Sunday, January 31, 2016
I have been thinking about the human-horse relationship more and more lately. I used to think training was about getting the horse to do what you want/need, hopefully in a gentle way but the point was… Well… Obedience. It would be a bonus if that would also equal willingness.
Kind of like a big dog.
Stand still to mount… Side pass… Move out of my space… Stand still for the farrier… Walk when I say walk and trot when I ask for trot… Always stop when I ask (on a dime would be best)… Oh- and load on the trailer upon command too if you don’t mind.
Everything there is important. Also there are safety issues if you don’t have ‘control’. But…
Control of what?
this could change… I’m still sorting it out
…I used to think ‘control’ of your horse obviously.
But now I am starting to thinkthat it is more ‘control’ of your relationship. Lead partner in the dance.
I hear people talk about the partnership all the time- but I don’t think I really understood (understand?) what that means.
The more you know… The more you see you don’t know.
Susan and I had a brilliant 15 mile ride over the weekend where we tacked up loose lead and really made an effort to be present in the horses’ world. We tossed out the watch and did everything with as much time as it took to not rush the process.
The ride Saturday was a big climb and since we still had enough snow to be a factor slowing us down I thought it would be a great ride to condition slow hills, muscles etc.
Early in the ride both horses stopped at a water crossing and didn’t drink. Just stood there.
Susan is even more goal oriented than I am- she asked if we should ‘move along?’ I said hold on- it was interesting to me that both horses were not moving or drinking on their own.
Khaleesi was yawning and licking and chewing (a lot) and Faygo looked like she was in a trance- breathing a little hard but not bad- we had started to climb a little.
I was looking for the change.
Khaleesi did it first. She went from standing and yawning to nosing around for dry leaves in the low water. Susan asked ‘go now?’
No… Hold on… See Faygo is still in that trance. Let’s wait for a change in her…
Thank god the friends riding with me have patience.
Then it happened- Faygo ‘woke up’ and on her own started to move forward.
So we went along.
I don’t know what that was about, but we had all the time in the world and it was interesting to me to see that play out. We passed other water crossings and they didn’t stop at one of them in that way the rest of the ride.
After about 10 miles Susan and I talked about what an amazing ride it had been. Both horses were willing and forward and neither of us had arguments. It was the best ride yet since we started riding together (and none of them had been bad).
The next day I’d had plans to meet a local endurance rider who I knew would challenge khaleesi to move out. She had a lot of experience and a racing ‘pony’ but I’d heard she would also be happy to have someone to ride with and not ‘leave us in the dust’. I wasn’t sure how it would go but I was looking forward to meeting her.
The snow cancelled our plan (for her) and though I was disappointed- I know you always get the ride you need – that was not our ride today for a reason- and I decided to trailer Khaleesi to hidden valley for a lovely fun fast ride together. Just the two of us.
I feel like I’m struggling to pick up her speed. I read about all these other riders and their horses who ‘eat up the trail’ and that 5mph average speed is what they consider LSD (long slow distance). If I push Khaleesi we can average 5mph but what I love about her is that she’s solid, not spooky or fearful, and not really ‘hot’… However this also shows up in her laid back work ethic (or so I’ve thought).
I know she’s young so I try to keep my doubts to myself but wonder sometimes: is she cut out for this? Or would she rather live a dressage horse’s life? She always seemed to love our time at pam’s in the arena learning things together.
So Sunday I intended to make it a shorter ride and see if we could pick up some speed. More trotting than walking. Get her cardio up- maybe even build a sweat. She hasn’t been challenged much in our rides these recent months. Faygo is a great training partner but her physical limitations make the rides a work out for her and yet Khaleesi doesn’t breathe hard or break a sweat.
It started really well and she seemed to happily trot out the trail from the parking lot that borders the river and a snow covered field. This is exactly what I’d hoped for. And she was moving well without me having to ask.
And we kept on this way walking and trotting until a section of trail about 3 miles in when she kept looking up to the left.
“What is it? Deer? Yes I saw some deer… A smell? A sound?”
Then she got more serious and tried to turn me around (here we go again…)
I assume that her turning around is because she is lazy and doesn’t want to go for a ride. She wants to go back to the barn or trailer.
How can a lazy horse do endurance?!
So back to training & obedience right?
No- we aren’t turning around. This is our ride today. We’ve been here before (but not very often).
But this time I was more curious. That relationship thing … Horse time… The view from their eyes…
So I decided to wait.
I waited more.
The dogs got confused- came back and sat down next to us inquisitively.
How long can she wait here?
I slowed myself down and looked at the sun coming through the trees and I listened to the stillness of winter.
I reflected a moment on how I’m always on the move and don’t take time to be still enough.
And after 10 minutes she did not move from that spot and I thought it would be fascinating to see if we would stay here for hours or all night but I just can’t go that far. I wanted to wait her out but my watch won this time and in part against my better judgement I asked her to please keep moving.
She did- we were so low energy by now it was just a relaxed walk, and she asked to turn around 3 more times and I said no.
Eventually we regained energy and trotted off and kept a nice pace again. She did not seem agitated or unhappy.
On our way back to the trailer lot there are beautiful fields and she picked up this wonderful trot that was about 9mph (I looked because it’s unusual for her to trot that fast yet) and it seemed effortless. These are the moments I think she can really do this
Then she broke into a little controlled canter and as we approached the gate to the road (then just a short distance to the trailer) she slammed on the brakes (sooner than she needed!)
She seemed to want to avoid the gate. (We’ve been through plenty of times) and as I asked her to go ahead (and she did without fuss after that)- we headed back to the trailer.
Good right? My horses always love to get back to the trailer and eat some hay and go home.
She stopped – seemed to almost shy and slowed her pace as we approached (ok- good to walk in…) and as I let the reins go to grab my GPS I realized she took a wide berth around the trailer in a huge circle.
I didn’t ‘correct her’ and move her to the trailer (I’m sure I would have before) but she was walking nicely so I just let the reins lay and wondered what she would do.
She walked right past and toward the trailhead- but turned instead toward the B&B. She walked right across a low cement bridge that she will cross but doesn’t usually like to because of the rushing water sound.
Then she walked off the path and over to the fence and started eating some grass.
So we hung out there a while and ate grass (I ate my granola bar). Eventually I asked her if we could go back to the trailer now?
She seemed to say ok- and we headed back across the bridge (funny how she was more ‘spooky’ about it when it was my idea.)
But again I let the reins down and she turned instead back to the trailhead NOT the trailer.
Ok? Now what? I’m game- what do you want to do now? What are you trying to tell me?
So she cut through the snow field and completely on her own picked up a lovely slow trot.
Ok girl. I’m listening.
We trotted without stopping over a mile back where over we had gone first that day. She stopped to walk at one point looking for the dogs (we’d left the behind but not terribly) after they had caught up she picked up again and kept trotting only she chose a different route (we did not get to the spot she stopped on the trail earlier) and headed on the direction that could (on a long ride day) take us all the way home.
The river crossing for that was high with ice on the edges.
We’re not doing this today. She did stop on her own and seemed unsure about the icy edges.
At that point I said to her (yes, I spoke out loud to my horse not sure at all if she understands human English but it’s all I had at the moment.)
I’m not truly sure I understand you- but I appreciate you giving me a chance. We can’t go that way today- and we do have to get home before dark so we need to go back to the trailer. Can you work with me on this?
We turned around and every little path that went down toward the river she would try to take- we took one and she seemed satisfied that this was not the best way (dead end).
I did get her back to the trailer but she was not as forward. She wanted to turn around a couple times but I told her no. We can’t.
When we got back to the trailhead she had added 4 miles to the 6 we’d done the first loop. Our average speed was 4.8 mph including the slow walking we’d done after her 10 minute stop. I got off and walked with her the last yards and rubbed her and told her how great a ride that was and what a fantastic horse she is.
She ate hay and did not seem stressed at the trailer as we untacked. She sidestepped the trailer the first try and then walked on pretty nicely the second.
On the drive home I felt different. I felt as if we’d communicated something between us for the first time ever. I was part of a moment when she trusted me enough and I trusted her enough to be honest and I said “ok, I’m listening”.
It was like being invited into a secret world for a brief visit and we were different for that time. I loved when she was forward and trotting out and seemed to know just what she was doing but not ‘out of control’ either. I felt like she was talking to me for the first time (though I know they communicate all the time- this was different somehow).
What I am reflecting on after this ride are a few loose questions. In no particular order:
Have I underestimated the complexity of thought, personality and preferences my horse has going on? Do I assume too much that I understand her? She wants food… She is lazy and doesn’t want to work… She wants to go back to the trailer… Today one thing I found was that she is not slow or lazy. She moved beautifully and when we got to the trailer – even if she wanted to go home she seemed ready to trot another 10 miles on top of the 10 we’d just done to get there on her own 4 feet. That isn’t lazy.
What was she saying? Was it a concise message I didn’t get or was it just fun to be able to make her own choices for a brief time and a fun random jaunt?
Is there something about the trailer? She’s not particularly afraid of loading, but is there something annoyong? more noise lately? Maybe I should have the tire pressure checked… Did we hit some curves too fast or bad bumps from the winter weather that makes her not like it?
How do I listen to her and get to know her and still stay the leader in the dance? She may have wanted to jog home on her own 4 feet but that wasn’t possible that day. Sometimes she may not want to go out in trail- but we all have to do some things we don’t want and obviously turning us around on trail is not a discussion I want to have every ride. When are we having an appropriate conversation and when is she now in control? I don’t want (nor is it safe) to have a horse who doesn’t pay attention to me or respect me. At the same time I don’t want an obedient robot.
This reminds me of a fellow blogger who posted about a rescue dog that came to them with perfect command obedience. She said it was uncomfortable (robotic?) and thankfully in life with them the dog relaxed a bit and was well mannered but seemed to be able to express himself and have a personality as well. I ride a horse and not a dirt bike because I want the personality and relationship.
I don’t want to ride a robot horse but I need to lead the dance.