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 really good day!

Galahad and the bridge(12)Today was a really good day!

I went to the barn around noon and spent quite a while with Galahad. First we did an Easter Egg hunt in the muddy jump arena (plastic eggs with bits of carrots in them, hidden near the jumps; he has to find them and touch them with his nose). It took him a bit to realize there were eggs hidden there—at first all he wanted to do was eat the grass around the edges. Once he saw the first one, though, he was all attention (other than taking time out to roll).

His problem was that I had deliberately put the eggs fairly close to the jumps—and he’s nervous about those jumps, which was my whole point. He managed to touch the first one after I moved it two inches (!) farther away from the post. When I asked him where the next one was, he looked around, saw it (I swear he saw it, over by the next jump), and spent a LONG while examining each and every fallen leaf, clod of dirt, or spot of poop in the area, just in case one of them turned out to be an egg.

Finally he made brave to go and touch the egg—and tried to roll it away from the jump so he could get it himself. No, fella, you have to touch it, raise your head, and wait for me to open it. Nice try, though.

He does love this game. I’ve learned to use only the biggest plastic eggs (so he can’t get them into his mouth) and limit the number of eggs to six or seven so that he doesn’t get bored. So we finished up quickly and sampled a little more grass at the edge of the arena before moving on out to the next event.

I let him graze for a little while near the “bridge” that I’ve been trying to get him to walk over. Back in June, we spent some time working near it, and he would walk over it the short way but not walk along it with me (the photo above was taken on that day). Today I decided to see what he’d be willing to do for me.

What I most love about learning to work with my horses in a less structured way is having a big “toolbox” of techniques and skills and being able to pick whatever tool or method works in the moment. As my relationship with Galahad grows closer, it seems that “less is more” for sure. Our training sessions have become shorter, less demanding, and way more fun and effective.

Today, for instance, he still didn’t want to walk along the length of the bridge. When I asked, he’d paw at it; he’d put both feet on it—no problem. I made sure he knew that whatever he gave me was wonderful—he got praise and grass in between tries…and then I’d ask again. It was a slow process, and very low-pressure.

We started by watching another horse walk over it twice, with a rider. Galahad paid close attention. I asked if he would just follow that horse across, but he declined. Too scary, still. I asked if he’d walk behind me across it. Nope, he couldn’t do that, either. So we just kept at it, slowly, over a period of fifteen or so minutes—not long, really.

What I did was based in the natural horsemanship methods that I’ve studied in the past—from one of the best trainers in the Midwest—and learned quite well. But there was no “increasing pressure.” Instead, I made a request with a gentle “send” signal and the barest hint of a wave with my other hand. He knows what that means, so the communication was perfectly clear. Then I waited for him to respond. And then I’d ask again, in the same, low-key way, and wait. If he tried to evade it completely, I’d gently ask him to back up and try again, but I never pushed, pulled, or smacked him with the rope.

Galahad knew what I was asking, and I think he appreciated the fact that I didn’t try to pressure him into doing it before he was ready. And he got praise for the slightest try! That big horse—stubborn as he can be when he perceives something as “work”—really does like to please. He likes knowing he’s done something “right.”

Finally, he offered to sidepass over the bridge—that’s always his fallback move. “Can I do this instead?” Um, no, buddy, it’s WAY too wide for that. How about you walk behind me, and let’s go across it together.

Suddenly, I could feel him make up his mind. I wasn’t looking at him—in fact, I was already partway across the bridge when I felt the change, through the loose lead rope. No idea what it the signal was that I received—but I KNEW at that moment that he would follow me across, and he did.

Wow—good boy! I turned around to face him as he made the last few steps, and just praised him to the skies! He put his head down and I swear he looked pleased as punch! What a good horse he is! Needless to say, we went and got carrots and dinner after that!

It was such a thrill—a silly little task in the grand scheme of things, but heartwarming to realize how far the two of us have come. Clear communication, mutual trust and respect, and virtually NO pressure…we got the job done and had a good time doing it.

It just doesn’t get much better than that! Boy, do I love that horse of mine!

(“Leading Tarkin” is another post that describes this method I’m using these days.)

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.

Leading “Tarkin”

20150504092825 (2)I so enjoy my days at the Rescue Ranch. These days I’m creating the adoption videos, and it’s such fun capturing something of each horse’s personality along with documenting where they are in their training and how they move.

It was an especially interesting today. Little “Tarkin,” who has come SO FAR in the last few months since his rescue (he was a little stray stallion, apparently never handled), is now learning to trot under saddle. He is much calmer, but not quite comfortable around people other than Sarah, our trainer, and the apprentices. I’m still a little scary.

After Sarah finished their ride and stepped off, I asked Tarkin if he was ready to say hello to me yet (the good old “cowboy handshake”). No, not quite yet, he said. So I backed off. As I backed away, he took half a step forward toward me for whatever reason, so I asked for another. No, not so much…too scary to approach directly when asked.

Sarah handed me the reins. Since they were attached to a bit, and he’s very new to bits, I made sure to put absolutely no pressure on the reins, other than the fact that I was balancing them on one finger. Then I asked him to step toward me (by backing up from directly in front of him, leaving my hand where it was so as not to pull him). No, he said, that was still too scary, so I dropped back to stand near his withers.

From there, I took a couple of steps back and to the side, to draw him toward me. That, he felt like he could do; and once he took a couple of sidesteps in my direction, I used my body language to suggest that he might walk forward with me. And he did!

Slowly, at first. Then I said “whoa,” which he knows, and stopped my feet. He stopped right with me. After a few seconds I suggested with my body that we walk forward again, and he was willing to do that, mostly. I had to draw him toward me to the side a couple of times after we’d stop, but then he decided walking and stopping was just fine.

I was really happy, for a couple of reasons. First, because this was NOT natural horsemanship, the way I was taught. There was no deliberate “pressure-release” here, but rather, communication in the way horses communicate with each other. I’d make a request, and he could decide whether or not to comply. What really delighted me about this was the fact that I’ve learned enough to be able to facilitate this dialog.

Yes, a horse who’s learned to follow a lead rope and/or reins and bit will naturally be more inclined to follow a moving person when he’s wearing a bridle than he might otherwise. Would he have followed me as willingly if he’d been at liberty? Probably not. But I bet I could have persuaded him, given a little time for him to get used to me. And how cool this little old lady was able to do it at all!

The second reason I was so happy about this little interaction was just the fact that I was able to bypass my “natural” tendency to “make it happen” and, instead, just let things unfold. It’s taken quite a while for me to get to this point. As I’ve said often, natural horsemanship techniques come easily to me because that paradigm was the way I was raised. Un-learning something so basic isn’t all that easy after 64 years of practice and reinforcement!

So the fact that this spooky little guy would feel comfortable and willing to come along with me with only suggestions (made in a way that he instinctively understands), just pleases me to no end!

Woohoo! The old gal’s learning something!

Covering the Knots

knots 1I went by the barn yesterday afternoon to feed everybody. I was planning on staying only a very short time, but the day turned out so lovely (40+ degrees and sunny!) that I could hardly tear myself away. I took some video of me working a little bit with Galahad and Nevada on the halter but with a slack or draped lead line.

What fun! Even out in the open (video here), HRH sticks pretty close with the rope draped over her back and only a tiny touch under her chin now and then. She’s generally very good about this in the small arena. She’s not that “well behaved” in the pasture, but I think that’s because she has her duties as a lead mare to consider.

Galahad isn’t as “easy” as Nevada is about staying with me—that’s just his nature. I don’t feel safe draping the rope over his back and just walking around. He’s apt to take off to play bite-face with the gelding in the pen across the road, or investigate the pretty mare tied up by the barn.

I covered the knots and the noseband of my rope halter the other evening to make it a gentler tool, and tried it out yesterday; I learned (at least) two things:

1. There is indeed some pain/discomfort produced by the rope halter’s knots. I know this because Galahad tested me a lot more yesterday than he normally does, most likely because he wasn’t having to avoid discomfort.

2. I have been jerking on his face with the lead rope, whether or not I intended to do so. If I hadn’t, he wouldn’t have noticed the lack of discomfort yesterday, and he likely wouldn’t have tested me more than usual.

Interesting. Good information. Rather horrifying, actually.

It is much harder for me to do liberty work outside an arena or the pasture, because my barn requires that the horses be on the lead at all times when not in an enclosed area like the round pen or a stall. And when there is a lead rope attached, all my natural horsemanship training comes into play again, whether I want it or not.

Especially the “bump their nose” idea. If the horse is doing something you don’t want him to do, or isn’t paying attention, “bump his nose” with the lead rope. This transfers the pressure sharply to his nose via the knots on the halter. I never liked that part, though I can see the effectiveness of it.

I do try to be gentle with the rope halter, way more gentle than I was originally taught, and for the most part I get good results. But I find lately that because I don’t want to jerk the halter, I end up using just plain pressure—i.e., pulling steadily—which doesn’t work particularly well with a 1100-pound animal. No surprise, that.

My horses have had their noses bumped a LOT, both of them, by trainers and by me. The result has been that they do what they’re asked in that way, and they do NOT pull on the lead rope even when they’re spooked. They will dance all around me, pivoting on that lead rope, and it looks pretty impressive from the onlooker’s perspective. I’ve seen that happen many times, and until just this moment, as I type this, have thought it was a really good demonstration of their trust in my leadership.

“They trust me!” Um, maybe not so much, eh? Maybe they’re just avoiding pain! When I consider what the horse might be experiencing, it makes me never want to that to happen again. Which is more frightening to my horse: the scary object, or the threat of pain on a sensitive nerve bundle? Oh my goodness.

That doesn’t make me feel so proud.

I also watched the video that I took of me and Galahad yesterday, and saw how often the lead rope tightened in response to something he did that I didn’t want him to do. He wasn’t offered an option at those times—I just pulled (gently or not) on his head. I’m not giving myself a whole lot of grief about this, since it’s something I’m working on; however, I look forward to the day when I can work with the rope draped over his back and not pull on him at all.

Well, my goodness. Galahad is certainly my teacher, in this and so much else.

I’m not sure what to think about all of this. I don’t wish to pass judgement on any good-hearted and well intentioned horse person; there are many, many effective ways to train a horse. I sure don’t have all the answers. All I know is that I want to do what is best for my horse, keeping him and me both safe and happy in each other’s company; and I want to do so in a way that is cooperative, not dominant, and that builds a relationship based on trust and pleasure.

What a fascinating journey!

The Benefits of “No”

Galahad is DONE (1)Galahad and I had a really great time the other day in the jump arena. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing—some ground poles were still in place from the jumping class, it was a relatively cool day, and there were no other appointments on my schedule.

I asked him to walk on a loose lead over the poles one at a time. That was scary, he said, but he could manage it.

I asked him to sidepass over one of them, but he declined; too scary. Now, this is a “trick” that this horse learned when he was three, so it wasn’t new to him, and he’s been in this arena many times before. I doubted that “scary” was his real reason (see below). He said he would paw at it. He would sidepass in front of it (so he could keep an eye on it, one supposes), but otherwise it was too scary.

Then I asked him to walk over a set of three poles arranged a few feet apart; he said that was WAY too scary. But he offered something else: What he could do, he said, was walk between them, up one way and back the other. This was entirely his idea, since I was still mentally focused on motion over them and wasn’t guiding him at all.

I love his creative “solutions.” It’s just one more example of his overall willingness and desire to work with me.

I didn’t press the issue—I just wanted him to have a good time. After a while I let him prance and dance off the lead, and gave him lots of treats. He went back to the pasture reluctantly; I love that he’d rather be with me than with his buddies (and no, it’s not just the treats!).

Some of my natural horsemanship friends are questioning me about “letting Galahad get away with” refusing a request. “That’s not how you do it. You need to apply increasing pressure until he does what you’re asking, then release!”

That’s the received wisdom, and it’s an effective way of training a horse. Clear communication with your horse, in that school of thought, includes communicating that there are unpleasant consequences for saying no. If that kind of training is done well, it produces a horse that quickly complies with whatever you ask. The horse trusts the handler, if it’s done well, because the communication is “fair” and there is no misunderstanding.

I’m good at those techniques. They resonate with me. I was raised that way by my dad, who insisted on instant obedience—or else. There was never any confusion in my mind about whether or not to obey because I didn’t dare to question him. There was always that “or else” hanging in the air between us, right up until the day he died.

Problem is, those techniques don’t lead to the kind of relationship I want with my horses. Sure, there are times that he must obey me, like when the vet or the trimmer comes to work on him. But for the most part, I want Galahad to be able to tell me what he likes and what he doesn’t like, and I want to be OK with that.

Liberty trainer Farah DeJohnette has a blog post on this subject—you can read it here. She explains the rationale very well and suggests some questions to ask when a horse says no:

I want horses to tell me No. I want them to tell me what they like and what they don’t like. I want to be able to accommodate their desires because I am going to request that they accommodate mine. If a horse is traumatized, the No is the best way to build that trust back up in humans.

These are the a few of the questions I ask when I see a “No” in a horse:

I ask myself, why is that No there?

Why did you feel like you had to say No?

Are you uncomfortable?

Are you afraid?

Are you Confused?

Are you unsure?

Are you used to being over pressured?

It may be none of the above. It could be simpler or more complex.

A lot of the time, I believe that Galahad refuses a task (especially when it’s something he’s been taught) because of the last reason she gives—pressure. In his early life, Galahad was pressured into performing. I know I’ve done that to him at times, especially in the beginning when I didn’t understand natural horsemanship very well. Galahad has never reacted well to pressure. He shuts down; even though he may perform the task, there’s “nobody home” behind those eyes.

Here’s a little video clip that will show you exactly what I mean. I had been asking him to do some simple groundwork routines because I wanted to polish up his manners on the lead line, and I was using the standard natural horsemanship techniques. He did what I asked, but nothing more. Once I actually noticed his mental/emotional state (I’m kinda slow on the uptake sometimes), I thought I’d take off the halter and ask him to touch the mounting block with his foot. Usually, he enjoys that and will get pretty enthusiastic about it.

That day? Not so much. Take a look: He’s DONE. As a video, it’s kind of funny, but it gives you an idea of just what a horse that’s accustomed to too much pressure can look like. It’s taken me a year to get past this issue with Galahad—that afternoon was the first time I had seen him this way in a VERY long time, and I don’t want to see it again, ever.

At this stage in his training, I’m perfectly happy for him to say “no.” As we progress and his willingness increases, I’ll be able to make requests without him shutting down, because he will have come to trust me enough.

Meanwhile, I have an increasingly happy horse who loves my company and is happy to do more and more playful activities with me. That’s plenty for us to go on!

Galahad is my teacher

Galahad 1 by Aiming High PhotographyAn interesting late afternoon with the horses. I spent some time with Nevada, who’s just a sweetheart: she hangs out with us, content to just stand around if that’s what we’re doing, or to trot around or do groundwork or (especially) eat grass.

Galahad’s a harder one for me to understand, or so it sometimes seems. But I think it’s just that Galahad has so much to teach me, instead of the other way around. I need to learn from him, instead of beating myself up about it when things don’t go as I plan.

This afternoon I had him in the small indoor arena, supposedly just to hang out (I’m starting a Carolyn Resnick course this month). But I started out by trying to round-pen him in there, which Nevada does easily, probably because she thinks it’s fun. Galahad has been round-penned a lot, and it has NOT been fun, by and large, so he’s not as willing.

After a while I remembered that my original idea had been to just hang out with him. Oh. Yes. Forgot that part.

Galahad kind of wandered around the arena, checking out the “messages” left in the sand by other horses, hanging his head over the fence and watching horses and people outside. He did come over to me a couple of times, checking in. But not often enough to satisfy me, I guess.

He came by when I knelt down and started scratching the sand with my hand—he wanted to see what I was up to. Then he left, which was fine. I went over and sat on the mounting block for a while, and he came over once.

As I write this, I’m noticing that what actually happened was not what I initially remembered. The way I remembered it, he totally ignored me. Um no, it wasn’t like that.

I mean, really! What do I expect from him? Can we say, “unreasonable”?

I started walking around the arena, pretending to pay no attention to him, and he was standing looking out over the gate to the outside. I walked past him and away, with my back to him. Then I heard what I thought were a person’s footsteps, and I swung my head around to see who had dared to disturb our space.

The sound was actually Galahad’s footsteps, following me. But he stopped instantly when I swung around. The message I unintentionally sent, oh so clear in horse language, was “Stay back. Don’t bother me!” The equivalent of swinging my head with my ears pinned.

I was so disappointed with myself! That wasn’t at all what I had in mind! There was no way to take it back, of course. I kept walking, but he didn’t follow any more.

I immediately started beating myself up about it, and I know he felt that disappointment. Nevada can deal with me when I’m like that: she just lets it blow right on past.

But Galahad is the most sensitive soul I’ve ever encountered, and his ego really isn’t all that strong. Galahad isn’t like Nevada. He worries. If I’m disappointed, he worries that he’s done something wrong—he has no idea what, but he expects to be blamed.

That’s another remnant of his unfortunate experiences as a youngster before he was rescued. And even our first trainer, successful though he is, used methods that demand pretty much instant obedience, not thinking about building up the horse’s self-confidence.

And then there’s me: I took to those early training methods so well because they are exactly what my dad would have used. That’s how I was taught: obey instantly, or face the consequences. Dad’s love was conditional on my behaving in a way that he could approve of, and preferably in a way that made him look good. So I get it.

The hard part is realizing how much of that internalized, patriarchal, “Arthur” energy I still have inside me, and how far I still have to go to learn what it’s like to express unconditional love. I would love Galahad no matter what he did, but he has no way of knowing that, and until he does know that, we can’t have the kind of relationship I’m looking for.

So he’s shown me, once again, exactly what I need to learn. And I will learn—but it’s going to take a lot of time and patience. I’m hoping the new course will help me develop better habits and learn to be patient and loving not just with Galahad, but with myself, too.

The real student here is me, not my horse.

[Note: This lovely photograph is by my good friend Aimée at Aiming High Photography.]