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.

 

Nevada is gone.

20150303_140049Nevada is gone.

I can’t even imagine it, but Nevada is gone. We had to let her go—help her across the Rainbow Bridge—two weeks ago yesterday.

The plain details: I found her in the pasture that Wednesday afternoon unable to stand solidly or to walk without wobbling. At first we thought it was a viral thing, but she showed no evidence of illness. She managed to stagger with me all the way to a stall in the barn—the bravest and most trusting little horse ever—and made it through the first night (with LOTS of drugs) standing. We left her about 8:30 that evening, and went back at 3 in the morning and spent an hour with her. She was propped in the corner, miserable but still standing. But by the next morning she was down and never got up again—a progressive paralysis of the legs. She experienced no pain, as far as we could tell, just an increasing fatigue from struggling to stand. By afternoon she was getting more uncomfortable—horses are not designed to stay down for very long—and her breathing was getting labored.

Because she wasn’t sick or feverish, and was behaving normally other than being unable to stand, we and our wonderful vet finally figured that she must have had a bad fall in the mud, or gotten kicked, and injured her spinal cord. That’s the only thing that would account for the entire range of symptoms.

The “good” news about that final day is that she got to eat all the cookies she wanted—she never lost her appetite—and had fresh, hand-picked grass to eat all day long. And she got to be a “lap pony,” which she’s always wanted to do. My partner and I took turns sitting on the floor of the stall with her head on our lap. OMG.

I would love to write more, but I still can’t do it. I’d love to explain how I nearly didn’t go check on her on that afternoon, in the dreadful cold and wind; how I found her completely covered in mud—this horse who almost never rolled in the dirt. I wish I could talk about how she staggered to follow me; about how hungry she was. I don’t think she’d been able to get her head down to eat without falling over. About how she made her way over to the herd when they left for the west pasture, rather than stay alone; how she struggled with me down the lane to the barn and an isolation stall, helped by the promise of hay from a friend in front and strategic shoves from behind by the vet. It took us almost an hour to go those few hundred yards.

I wish I could tell you how the entire herd ran to see her go, and how the mares’ screams could be heard for miles; she was a leader among them. How happy she was to see us come back to her in the dark hours of that next morning; how she rumbled at us each time she heard us, and especially once I started bringing her fresh-cut grass and cookies, all through the last hours of her life.

How my sweet Galahad tried to understand the news of her passing, and how confused he was over what to do with and for me: Shall I bite? Shall I shove? Shall I hover? Shall I hug? Shall I walk with her back to the gate and try to do all these things at once? How I felt Nevada from the other side, running freely, happy and surprised, but wanting her herd and her friends, including my partner and me. (I feel her there now, but she’s distant from me, of course.) How so many friends on Facebook and email sent words of comfort, including one who sent this prayer:

We Remember Them (Jewish Prayer)

In the rising of the sun, and in its going down, we remember them.

In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them.

In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them.

In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer, we remember them.

In the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them.

In the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember them.

When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember them.

When we have joys we yearn to share, we remember them.

For so long as we live, they, too, shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.

OMG. How can it be that I will never see her again, never see her soft nose, never feel her breath and her lips on my hand? How can that be?

Wow….

Well, life goes on. It will never be the same, and though I am eternally grateful to feel her presence with me often, what I really want is the warmth of her breath on my hand….

Thank you for spending your brief life with me, my sweet friend. I remember you.

(cross-posted on The Alchemical Horse)

 

The Magic of The Mean Little Black Horse

20161222_152543I arrived at the barn yesterday around noon. The main chore, other than feeding, was to take off Midnight’s parka and put on his rain jacket instead. The temperature was quite warm—in the upper 40s and mostly sunny, so I knew he didn’t need anything heavy. The forecast for Christmas Day is for rain and temperatures near 60° F (after plummeting to 4° F only a week ago!).

He was very happy to get rid of the blanket and enjoyed a good scrubbing with a stiff brush. His hair wasn’t too matted, but he’s old and dusty and stinky. He rubbed his face on the fence while I scrubbed his itchy back and sides. Then we went for a walk.

He didn’t want to go down toward the trail—he wanted to go see things up by the barn. Midders is very good at communicating his desired direction with a flip of his nose. So that’s where we went. I wasn’t too happy about it—I had wanted to spend some time training Galahad—but the old guy doesn’t get much attention or many walks, and since he was already out of his stall, off we went.

He wanted to trot, but his gimpy leg needs time to get warmed up and moving, and he’s a little stumbly. I worry too much about him—don’t want him going down in a heap on my watch—so I made him slow down and walk. He didn’t mind too much. We checked a few times for clover at the edge of the lane—no such luck, buddy. It’s December. Then we looked at the new round pen but didn’t stop. Instead, we went directly to the mares pasture, where he flirted and squealed with Maggie, the pretty black mare who’s just his size. When she said “Enough!” we walked through the barn and over to the bin where the sweet feed is stored. I swear, he’d try to crawl under there to get the little bit that’s spilled on the ground, if I didn’t stand between him and the frame. I pulled some of it over to where he could nibble it. He has no teeth, so he can’t actually chew it, but he sure loves to roll it around in his mouth!

Midnight is, as you all know, an opinionated old man. Long ago I learned that it’s no use pulling on him to get him to move along, and that’s really not the point of our walks, any more. So I’ll just stand, point, and ask him to come along. Sometimes it takes a while, but eventually he consents. Much nicer to have his consent! That’s kind of how our relationship has developed over the years. We’re old friends. We have history.

We stopped at the hay barn to talk with Reggie, who was loading up the cart for the afternoon feeding. Then we headed for home. Some people and a car were down the lane by Midnight’s paddock, delivering holiday treats. He liked that. Something different. And then there was dinner in his stall and soaked hay cubes for dessert out in his paddock.

While he was finishing up, I fed Galahad, Dancer, and Nevada. Galahad had cut his fetlock on something and was ouchy, and that needed doctoring. I folded up Midnight’s parka and refilled the feed bins, picked up around his paddock, and did some other little chores. By then the sun was sinking and the air was cooler. Time to put the rain jacket on the Little Black Horse.

But it was going to be comparatively warm overnight—only dropping into the 30s. Did he really need that blanket? He had fussed so much last week when I put the parka on him, and had been so glad when I took it off…. As I stood there holding his jacket, Midders left his pile of green stuff and walked over to me. He touched the blanket, then stood quietly, waiting. Felt like a “yes” to me! He didn’t fidget at all the entire time I spent putting it on him—so I’m quite sure I read him right.

And then the magic: Once the last buckle was fastened, Midnight put his nose on my shoulder and just stood there for several minutes, breathing on my cheek and very, very gently nibbling my jacket while I cried and told him how much I love him.

The Mean Little Black Horse loves me. He loves me, he appreciates the care I give him, and he knows that I intend only good things for him. He loves that I respect him, and in return, he gives me respect and consideration that he certainly does NOT give everyone. Best of all—and this is something I have a hard time offering myself—is that he loves me for me, just the way I am. He doesn’t care that maybe I could have done something different, or more, or better. He doesn’t care that my life sometimes gets in the way of being there for him as often as I wish I could. He doesn’t care about all the things that I worry about. He just loves me. Just me, as I am. He’s glad that I’m part of his life.

Wow. It’s just that simple, isn’t it, underneath it all?

I’m going to try to take his example to heart.

Conversations With a Couple of Mares

dsc00174I had such a wonderful day at the Ranch today! I nearly always enjoy myself, but today I met two very special mares. So very different, but both delightful. It will be great finding good forever homes for these ladies!

The first one was very nervous at first, a hair’s breadth from quivering. Tuning in to her, what I felt was confusion and fear. She seemingly had no idea what was going to happen next, and she expected it to be unpleasant and likely dangerous. I don’t know her story, and my guess is that someone she trusted fell on hard times and this lovely girl suddenly found herself with no human connection.

She didn’t offer to do anything wrong while she was being saddled, and I talked to her to try to explain what was going on and why. If she’d just do what she was asked, I said, we’d get a video and that would help us find her a good person to love her. She may have had no idea what I was saying, but she must have understood voice tone, because she did calm down.

Out in the arena under saddle, she did a wonderful job. This girl has a Quarter Horse stop that you’d better be prepared for—she tucks her fanny and if you’re not ready, you’ll go right on over her head, or nearly. Very nice! Rusty, but nice.

Afterwards, she was so much calmer—it’s like she figured it out, and felt like she could do what we were asking. And then the magic: You could feel the beginning of hope in her energy, and her eyes were brighter. The trainer and I walked her back to her turnout area, with cookies and stops for grass along the way. No worries, Sweetheart, life is on the upswing now!

The seco201609211037351nd mare is an interesting sort. She’s self-assured, reserved, and exceedingly capable. She’s also big, athletic, and FAST. She was in a good mood today, and we shot some nice video of her moving through her gaits, stopping, standing, backing up, and generally being a good Quarter Horse.

An hour or so later, after she’d been put back in her stall, we realized that we hadn’t done the “interview,” where the trainer talks about the horse. So I went back down to get her out again.

I rarely get a chance to handle the horses myself—usually I just shoot video—so this was really exciting. I had the usual moment of nervousness, entering a stall with a horse I don’t know well (that has never gone away!), but it didn’t last long. She was great for haltering and led nicely down the barn aisle.

Things got interesting when we got to the arena. I walked over to the tie ring and went to loop her rope through it—and she gave me a pretty good shove with her head. Hmmm….

Here’s the ensuing conversation. It was quiet and calm on both sides, which was the really cool part.

Me: No, we don’t do that. That’s not polite. Let’s back up now.

Mare: Nope. I like shoving people and that’s what I do.

Me: No, you need to back up. Can you back up?

Mare: Nope.

Me: Well, how about you move that foot back a step. Can you do that? (I lean toward her, no pressure on the rope. She doesn’t budge.) Come on now; move that white foot just a little bit. Can you do that? (I tap her chest gently with a fold of the lead rope.)

Mare. I guess I could do that.

Me: Thank you! Now, how about that other foot. Could you move that one back?

Mare: OK. I could do that.

Me: Great job! Thank you! Now, let’s try moving forward again.

And of course, as soon as I got ready to tie her, she went to head-butt me again, but this time I was ready and stepped aside. She looked at me, and I looked at her….

Me: No, we don’t do that. When that happens, we back up. Now let’s go. Can you back up for me?

Mare: No. I don’t want to. I like butting people. I told you that already.

Me: Yes, I heard you, and you’re going to back up now. Move that white foot again. Good girl! Now the brown foot. Good! Now take another step.

Mare: OK. Fine. Whatever.

Me: Good girl! Now let’s get you tied up here.

And this time she didn’t butt me. She thought about it, but didn’t do it.

We got our interview done, and I got ready to take her back. First, I suggested she stand beside me and back up with me. I leaned back, then stepped one foot back myself.

Me: Come on, back up with me.

Mare: Nope. I don’t know how to do that.

Me: OK, well, I’m going to stand here and you’re going to move that white foot back.

Mare: Nope. I’m going to go sideways.

Me: No, I don’t think so. There’s a wall there.

Mare: Oh. Well, then. Maybe I’ll just stand here.

Me: You could do that. Or you could move that white foot back. (I tap her chest gently.)

Mare: Oh. I remember that. I can do that.

Me: Good girl! Now the brown one?

Mare: OK.

Me: Wonderful! Here’s a cookie!

Mare: Oh! That’s tasty! Can I have another one?

Me: Sure. We’re going to walk a little bit first.

And off we went down the aisle back to her stall, with several more “stop and back with me” practices along the way, with a few more cookies.

By the time we got there, she was stopping and backing up with me several steps at a time, with no fuss. She seemed positively pleased with herself. Her head was down and she was relaxed and happy.

Got her into her stall, though, and she braced up again—old habits resurfacing. It seemed like we’d had enough of a lesson, so I just looked at her hip and took a step toward her—and she yielded her hindquarters very nicely indeed. Think I caught her by surprise, before she had time to decide not to do it. So I took the halter off, thanked her, and left her to her hay.

Woohoo!

I’m posting this not so much because of the fact that I got the job done, and done really well with absolutely no drama. I’m mostly posting it because I was SO HAPPY AND EXCITED about the interaction! I may be 65 on the outside, but inside I’m still that horse-crazy ten-year-old whose biggest, brightest, most precious dream is to be able to talk with horses and to be around them.

It’s not often that we grown-ups get to be a kid again, and I want to enjoy every opportunity that comes my way. Woohoo!

Livin’ the dream, folks! I am so incredibly blessed!

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.

 

Waterholes Ritual Clinic in October!

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Join us in Fenton, Missouri (near St. Louis) for a three-day clinic with Teddie Ziegler, Certified Master Trainer in the Carolyn Resnick Method. The Waterhole Rituals have been life-changing for me and my horses. Hope you can attend! For more information, you can just leave a comment here and I’ll get back to you right away!

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.