she “just happened” to have the World Bird Sanctuary’s Raptor Center phone number programmed into her phone—she and her husband had needed to call them about a bird just a few days ago. The Center is located about five miles from the barn. So she called and left a message. “Coincidence,” huh?

I kept changing the outer towels without taking the covering off the hawk’s head, and held him on my lap until I could feel his warmth coming through. He never offered to move, except that after half an hour or so he’d flex his feet when I touched them. The huge claws on those powerful yellow feet are amazing. That’s all of the bird that I could see, and I didn’t want to risk upsetting him by looking at him.

I had to get home to teach my Sunday afternoon dreamwork class, and finally, when the Sanctuary didn’t call back right away, I decided to just take him there. So I let him sit (covered with his towel, in Galahad’s feed pan) on the floor of the car until I could get him to the Raptor Center. So fortunate that we have experts so close by! On the drive I played recorded nature sounds to him, and he attempted a faint whistle, but didn’t move.

The volunteers who met me at the Center determined that the bird was apparently uninjured, just chilled and in shock; they put him in a cage with a heat lamp, took my information, and gave me a number where I could call and get updates on his condition. I didn’t take any photos—no time while I was getting him out of the tank, and once at the Raptor Center, it seemed somehow intrusive. Dunno….

What an amazing adventure. Thank you, Galahad for letting me know! I think the credit for this “save” really belongs more to my horse than to me.

I called the Sanctuary this morning for an update for “my” bird: He’s doing well, eating on his own, but may in fact have a fractured coracoid (a bone in his shoulder). That’s something they can’t see from outside, so they’ll feed him up in an indoor cage for a week, then put him in an outdoor flight cage where they can check him out further. Once he’s healed, he can be released.

This part of the story alone would be amazing enough—how often are we given the opportunity to save a magnificent wild creature like this?

But there’s more: I’ve been seeing this particular species of hawk regularly (and not just randomly) for about a year now. There was one sitting in a tree out at the Rescue Ranch one day, for instance, just eyeing me; one flew at windshield level across the highway right in front of my car a couple of months back, close enough for me to see his eye. Up close and personal; they had something to tell me, it seemed.

I shared the story in the class on Sunday, where we were talking about the relational, collaborative nature of the universe. One of my students pointed out that there must be a message for me, and an important one, if this bird was willing to nearly die so that I could really hear him. So I checked in with him in reverie during the class:

From the porch of my imaginal cabin, I can see Hawk on the ground near the steps. I invite him onto my arm, but then he takes off into the sky with me, magically, on his back. Thrilling, that flight! We land on a lichen-covered branch somewhere in the woods…and suddenly I am Hawk, flying blazingly fast through the air.

Such a feeling of power—I can feel the strength in my pectoral muscles, powering my wings. I feel the physical pride and power of my being, the enormous vision that I possess, the certainty of my ability to find and capture the prey that I need to survive. “Ruthless” is one word that springs into my mind. Ruthless. Discerning. Far-seeing. Ruthless in achieving goals, in taking my prey, my sustenance. Power. Speed and precision.

“Take what you need! Have no doubts!”

Collaboration indeed! If I hadn’t cultivated the willingness and the ability to hear Galahad (and not just see a stubborn horse who didn’t want to leave the pasture), and if Galahad hadn’t understood that I would listen to him, that hawk would be dead now. There is no doubt. I couldn’t see him in the tank; he was tucked under the rim, where I had to go over and actually look into the water to see him.

And if I hadn’t cultivated the ability to interact with the unconscious, non-rational world and receive its messages, this experience would just be an interesting coincidence, a fun story to share with friends, but without higher meaning for me.

Wow……

Unforgettable.

 

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]

Another Lesson from Midnight

20160421_134742So much in the world seems to be getting more angry, more violent, and more hate-filled these days. It’s uncomfortable and worrisome. What on earth can a person do to counteract all that? Developing a better, kinder, gentler way of dealing with others would surely be helpful. But how? And while still maintaining one’s own individuality and boundaries?

The horses, through our relationship with them, have some answers for us.

I realized yesterday that I’ve been developing a gentler way of relating to Midnight for some time now—several years, actually. It probably started when I quit riding him, and came on gradually without my noticing; but our way of interacting now is more like friends, not like owner and animal or whatever.

Of course I do get more of a say when there are things that have to be done—grooming (which he’s not too fond of), vet visits, and stuff like that. Or when we’re out for a walk and I actually have to leave, so we need to head back to his house before he’s quite ready. But here’s how it goes at the best of times, like yesterday:

Midders bangs on his stall door to get my attention while I’m hanging out in the pasture across the lane with Galahad and Dancer. Since it’s Galahad’s day off, I have time to take Midnight out for a walk, so we get his halter on and head out the door. He wants to go directly down the road, but I need to stop at the car for a couple of things. I ask, and he’s willing to come over there with me. After all, there are cookies in the back, right?

After a few minutes (and some video) we start off down the lane toward the barns. He has a pattern that he likes to do, but we negotiate a couple of changes, since one of his favorite grazing areas is still muddy. He easily takes the redirection—there are good patches of clover elsewhere, after all.

After ten minutes or so I suggest we head up toward the main barn, and he says, “Sure!” and takes off at a clip. When I say “suggest,” I actually mean this: “Midnight, shall we go over there” (I point to the barn) “and see what’s going on?” No pressure on the lead rope—just words, body language, and intention. He looks where I’m pointing and trundles off in that direction.

He gets to choose the pace and direction of his walk, for the most part, and he has certain places he wants to check out. I just hold the lead rope in order to keep it from dragging. There’s lots of stopping and sniffing and grazing. Once in a while, if he decides to go sniff noses with another horse, I might tell him no and put the slightest pressure on the rope, but generally he’s OK with just the sound of my voice.

One of his must-check spots is the cement area under the grain bins—there’s usually some spilled grain there, and he likes to mop it up. Today, though, it’s pretty moldy-looking because of all the rain recently, so there’s no way I’m going to let him eat it. This results in a little bit of a tussle, but not much. He’s not buying my explanation, but he understands that I’m serious, so he’s willing to leave after only a little pulling. And I do mean a little bit—Midders may be small but he’s mighty, and when he gets stubborn with that head of his, it’s not easy to pull him away. This discussion was still in the range of a few seconds of mild pressure on the lead rope.

Then we headed over to the mares pasture to see “his” girls, who all came over to the fence and grazed along with us for a while. It was getting late, and I had errands to run on the way home, so after a few minutes I suggested (with words and body language, not the lead rope) that we head back home to his place. Surprisingly (to me), he picked his head up at my suggestion and off we went.

Along the way Midnight’s buddy Nick was returning horses to their stalls after turnout. Midders, seeing Nick, insisted on taking a detour to say hi. After a greeting and a little conversation (and a couple more stops for especially nice patches of clover), we headed back down the lane at a good clip. He seemed as happy to go home as he had been to go out in the first place.

This has been our routine for the last few years, and I hadn’t thought much about it. There just isn’t any drama any more with Midnight—we go and have our walk and chat a little bit, then go back home. But something about it caught my attention yesterday, and I realized just how amazing (for me) this lack of drama is, and how different my mindset is when I’m with Midders.

Midnight isn’t in training for anything. I’m not going to ride him, and there aren’t any expectations. When I’m with him, I’m just out to enjoy his company and have a good time together. There’s no agenda; I’m not hoping to get any certain behavior from him. We’re just walking together like the old friends that we are.

No agenda…no drama. Wow…ya think there might be a connection?

THIS is what Paulette Evans at Ribbleton Attunement (whose online courses I’ve been taking lately) is trying to teach us to do! And it’s SO HARD! Yet I’m doing it on my own with Midnight, effortlessly, without thinking about it. HAVE been doing it for a few years now, actually.

Wow….

But it’s a mindset that I clearly do not have with Galahad, and that’s the rub. I DO have expectations of him, and hopes, and desires…. So my challenge is to see what I can do to get to this place of quiet non-expectation with my Best Boy, and see what develops from there.

And also, I’m thinking, with my human friends. The fewer expectations I have with them, the more quiet curiosity and friendship I can develop, the less drama and the more satisfaction. Will that help the world? Dunno…but it should make my life more peaceful.

How interesting….

 

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.

 

Trust is a precious thing

20160108131912 (9)It’s been a long-time dream of mine to learn dressage—just the basics, nothing fancy. I’ve had my eye on my mare Nevada, because she’s a natural athlete and has a wonderful way of moving. Now that she’s six, we figured it was time to start her under saddle again.

Originally, she was taught to carry a rider when she was really young—there was an error on her papers from the Rescue Ranch. She took to it quite well, and I actually rode her a couple of times, including out on the trail. She did wonderfully! But when we realized how young she actually was, we gave her a few years off to let her bones mature.

I didn’t anticipate any problems with the re-training, given how well she had done the first time. But I had forgotten one BIG and important rule: Don’t make assumptions.

One of the reasons we hadn’t started her last summer was that for the past two or three years an underlying skin condition had gotten worse. Poor Nevada was just so itchy and miserable, for no reason that we or the vet could discern. We even tried steroids, which helped, but she also gained a couple of hundred pounds, and we decided that it was too great a risk to her health to continue. Once we tapered her off the dose, the itching returned.

This winter, we decided to try freshly ground organic flax seed, and by early this spring, the itching had diminished considerably. These days, she doesn’t scratch any more than any other horse out there.

Unless, that is, she gets nervous. Then, she starts biting at her side and front leg. Once she settles down, she quits scratching.

All this is background to the real “drama.”

Back in February, I made the decision to hire a trainer to bring my little mare back up to speed. This woman has years of experience and is someone I really like and respect. I especially like her firm-but-gentle hand with the horses, and they respond well to her. So again, I didn’t anticipate any difficulty at all.

My first inkling that something was amiss came when I tried to saddle Nevada. We’d gotten the saddle on her a couple of times, and the fit was good. The first few times we put it on, she gave no more trouble than you’d expect from a green horse. But things got worse, not better, once the lessons started. And she’d try to scratch throughout the lesson. We and the trainer thought it was likely just a nervous habit that she could unlearn.

Her very first lesson seemed fine. She responded well to the bitless bridle and moved forward readily. But there was that pesky saddling issue. I noted it in my journal: “I do think it makes her itch a bit; that’s unfortunate, for sure. But I don’t think it’s bad enough to not put a saddle on her.”

Key phrase: “I don’t think it’s bad enough to not put a saddle on her.”

Second lesson, and my journal entry doesn’t mention the saddle. I was just so proud of her:

I am so happy and excited, and I can’t stop thinking about it. This really is a childhood dream come true—Nevada and I are going to be able to dance together, to ride together beautifully and enjoy the experience. So wonderful!

I had decided that the fix was to practice with the saddle in between the weekly lessons. Two days later, I tried saddling her again. Nevada was really clear that she didn’t want any part of it. She’d evade and spook and walk away from me (I refused to tie her up and force it on her). It took me half an hour to get the thing on her back. She was clearly NOT enjoying this business at all.

I kept at it:

Yesterday I didn’t try to saddle her—just left the stuff in the arena on the mounting block while we did other things. She said it was too scary to go sniff it—but then when I left the arena to get carrots, I caught her sniffing it when she didn’t know I was watching. She is a drama queen….

“Drama queen”?

It may be that she associates the saddle with itching—which is a nervous habit, for the most part, at this point. She can be persuaded to keep moving through it, but it’s not easy. We can’t catch every instance, and if we try, it makes our interactions kind of jagged and not-fun. Our trainer says it won’t be too hard to get rid of the habit, but I’m not so sure.

Dunno…. But I think that with patience she’ll be just fine about it. I’m just going to keep at it until she gives in. It isn’t, after all, such a big deal that she can’t do it. I watch horses go through the process every time I’m out at the Rescue Ranch, and I know how it works.

Finally, a month into the process, I really started to question:

I’m kind of sad this morning—I think I won’t be able to continue lessons with Nevada under saddle. I question whether I have the right to demand that she do something that so obviously makes her uncomfortable. She is my friend, a sentient being…and if I force this on her, then what’s all that liberty work for? If, in the end, I still force her into service, that it’s all been a sham.

So. We’ll see. Wish I could ask her how she feels about it.

Really? You “can’t ask her how she feels about it”? Could she be any more clear?

And again, the next day:

I had a kind of come-to-Jesus moment yesterday morning—the simmering concerns from the other night coalesced, and I realized that what was really bothering me was that I was well on the way to forcing Nevada to wear that saddle regardless of her feelings…. That was pretty painful. If I’m going to insist that she do something that she really dislikes, then all the liberty work, and the pretty words about how she gets to say no, is meaningless. That was pretty shocking. I was so upset!

So I argued with myself for a while, but finally and tearfully admitted that if Nevada really hates the saddle, I will simply not ride that way. Bareback, if she’s OK with it (and she does know how to tell me yes or no on that one), even though that’s more dangerous for me. But if she truly hates it, no saddle.

Poor Nevada. Since I clearly was NOT listening to her, she started “acting out” in the pasture:

Nevada came over willingly to get her food, but let me know in no uncertain terms that she did NOT want to leave the pasture. She wasn’t unpleasant about it, but moved off as soon as I showed her the halter. I let her do her thing.

My response? None. Lesson day came, and when she wouldn’t let me catch her easily, I “walked her down” and made her come out. The lesson that day was memorable:

We did the lesson in the big indoor arena. I had worked with her in there a number of times, but she was still nervous about it—and the trainer came off. Evidently the saddle shifted just a little when she got on, and when she tried to shift it back, Nevada got scared and bucked her off. Gently, or as gently as a horse can buck, and the trainer did a tuck-and-roll dismount, with no harm done. Nevada stopped a few paces away and waited, apologetically. After walking her around for a few minutes, the trainer got back on and continued the lesson. Whew….

And my comment? In my own defense (I don’t really feel like I have much of a defense, actually), this was after consultation with the trainer herself and my partner:

We all decided that the little horse is doing really well, all things considered. It’s just going to take time. I’ll continue to take her in there and walk her, trot her, lunge her, and anything else I can think of to do. She’ll come around, eventually. This is a tough point in our journey—we’re going to feel like it’s just too hard, and that maybe we should just give up, but we need to press on and work through it.

By early May, the trainer had come off once more, and Nevada was not “getting used” to the saddle. I continued to worry, and thought about pulling the plug on the lessons. Left to my own devices, I certainly would have done so. Unfortunately, the others involved still felt like we needed to “not give up on Nevada,” and to “give her another chance.” And there was that long-time dream of mine to learn to ride dressage…. But my journal records that I knew that I was lying to myself:

Nevada is not ready for it, wants no part of it, and I’m pushing past the limits of our “contract.” Not good…and I’m not sure what I’m going to do about it. I also realized that the problem I’m having with Nevada is a failure in my leadership. She no longer trusts me to look after her. And damned if I can figure out how to use liberty methods to fix that….

No, Kay, it’s not a failure of leadership. Or actually, it is—but first and foremost, it’s a failure to listen. And no, you cannot use liberty methods to accomplish something that is completely against the basic tenets of liberty work.

Wow…I really didn’t want to see what was going on.

Toward the end of May, I had one wonderful day with her—a day where she regained, for a little while, the softness and trust that I was so sure I had lost for good. On that day, we did real liberty work, and played with obstacles like ground poles that she enjoys working with. It was wonderful—and it really reminded me of what we were missing.

But true to form, I let the lessons go on. The final lesson was memorable indeed:

Well. No more riding lessons for Nevada; she has been expelled from school. She bucked the trainer off again yesterday, and this one was pretty dramatic, apparently: Nevada got spooked by something; she bucked and twisted; the trainer went up, the saddle pad (!) somehow went sideways, the saddle went down, and Nevada careened around the arena for some time with the saddle under her belly and the reins around her legs. OMG. I am so glad I was not there to see it. Bad enough hearing about it. The trainer, thank God, wasn’t badly hurt, and neither was Nevada.

OMG. I should have listened to my horse—she has been trying and trying to tell us that she can’t do this, but all of us thought we knew better. Nope.

OMG.

Anyway, there go my dreams of riding my little mustang and learning dressage. She’ll have to become my liberty horse, I guess. Maybe I can find another horse to ride….

I am a wreck….

That was a month ago. During that month, Nevada steadfastly refused to let herself be caught in the pasture without half an hour of “walking her down.” Mostly, I don’t try; I just bring her food to her in the pasture. Sometimes, though, I need to get her out—for the farrier or the vet—so we go around and around in the blazing sun until she finally tires out or I’m able to bribe her to stand still. It has been heartbreaking.

I would love to just sit with her and share space in the pasture—sharing territory is the best possible way to bring back the bond. It’s mid-summer, though, and it’s been a hot one. The older I get, the less well I handle heat, so sitting out there is not an option.

Trust is so easy to win, initially, but once it’s broken, it’s nearly impossible to win back. Worst of all, I knew better, but wasn’t strong enough to stand up for my horse. I don’t deserve her trust, at this point. It’s been a painful lesson.

Wish I could say it was the first time this kind of thing has happened, or that it will be the last. It happened with Galahad several times when I first got him, but didn’t know enough to call a halt when my then-trainer worked him hard for hours at a time.

But then just two weeks ago, during a session with a client, I was trying to get Galahad to go over a tiny cross-rail jump. At first he was willing—but then he hit the rail on the way over, and the pole moved and he got scared. I asked him to go over it again, and he refused, frightened…but rather than acknowledging his fear and changing the subject, I went straight back to natural horsemanship and tried to make him do it.

Poor Galahad! He was trying in every way to explain to me that it wasn’t that he didn’t want to do it, but that it was a terrible, horse-eating creature that I was asking him to step over. “Please, don’t make me do it! I’m scared!”

He was so clear: He was turning his head away and pointing at the gate to the arena—not trying to run, just pointing to the gate. SO clear…but did I listen? Nope. I was deep into “making him do it” and refused to hear him.

Then suddenly I realized what was happening. Oh my…how embarrassing. At first I tried to blame it on Galahad, and explain to my client that what I was doing was for Galahad’s benefit. But then I realized that NOBODY was fooled. Not me, not my client, and certainly not the horse…. So in the end I just said, “I really screwed up.”  It turned out to be a good learning experience for the client, but oh my goodness….

Fortunately, Galahad and I have worked through a lot of things together, and this was a pretty small and isolated incident. He didn’t hold it against me, other than to be a little standoffish for about five minutes the next day—but after that, no problem. He still hesitates to go over those ground poles, though—and I haven’t even suggested cross-rails.

Sheesh.

I’m hopeful that Nevada and I can work things out, too. Just the last couple of days, she has come over to me when I crawled through the pasture fence—something she had not done for two months, at least—and didn’t run off when I started to put the halter on her. The weather is cooler this week, too, and that means I can spend some time just hanging out with her and her girlfriends in the pasture. No more saddles, no more forcing her to do things just because I want her to. Maybe this time I’ve finally learned my lesson…or at least, maybe the next time I do something stupid, I’ll see it sooner.

Yeah. That’s probably more likely. There’ll just be a shorter time between doing the stupid thing and seeing the stupid thing. Maybe I’m just being too hard on myself, but still….

Sigh.

Just as I finished this blog piece, I got the Horse Conscious newsletter from my friend Mark Mottershead. In it I found this quote—could NOT have been more appropriate:

“When your horse shows resistance to compliance with a request, rather than saying he doesn’t want to do this or that, consider saying he is afraid to do this or that. If you do this your approach to the entire situation will change and will put you on the path to a successful outcome.”

Absolutely spot on.

 

 

Note: There is NOTHING wrong with using natural horsemanship techniques, if a person knows what they’re doing and they remember that the horse is a sentient being who deserves to be treated with an eye to respect and relationship, not simply dominance and fear. However, natural horsemanship is not the paradigm from which I try to work with my horses, and it’s not the “contract” we have together.

 

Meditation with the herd

DozingThe past couple of mornings it’s been lovely and cool—very unusual for Missouri in August. It’s been wonderful being out in the pasture with my horses again!

Yesterday I hung out with Galahad and the herd for the best part of an hour, doing nothing but observing and meditating. It was really interesting, learning how to be very relaxed and in-the-moment while remaining observant and attentive to what’s going on around me—the state the horses enjoy by their very nature.

I needed to do that yesterday: The herd were standing by the west fence of the winter pasture, napping and drooling clover juice. I was against the fence on the south side of Galahad, who was dozing with his chin on the cable. Beside him to my right, nose to flank, was “Degas,” Galahad’s best buddy. On the other side of Galahad, maybe five feet away and facing the fence, was “Hans,” the herd leader. Well beyond Hans to the north was “Chuckie,” former herd leader and forever dominant gelding, cropping grass between snoozes. (More on the relationship between these two geldings in a later post.)

My position was not a particularly safe one. I couldn’t really see either Chuckie or Hans from where I stood. Chuckie in particular is prone to sudden, threatening movements that make the entire herd jump to attention. As soon as I realized this (not being a horse, it took me a few minutes), I moved away from Galahad so that if he spun, I wouldn’t be knocked over and trampled. Still, I needed to keep an eye on Chuckie just in case.

What a lovely state of awareness! The horses are all dozing, and it’s so incredibly peaceful. Cloudy and cool, with a bit of a breeze. Birdsong; horses whinnying; the occasional drift of a conversation from over near the barn. Chuckie moves closer; Hans shifts position slightly. The energy stays low and tranquil, and Hans’s head drops again, drool spilling from his slack lips. Galahad flicks an ear; Degas doesn’t even move. We all drift off again, but awareness remains.

It is blissful. It just … IS.

I came out of this altered state some time later, when my stomach started to growl. A couple of quick videos (knowing I’d be doing this blog post) and I was off to feed Nevada and Midnight and grab a snack for myself. The herd stayed where they were for another half an hour, dozing companionably.

I feel so blessed to be able to share this time with them…and maybe to convey some of it to you, my readers. It’s not often that we humans get to experience this!