And sometimes…

Monday, September 26, 2016

… We dance. 

Just as I’d sighed happily and said how blessed I felt to have a horse that runs to the gate to see me and dips her head into the rope halter asking:

What wonderful adventure will we have together today?

Things change – her hoof soreness has been a factor in that for sure. Occasionally now, especially if it’s too early (I think I have a horse that doesn’t do mornings!) I either have to go get her at the farthest corner of the field or she comes over and when she realizes I have a halter instead of a bucket of food she evades. 

This evasion though has been interesting for me to participate in. 

I am certain that everything my horse does has purpose and communicates something to me. I look at is as conversation and not rebellion or disobedience. 

She does not allow me to approach her close enough to halter her- instead as I come in she’ll move off and sometimes add a buck or kick into the air as she runs a few steps- but she never leaves the south area of the field. She never runs truly away. She has a good 3+ acres to escape into but she stays in the corner of the field with me. Just out of reach. 

I calmly wait for her to stop again and approach her best I know in the way I was taught using my angles and knowing when to move and when to stop and when to back up a step or two. I watch her for responses and after a couple times of her kicking and cantering around the grass she will finally invite me in and stand still to be haltered. 

I try to avoid adding human motives to her conversation. She does not intend to run from me completely or she could and would do just that. 

She may be asking what kind of leader I am today, and can I be one she wants to submit to? How will I react when she dances around the field not ready to come with me? Will I get emotional (fearful, frustrated? Angry?) or can I stay relaxed during that conversation and calmly insist she come in…

She could be letting me know her feet are still not 100% and please not to ride her hard or long… 

She could even be teaching me what is a better more appropriate way to approach a horse in the field (she has certainly done this before in a way that if I described it here you wouldn’t believe me).

Maybe it’s just cooler weather has her feeling good….

No matter what her communication is, she knows I’m listening and that makes her more apt to try to get her language through. That is the most important part. I am trying. I may not agree to all you ask for, but I will put my humanness aside as much as I’m able and I will try to hear your voice- not the one I give you in my own head as if you were a little (well actually a huge) human. 

Even once in hand she tossed her head once or twice as we walked to the barn. Not aggressively but I took note. She appears to be full of herself today! Pay attention. 

Once in the barn she settled in for a meal and I tacked her up with no fuss and we hit the road. I sometimes do a few groundwork moves in the grass before loading, this just reconnects us if she’s at all distracted and brings our birdies together before loading up. 

Last thing I want to do is get on the road, my horse in the trailer, and her birdie still in the barn!!

Oh right… The birdie. Let me explain. 

I’m reading ‘The Birdie Book’ by Dr. Deb Bennett. I’ve been enjoying her approach to horsemanship and she talks about your horse’s birdie as a conceptual way to think of where your horse’s focus is. Where her mind is. 

Ideally you want your horse’s birdie to either be right on her forehead, present where you are, on you (groundwork?) or flying happily just in front of you on the trail (riding) hopefully with your birdie as a happy pair. 

How? Well that’s a whole lifetime there, but getting the concept is a great start. 

My only goal on this first ride back after our week of NQR (not quite right) was to enjoy some solo time together on my favorite easy ride at a local park. 

We could walk the entire loop if she wanted… Just a nice ride that even the dogs could enjoy. 

Once we left the parking lot and hit the trail she immediately volunteered a happy trot and we easy-trotted much of the ride. I was able to think about my balance and the sensation of my feet in the stirrups, no tension in my legs and a smile on my face. She was responsive and seemed to read every thought I had. 

Our birdies were flying together perfectly in sync. 

At some point later in the ride we spent some time walking and I was able to close my eyes and imagine the movement of her feet- feeling my hips moving with her hips and when the trail was wide enough asking her to step over timing the request as best I could with her rear foot coming off the ground. I had some success there and then we hit a section that was grassy with rocky patches and I used that to work on walk-trot transitions and how little could I do to pick up the trot, keep it exactly until a spot I wanted to walk and then how little could I do to ask for a walk. 

This was fun and though all I had to do was think “trot”, walk was harder and took a few extra trot steps and slight guidance from my reins most of the time.

The entire ride was lovely and connected and I found it interesting to think of how the day started with her kicking her heels up in the field and refusing to come to me. That could have signaled a rough day for us but it didn’t. I think it has a lot to do with how we as the humans interpret horse communication. 

beautiful fields at my local park
I recently read a blog that mentioned how often trainers seem to be writing about or talking about the big R… Respect. I agree with the blogger that too often everything is lumped into ‘respect or disrespect’ when horses have so many more complicated responses than those two. Without even getting creative there is also fear and curiousity and how the human responds back to the horse is integral as to how the horse will continue to respond in turn. 

If every unwanted response is considered disrespect and dealt with too harshly- you can bet you will continue to get what you are asking for: a disrespectful horse.

Certainly it’s not so simple… If you truly are getting a disrespectful response and you don’t address it then you will also encourage that and get more disrespect. 

So for me the answer is always observe and not jump to conclusions. Know my horse and have a relationship with her that allows her to communicate, and listen to her also being ready to say ‘nope. Not doing that today’ without getting upset about it or being overly critical. I try not to nag her or make her feel bad for her choices. My personality has a tendency to be critical and I want her to feel good about being with me- not that everything she does is wrong. 

I think this approach set up a wonderful ride where we were as connected as I’ve ever been with her. 

It’s a constantly evolving thing! Never know what the next day will bring. But I hope I will always learn something and continue to understand her more. 

It’s not so much a journey I’ve learned as a dance. So we dance- the best I know how.   

Published by JaimeHope

Violin teacher and endurance rider living in a rural mountain county - one of the least population dense and without a single stoplight.

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