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.

 

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.

 

Crazy Hans

20150730_103305Hans—crazy Hans: I was feeding Galahad in the corner by Midnight’s house, and everyone else was up at the north end of the pasture grazing quietly. Suddenly I heard hoofbeats, and looked up to see Hans driving two of the other horses, at a gallop, straight down the fence line toward me. Darn guy. So I ducked under Galahad’s neck, stepped toward them, and cracked my little whip on the ground a few times. They did go around—even Hans—and Galahad, of course, just kept on eating. I swear Hans was smirking. He got NO carrots.

(Just to be clear: Had I been in any real danger, I would have ducked under the FENCE. But there was plenty of warning and these are horses I know well.)