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!