Monday, February 15, 2015
I have been reading The Horse (Epic History of our noble companions) by Wendy Williams. A much more fascinating read than I anticipated, one chapter features a horseman that takes in last chance mustangs who haven’t done well in more than one adoptive home.
He said (paraphrasing): you have to look at connecting with horses (especially wild ones) like Deal or No Deal. If you reach out and they turn away- and you continue into their space it’s just considered impatient [rude] behavior. But if you reach for them and they reach for you- then you have a deal. They are cooperating with you.
We have more winter weather this week and riding is out for a few more days, but that doesn’t mean we’re not working.
I’ve subscribed to Simple Equine Teaching with Dee Janelle. The basis of everything in her mentoring program comes from the relationship with the horse.
Without that you have nothing.
A recent lesson had to do with what is considered force to a horse. There are obvious things like tying, or pain (whipping), but what about a halter? That is also force- it confines the horse’s freedom and takes away her choice. What about blanketing? That is confining to their movement- they could consider that to be force.
[I am not starting a blanket debate or suggesting there is a right or wrong blanket program for anyone else’s horse by the way- that is not the point].
The horse can choose to participate with us- for example, when I go to bring my horses in, they usually come to me and lower their heads into the rope halter.
But I was fascinated by her blanket logic. Dee said that she allows her horses to choose the blanket or not. “I just put the front closures together to make a hole for their heads, and hold it up [I’m picturing bull fighting style here]- the horses that want to be blanketed put their heads in and if they don’t they walk away. Their choice.”
Ok. I am not a regular blanketer. There are usually 2-3 occasions through the entire winter where I will blanket. I’ve seen my old mare covered in sleet and ice and shivering looking half alive after a terrible storm and it breaks my heart. So if we’re expecting something out of the ordinary – extreme for us- I will pull out the blanket even if it is so I sleep better that night. I never thought my horse had the foresight to choose to blanket or not. I am the one with a weather app on my phone last I checked.
Last blanket (storm weekend) Khaleesi nipped in the air at me and was less than cooperative. Since I blanket so infrequently I chalked it up to her not being used to it.
Hmmm. If Dee is right, Khaleesi was talking to me.
Experiment time came right away. I had to leave town for the weekend as we were expecting our coldest days this winter. Highs in the single digits and windchill in the -20 possible overnights. In VA, even in the mountains, that is unusually cold.
I was leaving Friday while the temps were still normal cold (20s). But Dee persisted: animals know what the weather is bringing. Better than we do.
I brought both blankets and no lead ropes/halters. I didn’t do the hold up and put the head in trick because I’d never tried it before and wasn’t sure if they’d know what I meant. But I did put the blanket on slowly one step at a time. I know my horses can communicate if they are happy or not.
Faygo stood while I blanketed her and seemed fine with the idea. Deal.
Khaleesi said No Deal.
She nipped in my direction and tried to step away. I took the blanket off and said:
Ok- you know best. I’m sure you’ll be fine. I respect your choice not to use a blanket.
And I left.
When I returned on Sunday, the weather was calling to get worse. We were now expecting sleet, snow and freezing rain. I went to visit the girls and they were acting frisky. Even I could feel the change in the air.
I brought some grain and Khaleesi’s blanket. I can assure you she doesn’t care enough for grain to let me blanket her if she doesn’t want to. She will still nip toward me and walk away (to faygos bowl for sure!) so the grain was not a bribe and she was eating on Friday when I tried to blanket her as well- the day she clearly said No Deal.
I walked up and showed her the blanket. She smelled it and went back to eating. I walked over to her fully expecting she would side step- she stood like a statue. I set the folded half onto her rump. Not a twitch. I unfolded it onto her back and she didn’t move or nip toward me. I adjusted it to be sure. Nothing. Finally I reached under her and around her chest to buckle it up. No question she would normally have no trouble nosing me or nipping at the air. Not a sign.
I was honestly amazed. In the past if I wanted to blanket her I would have never gone without a halter. I always assumed I’d have to tie her to get it on.
She was communicating with me and I’d just ignored her because “I knew best“.
There are times when she might just have to “Deal” because we have no choice… A vet needs her to stand still or we have to go for a ride and she needs her saddle on… She doesn’t want to go that way on the trail. She might say she doesn’t like it but I’ll have to override her. Sometimes I DO know best.
However, if I want to have a good relationship and for her to have a positive opinion of me- and I do because I need to trust her with my life and safety- then maybe I need to start trying to understand her better.
Maybe sometimes I can respect her wishes (no blanket is a pretty easy one to start with), and then she might compromise with me when I have to insist on my way. Maybe I can work with her without losing my leader status. I can’t truly ‘force’ her to respect me- you can only force someone to fear you – and even then it’s questionable.
I want my horse to have a high opinion of me. A good opinion of me. I do not want her to fear me, but to respect me. That means I have to be worthy of that respect somehow. This means I have to try to see things from her perspective.
Today I went out in the snow to feed some grain. Then I walked up to the hay bale to inspect it- all good- and down to the water – also all good.
Then I decided to take a walk around the field and see what would happen. The horses had followed me to the hay and were munching. They seemed to ignore me. I walked all the way to the far end of the field and once I got there I turned to see them (Khaleesi leading the way) coming over to follow me. Curious as to what I was doing.
She continued to follow me as I wandered in the field. Faygo just behind- if Faygo got too close to me Khaleesi would chase her off to keep some distance.
She was like my shadow- just at my shoulder.
It was nice to just walk around with them at liberty in their own space. I loved that they chose to spend time with me. After a while I was getting cold and damp from the snow- time for me to go.
She then followed me all the way back to the gate and stood at the fence watching as I drove away.