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.)

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!

Nevada….

20150706093440(1)It wasn’t quite as hot yesterday as it has been lately, and a thick overcast helped a bit, too. It was nice to be able to head for the pasture with Nevada’s feed pan and not feel overstressed from heat before I even climbed through the fence.

The mares were huddled in their house, avoiding the ever-present flies. I could see Nevada’s white blaze from quite a distance as she watched me, wondering if it was worth coming out to see me. I had left the feed pan by the fence, so she didn’t know it was there.

I was in no hurry—it was pleasant just watching them and listening to the birds. Eventually, she shouldered her way through the other mares (Nevada always commands the best spot, way in the back) and stepped out. Everyone else followed, and then one of the other mares headed off, away from me, to graze near the south fence. Nevada stopped and looked at me. I asked her twice if she was sure she didn’t want to come with me, but she turned away to follow her friends.

There was a time when I would have been disappointed by this, and would likely have tried to beg her to come with me; I might have gone to get her with a halter. Yesterday, I just walked away from her when she moved off.

It’s a wonderful thing to build the kind of relationship I now have with my horses. They feel comfortable saying no when they want to, knowing that there’s no punishment for expressing an opinion. There may or may not be consequences to their decision, but it’s never punishment. The “worst” that will happen is that they may have to move their feet when they’d rather stand still, but that’s as far as it goes.

The benefit for me is huge! When the horse does something I ask, I now know without a doubt that it’s because they are willing to do it, and it’s not that they feel coerced, or fear punishment. And even more important, they say “yes” way more often!

So yesterday I just went partway across the pasture and hung out, watching bees and wasps, pulling a few weeds, and listening to the birds. It was lovely and peaceful. I could see Nevada watching me, and sure enough, after a few minutes she ambled over to see what I was up to.

Eventually she noticed her feed pan across the fence. That got her attention! She started walking that way, but stopped when she noticed I wasn’t following. I waited a minute or two, then asked her to walk WITH me, not ahead of me, over to the food, and she did.

NO fuss, no effort, nothing but a pleasant interaction between friends. How wonderful is that?!

NOT Riding Galahad…Again….

Rodeo redux 1Well, my dream of riding Galahad is going to have to wait a while. He still remembers how to crow hop. Fortunately, I still remember how to stay on. And after the “event,” we went out and had fun, with me safely on the ground, in the jump arena.

A crow hop, as I understand it, is not really bucking. There’s no kicking out behind. The front end goes up first, usually, and all four feet stay pointed at the ground. Someone described it as “riding a pogo stick.” Yeah, pretty much. Not a lot of fun for the rider, IMO.

Some of this rodeo was captured on the video I had running, expecting to show us calmly walking and trotting around the arena. I’m glad to have the video, because it shows part of what happened, both before and after the event. He did manage to scoot into a corner where the camera couldn’t reach, though. Smart lad.

The good news is that somehow, I didn’t get scared, and didn’t even raise my voice (you can hear my quiet “Whoa!”). Didn’t lose my stirrups, didn’t yank on his face, didn’t go into the fetal position. Didn’t bail, either, when he stopped. Instead, I made him disengage his hind end in both directions and back up nicely before I hopped off.

Galahad is a spoiled brat, there is no doubt about it. And yesterday, he didn’t feel like having me ride him. So he threw a tantrum.

I posted that first paragraph as my Facebook status last night, and the responses of various people in my horse community have been interesting. A sampling:

A good friend and trainer said, “Time for school Mr. Galahad… Naughty boy!” I had to laugh, and a large part of me agrees wholeheartedly.

Another friend advised, “Why wait to ride him again? He’s a young horse, they play games. You rode it out (literally) and reminded him what behavior won’t be tolerated and asked for what you did want, and he listened. That’s what it’s all about. No reason you can’t start fresh today.” A valid perspective, and probably the one most of my friends would advise.

One friend reminded me of a chapter in Carolyn Resnick’s book Naked Liberty (a book I highly recommend—it’s been inspirational for me!) about Carolyn’s “naughty” little pony Pepper. I found it very helpful indeed—more about that later.

So what to do now? This, really, is where the rubber meets the road. This is where my intention and my resolve are tested.

It would be so easy to get a trainer—and I know several really good ones—to get on him and remind him what being a “good horse” is about. And he would do it. He did it before (most of the time).

I want with all my heart to ride my beautiful horse. I ache to ride him again. But here’s the thing: Do I just want to ride my horse, or do I actually mean all the pretty things I’ve said about liberty work, about him having a choice, about never doing anything that wasn’t health-related that wasn’t fun for both of us? Can I stand my ground when it really counts?

If I “make him do it,” then I’ve broken my word to him, and more importantly, to myself. That, and the fact that I’d always wonder if he was doing something with me because he wanted to, or because he had to. It’s taken us more than two years to get to this point in our relationship.

If I continue with the liberty methods, then riding him will take longer, and might not happen at all. With liberty methods, I have to be able to accept that possibility.

What if I can never, ever ride him? Dunno…. That thought is painful.

But yes, I am going to keep my promise. He’s a dream on the ground—willful, yes, and not easy. Never easy. He has a lot more to teach me, for sure. But we’re in this for the long haul.

I have a lot more to say about this, and lots more to process…but that will have to wait for another blog.