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!]