“Stall Rest”

20170628_130416 (2)Galahad’s in a stall for the next few days; he refused to go back into the pasture last night.

His best friend Dancer’s owner put Dancer in the barn, unfortunately, because of the heat. It’s supposed to top 100 degrees for the next four or five days, and the thinking is that it’s better for Dance to be out of the sun.

Dance’s owner texted me mid-afternoon to let me know what was planned, and was concerned at that time about Galahad. Apparently Galahad was very upset (as was Dancer). Somehow both horses knew that this wasn’t a “take Dance out for a ride” event. How do they do that? But they knew.

I got a call from Midnight’s neighbor’s owner around dinnertime. Galahad, she said, was completely soaked with sweat and behaving strangely—standing in the corner of the pasture, then running over to the mares pasture fence, then running back to his corner.

I dropped everything, of course, and raced out there. Poor Galahad was huddled in the far southwest corner of the pasture, as far as he could get from the other two horses—Stewart the Pony and Moose—and obviously very stressed. I took him out, and instead of standing to wait for me to close the pasture gate like he usually does, he took off for the barn at a fast walk, and I had to scramble behind him to pick up his lead rope.

I could hear Dancer screaming in the barn, and I guess that he had been screaming all afternoon, because Galahad knew exactly where he was and went directly there. They nuzzled noses a bit, and Galahad must have decided his buddy was all right, because then we went walking around for a while.

He was on edge the entire time. I  hosed him down—he had been sweating and rolling—and although that cooled him off, it did nothing for his nerves. Between bouts of standing at attention and staring at the pasture, he lawnmowered the grass between the barns, spooking at every noise. I wanted to walk him down to Midnight’s paddock to get flyspray, which I had forgotten to bring; he would have none of it. He flat-out refused to go down the lane. This was beyond his usual stubbornness. There was just no way that he was going down the road.

Finally I started to calm down and listen to him, and stop trying to get him to do anything in particular. Poor guy was so tense! About that time a friend came by and offered us some of her fly spray, and Galahad was willing to walk over to her horse’s stall and stand there while I sprayed him down. We grazed a bit longer, but I was getting hot (though the sun was behind clouds and it really wasn’t too bad, considering…), so I suggested to him that we go back to the car and get carrots, go say good night to Dancer, and head back for the pasture.

All went reasonably well, except that he wouldn’t leave Dancer’s stall…and then he parked himself out and peed, right there in the barn aisle. I don’t think I have ever seen Galahad pee outside his own stall or the pasture in the entire time I’ve had him. Nevada, yes. She’d pee while you were sitting on her—she didn’t care. But Galahad prefers not to do that kind of thing “in public.” He peed, and then he went over and looked in at Dancer—there was no question that it was deliberate.

I thought he’d leave the barn with me after that, but he wouldn’t. Apparently he was planning on spending the night right there in the aisle. After some persuasion, I got him back out and we started off to the pasture—but he was having none of that, either.

Now, Galahad is always reluctant to go back to the pasture after he’s been out, but this was really different. This was a sullen, foot-planted, leaning-back kind of refusal to move. I’d persuade him to take a step, and he’d either plant himself again or dive for grass. Either way, he was not moving. Ten minutes later, we were fifteen feet closer to the gate, and he started to side-pass toward me. That’s his way of pleading with me not to make him do whatever it is I’m asking…but there’s also a feeling of threat buried in there someplace, covering desperation. Hard to explain it but you can feel it if you’re paying attention.

It was hot, and I was tired and frustrated and worried—I’m not nearly as convinced as Dancer’s owner that a stall is a good place for horses in the heat. So I wanted to get him back into the pasture. No dice. When sidepassing didn’t work, he started to spin and dance around on the end of the rope, getting more and more agitated.

Yes, I could have MADE him go. I could have used all the Natural Horsemanship methods, “moved his feet,” and he would eventually have walked over there. I could have put him back, locked the gate, and left. But there would have been a lot of drama…and that was definitely NOT going to help his nerves. It was too much of a betrayal of our growing relationship for me to be willing to do that. And once I left, then what? A night of terror for him? “He’s just a horse; he’ll get used to it.” Yes; but at what cost?

Finally, I gave up—should have done that an hour earlier. We went back to the barn, found an open stall across from Dancer, and called the barn owners to be sure he could stay there. He went right in, and though he wasn’t best pleased when I locked him in (with lots of hay and water), he didn’t argue.

So in the end, I figured it out, the message he’d been sending me so clearly all evening long: He’s afraid to be out in the pasture without Dancer. He doesn’t feel safe there; he doesn’t trust the other two horses, all that’s left of his herd, to keep him safe. He and Dancer are OK together, but once they’re separated, he’s on his own—the worst possible thing for a herd animal.

Once I understood that, everything fell into place. This has been a terribly stressful time for the gelding herd—new members, lots of fighting, and then the loss of the two herd leaders. Charlie, mean and domineering as he is, still left Galahad feeling safe. And bossy little Otto actually would be a great herd leader if he could take his little band off by themselves—he’s very protective and capable. But those two are both gone now. Stewart the Pony apparently doesn’t inspire confidence, and easygoing Moose isn’t leader material.

Poor Galahad. His herd members are being “picked off,” one by one…maybe he’s next, eh? No wonder the poor guy is terrified to be out there alone.

So he’s on “stall rest” until the weather breaks. Wouldn’t be my choice for him, but it’s the only one I can see at the moment.

I hate Missouri summers….

 

“Attunement”

20170628113955 whinny whinney(1)Thank goodness, things have turned a corner for Galahad and me. Actually, of course, I’m the one who has turned the corner; he’s still his own horsey self.

I’m working differently with him the last few weeks—not so goal-focused, mostly just being with him, either in the pasture or taking walks, sometimes spending short amounts of time in one or the other of the arenas but not drilling anything. It’s been almost entirely about what he’s willing to do, rather than what I want him to do. I ask him to do something, and then wait to see what his answer is. If it’s “no,” I might ask once more, in a different way, but I don’t argue (except about going back to the pasture—that’s a different issue entirely, alas!).

It’s making a big difference. Galahad seems to be more relaxed, and I certainly am. He’s much more “with me” than he had been—checking in with me as we’re walking, coming over to check on me when we’re in the arena (where he mostly grazes along the sides, at this point). The other day he actually told me when he was ready to leave the arena—he came over and pointed to his halter, then stood for me to put it on him.

So that’s wonderful!

Things have been kind of crazy at the barn this last ten days or so, though. There are three new horses—two mares and a gelding—in the pastures, Stewart (the small-but-fierce pony) is back in the geldings pasture after a couple of months in a stall, and the dominant gelding has left permanently. The boys are in an uproar with all of these changes. The mares, other than all being in heat, have settled into their usual peaceful state.

The biggest issue in the pasture is actually not the new horses, though—it’s “Hans” the Fjord, who’s just a bully. He was a real pain in the hind end when he first arrived, but over the course of a couple of years he’s mostly settled down. Now, however, he’s reverted to his aggressive, nasty self in spite of the grazing muzzle he’s been forced to wear for several months. He chases all the horses away from the mares, attacks the new gelding, and in general keeps everyone riled up and stressed. Darn guy.

All the commotion has made me even more glad to have discovered this new way of working with Galahad. Like all the geldings, he’s been upset by the changes. He’s had a very hard time paying attention to me the few times he’s been outside the pasture, because he’s been so focused on what’s going on back with the boys. That’s not like him. I’ve never heard him whinny so much in his entire life as he has in the past week–check out this video!

For a couple of days, Galahad seemed to be “making his move” in the pasture, thinking about becoming the Big Man On Campus and being just ridiculous about it. That was while Stewart the Pony was still in the west pasture for six hours a day. I got Galahad OUT just fine, but when I went to put him back (we have to walk across the west pasture to get back to the east side where the herd is), Stewart kept threatening to charge us, and they got into quite a yelling contest (“I’m gonna stomp you!” “No you’re not! I’m gonna stomp YOU!”) and I ended up having to call the barn staff to come get Stewart.

While waiting for that to happen, though, I had to take Galahad back to the arena—and he did NOT want to go. He shifted, strutted, barged into me, and threatened to go up on his hind legs. That’s the moment I really discovered the value in this new way of staying attuned to my horse.

The Natural Horsemanship requirement in that situation would be that he pay attention to me, that he “respect” me, and that he obey my commands. There would have been a lot of running him back and forth in front of me, making him circle, or various other things, but all of it would involve “moving his feet,” making him put his attention on me and do what I was asking.

If I had tried that (I could have done it, no question—I’ve done it many times when he’s been “bad” or “opinionated” about something, or when he didn’t want to go back to the pasture and tried to block me) there would have been a lot of drama.

What I did instead was require him to be mindful around me, so that I wasn’t in danger. I did that, in the moment, using a stern voice, grounded energy and body language,  and bumping his nose with the halter a couple of times to get his attention, when he was threatening to go up on two legs or turn around and run back to the pasture to beat up Stewart. But the big voice, the bump on the nose, and me saying “Cut it out NOW! You’re scaring me!” worked just fine. I calmed down, and so did he. Almost immediately. Then we walked on.

I could feel that he was still really excited, but it brought him back to himself without pain or threat or any drama, and with no requirement that he obey anything other than basic manners to keep me safe. He was still prancy, but it was OK—it accomplished exactly what all the other stuff would have done, without the drama. I was afraid, and I told him so—“You’re scaring me. Cut it out!” (bump bump)—and he knew exactly what I meant.

It was different—it’s hard to explain, but it felt really different. It was the same thing I’d have done with a human friend if they had been being nuts and putting me in danger—I’d have grabbed their arm and said, “Cut it out! You’re scaring me, and I need to be safe. Stop it!” And that would have been it. That’s what I did with Galahad, and it worked. He walked with me, but making the choice to control himself.

What I sense from Galahad more than anything these days, honestly, is appreciation. I think he appreciates that I’m not asking of him more than he can give. Does that make sense? It’s like I’m acknowledging his perspective—“I know you’re distracted, and I know you’re having a really hard time coping with all this and paying attention to me too.” I just feel like this way is good for our relationship where some of this other stuff would not have been. It might or might not have damaged it, but it certainly wouldn’t have furthered it in the way that I’m looking for.

So I’m so glad to have that understanding at this point.

 

[Disclaimer: I’m studying online with Paulette Evans of Ribbleton Attunement in Australia. I make NO claim to deep knowledge of her methods, which I greatly admire. Anything I say about them here in my blogs represents my own current understanding. I highly recommend that you take a look at her site and consider signing up for her courses!]

 

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….